Victor Packer’s “Subvey”

Victor Packer was born in Bialystock, Poland, in 1897 and grew up with that city’s emerging Yiddish theater. While still a child, he took part in amateur theatricals of the works of writer Sholom Aleichem.

In his teens he formed a multi-lingual vaudeville troupe (Yiddish, Polish, Russian and Lithuanian) which helped quell that city’s anti-Semitism. In 1924 Packer came to America to join Maurice Schwartz’s famed Yiddish art theater then creating some of the most innovative and influential theater in New York.

From 1936-1942 Packer worked at New York radio station WLTH single-handedly producing 16 unique live quarter-hour Yiddish programs daily, from dramatized Yiddish novels, children’s music programs, man-on-the-street interviews and quiz shows, among many others.

For 15 minutes each Tuesday and Thursday, Packer would read his “rytmishe resitatsyes” (“Rhythmic Recitations”), rollicking Dadaist sound poems dynamically reflecting the day-to-day soundscape of his New York listeners. Themes included baseball, trains, jazz and four epic poems about Coney Island.

When WLTH went off the air in 1942, Packer went back to theater, touring Yiddish speaking communities throughout the US and Canada until his death in 1958.

Packer’s poems were never published, created solely to be performed live, so no print copies survive. Instead, transcription and translations direct from the original aluminum radio studio disc were required to recover Packer’s verse.

Victor Packer was featured in the 2002 Peabody award winning NPR series “The Yiddish Radio Project,” which I produced together with Dave Isay.

For more on Packer, visit http://www.yiddishradioproject.org/exhibits/packer/, or check out this episode from the Yiddish Radio Project:

Here’s Victor Packer performing his rytmishe resitatsye, “Subvey.”

 

