Click the album cover to hear and/or buy this track, A Mistake, from our In Odess cd.
Zhelonek's book calls the song "A MISTEE" and states it was recorded by Isaac Feld (right). The word mistee mystified me and everyone at Yidish-vokh that I showed it too. It wasn't until weeks later that, by context, I realized it must have been a bungled version of the word mistake. Even then, it wasn't until I was browsing through the whole Yiddish collection at europeana.eu that I found it as: Amisteik!
I presume Zhelonek knew so little English he had no idea what Feld was singing, so when he took down the lyrics (I imagine him hunching over his Victrola, setting the needle back again and again) he wrote what he heard. It's an odd song, going from waltz time to a march and back again.
This misogynistic song can only be sung by a man. I added a verse from the woman's point of view using one of my favorite new vocabulary words of 2012: fonfenik. I came across the word fonfn when I was translating Shmuel-Leyb Tsitron's recount of a meeting between I.L. Peretz, Jacob Dinezon, and a young wannabe poet who had burst into their hotel room. He couldn't be understood because of his fonfn. My friend Musia Lakin told me this was talking under your nose. I eventually decided she meant, a sort of adenoidal mumble. After that I was on the lookout for this word and realized it was also used for people who put on airs. Ruth Rubin translated the folksong title Oy di meydelekh, di fonferonkes! as "Oh those young girls, those show-offs!" Fonfenik is a version I came across for guys. So I stuck it in the verse I wrote, along with sholkik (sholtik, sholtak) "an idler, a good-for-nothing" and foyler "sluggard."
My translation of the Yiddish lyrics:
A mistake, a mistake, I made a mistake. I thought she was pretty, but in the end I was way off. Oh my head, oh my nose, I made a big mistake.
I was sitting with a maiden once, I turned down the gas [to darken the room], but because I forgot myself completely I was the victim of a joke. When I went close to her, it was quite dark, I hugged her and kissed her all over. Suddenly the light came on, oy, what I saw then, it grew dark before my eyes: it was my serving girl. A mistake...
I was hanging out with a "cavalier," he turned down the gas, but because I forgot myself completely I got taken. I approached him, he dressed like an aristocrat. I was drawn to him, his manners were good. But suddenly he came into the light, oy, what I realized: he was a good-for-nothing lazy blow-hard, a boaster. A mistake...