Gasn,
Gasn.
Evenyus un gasn
Gasn shnaydn evenyus
Evenyus shnaydn gasn.
Aher a gas ahin a gas
Ahin a gas aher a gas
Me yogt zikh un a drey
Eyner krayet in tseytns veg
Eyner krayet in tseytns veg
Hooha Hooha Hooha Hoo ha
Tuml a geshray
Mentshn Mentshn Mentshn
Ay ay ay yay vifl mentshn?
Oy oy oy oy vifl mentshn?
Vayse, shvartse, broyne, gelle
A meshigine kapele
Loyft n’loyft, n’iloyft
Farlirt di zinen
Nor zi nor di mashinen
Oytos
Troks
Masnvegelakh
Kindervegelakh
Oyvnban
Untnban
Ferd zenin oykh faran
tramvayn
pushkarts
mener froyn makhles kinder
ale loyfn vi a vinder
me flikt aher me flikt a hin
me ratevet fin a mashin
fin eyn zayt afn tsveytn
un ambulansn (tuy, tuy)
shmekt shen mit a teytn
oy vey oy vey oy vey oy vey
in fayer lesher in der mit
aaaaaWAAAAAAAAAAAaaaa
oyyyyyyyyyyyveyyyyyyyyyyyy
Oytos tumlen “aHAW! aHAW!”
Tramvayn klingn
Clingcling clingclingcling
Clingcling clingclingcling
Un fun ale zaytn
Kinder shrayen
Raysn di hooHA! hooHA!
Un fin di stors un kromen
Shrayen
Kvitshn
Tumlen
Ritshen
Raysn zikh in gas aroys
Shtoln eldzer fin di
radios, radios, radios, radios
un fun di gramafonen (varsity)
un in der zelber tsayt
a nayer tumler
hert men dokh fun der
tsveyter zayt
a heyzeriker yidish ektor
fin a vikterola shrayt:
ee AA, oo AA, ee AA, oo AA
Diggi diggy zay diggy diggy zu
Un in Union Square
Of yeydn vinkl pedlers tumlen
“zokn, shnipsn right here
“zokn, shnipsn right here”
“3for50/3for50/3for50/3for50
an emese metsiye!”
der gramafon er zhuyet ersht
“Angela mia, you are my angel dear
the heavens sent you down to me
from up above…”
A giltsaray a zuneray
mir ken say vi nisht hern
A gevaldik tumlaray
poshet toyb tsu veren
Un in mitn tuml in mitn tuml
in mitn tuml
A mentsh A mentsh
A yid a yid
Shteyt un dreyt zikh
Shteyt un dreyt zikh
Shteyt un dreyt zikh
Shteyt un dreyt zikh
Zukht epes Zukht epes
Mentshn loyfn im farbay
Er vil zey epes fregn
nor keyner hert nisht
say vi say
nishtu kayn tsayt
Me fort, me yogt
Men darf makhn a farmegn
Hey!
Ssssss
Hey!
Sssssss
Hey! Sssssss Sssssss
Hey! Sssssss Sssssss
“Please! Please. Please.
“Please! Please. Please.
The subway, please the subway, please, the subway, please Ha?
Where is it the subway?” Where is it the subway?”
The subway? The subway?
Ahin. Ahin.
Oy, a gezunt af aykh
a lebn af aykh
a’ vus zugt ir? Vu hin?
A gas aher a gas ahin
A gas aher a gas ahin
Un nokh af rekhts a drey
Un nokh af rekhts a drey
Azey? Azey?
Azey! Azey!
Un shtrom mitn shtrom
Un tuml mitn tuml
A shtup bay im a shtup by er
Er shlept ahin er shlept aher
Triptroptriptroptriptroptriptrop
Trep arof un Trep arup un
Trep arof un Trep arup
Nu gey, nu gey
Nisht shtey, nisht shtey
Un vider a geshrey
“MIRROR, TIMES,
BASEBALL, RACES,
WOILD NEWS”
vus?
Oy, nisht mikh, nisht mikh
Oy, oy di zayt, di zayt
Oy det’s all right, det’s all right
Oy det’s all right, det’s all right
S’a shtipn s’a shtoysn
S’a yogn s’a roysn
Vos yogt men zokh,
vi yogt men zokh
Vos yogt men zokh,
vi yogt men zokh
Yogt zikh Yogt zikh
Yogt zikh Yogt zikh
Un me blabt ahin
Yogt zikh Yogt zikh
Yogt zikh Yogt zikh
yogt zikh tsu der slot mashin
A nikl varft er dort arayn
A nikl varft er dort arayn
In der gaytsege mashin
Zi shlinkt es alts un kayen
Zi shlinkt es alts un kayen
Di slot mashin is kleyn un din
Ken zi shlign nikls bloyz
Di subvey ober dik un groys
Vi der sho rabo
Mentshn gantsn shlinkt zi ayn
Efent mayler un a tsol
Shlinkt ayn toyzend mit a mol
toyzend mit a mol
Shlinkt zey ayn un
shpayt zey oys
Azey tug ayn un azey tog oys
Shtup zikh Shtup zikh
Shtup zikh Shtup zikh
Shtup zikh shtup men
shtup zikh shtark
Shtupt zikh Shtupt zikh
Shtupt zikh Shtupt zikh
Khapn im baym karg
Hey Mister Mister
Mister vatch your step!
Mister Mister
vilstu khapn klep
Vus zol zayn, vus zol zayn
Mentshlekh khapt zikh shneler
ay a zetz in zayt
a klap in kop
nito kayn tsayt
HariOOP
Me mayt zikh un
Me khapt zikh un
Me shtupt zikh un
me klapt zikh
nito ken tsayt nito ken tsayt
nito ken tsayt nito ken tsayt
di subvey loyft di subvey flIt
kep af kep iz es nisht git
mentshn vern shir dershtikt
a halbn arbel o’geflikt
Di hant un noz tsuklapt
Defar, a strap gekhapt
Halt zikh Halt zikh
Halt zikh Halt zikh
Halt zikh say s’iz kayn room
Halt zikh Halt zikh
Halt zikh Halt zikh
Ven di mentshn faln shtum
Excuse me Excuse me.
Di subvey dreyt zikh vi
a shlang
Un mentshl khapt zikh nor tsum bank
Excuse me Excuse me.
Excuse me Excuse me.
Oyoyoy oyoyoyoy
Oyoyoy oyoyoyoy
Vus zukhtse mister,
Vus zukhtse mister,
Ir hot epes forlorn?
Ir hot epes forlorn?
Oyoyoy oyoyoyoy
Oyoyoy oyoyoyoy
Nemt arop dem fus,
Ir sheyt zikh of mayn corn
Oy oyoyoyoy Oy oyoyoyoy
A dare meydl A dare meydl
Hot zikh arayn geshtokhn
Mit a shpitz fin elenboygn in a zayt a do
A dike negerte, farshlofn iz zi eyne, ot dem kop farvorfn of ir brust to do
A fet-ter daytsh mit a ferdlikhn boykh
Varemt im di zayt un mit a perene to do
A hoykher Irishman
Tsuleygt er zikh
tsuleygt er zikh
mit zayn American
of zayn kapalush
gemakht im a stender
a to do, to do
Oyoyoy oyoyoy
Oy di hant
Oy di fus
Oy di zayt
Oy di kop
Sop
Sop
Sop
Veyyyyyy
Streets.
Streets.
Avenues and streets.
Streets divide avenues
avenues divide streets
here a street, there a street
there a street, here a street
they go this way and that.
People in other’s way
People in other’s way
Hoo ha! Hoo Ha! Hoo Ha! Hoo Ha!
A holy racket
People people people
Ay ay, ay, how many people?
Oy oy oy, how many people?
White, black and brown and yellow
every different kind of fellow.
Running, running, running, running
What does this mean?
Machines!
Cars,
trucks,
city buses
school buses,
elevated trains,
subway,
horses still in the way
trolleys,
pushcarts,
men and women children going
cars are stopping horns are blowing
You go right here and not too far
someone was missed by a car
from one side to the other
Ambulances (God forbid!)
With the stink of the dead
Oy vey, oy vey, oy vey, oy vey
And fire engines in the mix!
aaaaaWAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaa
Oyyyyyyyyyyyy, veyyyyyyyyyyyy
Autos trumpet “A-HaW!” A-HaW!”
Trolleys clang
Clingcling clingclingcling
Clingcling clingclingcling
From every side
kids are screaming
at the top of their lungs HooHA! Hoo HA!
And from the stores and shops
the cries
the sighs
screeching
beseeching
spilling out into the street
the tinny electrical bleat of
radios, radios, radios, radios
and from the gramophones
But wait, beware!
Another racket
suddenly erupts
from over there
a hoarse Yiddish actor
from a Victrola blares
ee AA, oo AA, ee AA, oo AA
Diggi diggy zay diggy diggy zu
And out on Union Square
every corner has a peddler
Socks and neckties right here,
socks and neckties right here
“3for50/3for50/3for50/3for50
truly what a bargain!”
Another gramophone spits out:
“Angela mia, you are my angel dear
the heavens sent youdown to me
from up above…”
Such a sound, such a din
the thing that you’re most fearing
That if it keeps up much longer
you’ll surely lose your hearing.
And in the tumult in the tumult
in the tumult,
a person. A person
A Jew. A Jew.
He twists and turns
and twists and turns
and twists and twists
and twists and turns
looking for something, for something
Everyone passes him by
He has something to ask
But no one listens,
not at this pace
There is no time.
They’re all coming, going.
He must get right up in their face
Hey!
Ssssss
Hey!
Sssssss
Hey! Sssssss Sssssss
Hey! Sssssss Sssssss
“Please! Please. Please.
“Please! Please. Please.
The subway, please the subway, please, the subway, Please Ha?
Where is it the subway?” Where is it the subway?”
The subway? The subway?
Over there! Over there.
Oy, a blessing on you,
good luck to you,
so where did you say it was?
A street ahead, A street behind
A street ahead, A street behind
Make a right and there you go
Make a right and there you go
That so? That so?
Yes, so. Yes, so.
And din atop of din
And tumult atop tumult
A shoving here, a shoving there
He drags here, he drags there
TriptropTriptropTriptropTriptrop
Steps ascending, steps descending,
steps ascending, steps descending
So go, so go
Not slow, not slow
And then another bellow:
“MIRROR, TIMES,
BASEBALL, RACES,
WORLD NEWS”
What?
Oh, not me, not me!
Oy! Oy! My side! my side!
That’s alright, that’s alright!
that’s alright! that’s alright!
What a shoving, what a milling
what a crowding What a killing
Why are they rushing?
Where are they rushing?
Why are they rushing?
Where are they rushing?
Rushing rushing,
rushing rushing
rushing like you’ve never seen.
Rushing rushing
rushing rushing
rushing to the slot machine.
He puts a nickel,
puts in a nickel
In a machine
Which doesn’t chew, just swallows,
doesn’t chew just swallows,
The slot machine is small and thin
And swallows nickels solely
But the subway, huge and long
Like an ox
devours people wholly
in countless yawning maws
Swallows thousands if not more
thousands at a time.
Swallows them and
spits them out
Day in and day out
Pushing pushing
pushing pushing
People pushing pushing
day and night
Pushing pushing
pushing pushing
Are you itching for a fight?
Hey, Mister Mister
Mister, Watch your step!
mister, mister
don’t give me no lip.
What’ll happen? What’ll happen?
People rush by so fast
A stab in my side
A slug in the head
There is no time
Hurry up,
They shove without end
they stomp,
they run
and romp
There is no time there is no time
There is no time there is no time
The subway runs the subway turns
Cheek to jowl, my stomach churns
people all nearly gagged
And my sleeve is torn and dragged
You’ve hurt your nose and wrist? Don’t grab the strap in your fist.
Hold on hold on
hold on hold on
even though there is no room
Hold on hold on
hold on hold on
Everybody seems deaf and dumb
Excuse me. Excuse me.
The subway wriggles like
a snake
A seat is all they want to take
Excuse me Excuse me.
Excuse me Excuse me.
Oy oy oy oy oy oy oy oy
Oy oy oy oy oy oy oy oy
What’re you looking for, Mister?
What’re you looking for, Mister?
Have you lost something!”
You look so forlorn!”
Oy oy oy
Oy oy oy
Get off my foot,
you’re standing on my corn.
Oy oy oy oy oy oy oy oy
A thin girl A thin girl
stuck her pointy elbow
in my ribs right here
A large black woman, sleeps with
Her head upon her chest right here
A big fat man, with an enormous gut
warms himself with a fur rug right here
A big, tall Irishman
Manspreads himself
Manspreads himself
With his hat set
At a rakish tilt
Overseeing the car
right here
Oy, oy, oy Oy, oy, oy
Oy, the hand,
Oy, the leg,
Oy, the side,
Oy, the head
Pant
Pant
Pant
Paiiiiiiiiiiiin
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