copyright 2014                Janice Leber, Chopped Liver Productions
the hayward zucchini jingle contest
by Janice Leber
or: Melissa Gamboa Got Robbed

For some ungodly reason we had Hayward city’s cable access channel on in the background one ordinary summer afternoon in 1985 when we heard a promo for the Hayward Zucchini Festival.  As we chuckled over the phrase "zucchini festival," the announcer mentioned that they were having a zucchini jingle contest to be aired on TV in three weeks.

We looked at each other and smiled.  Just coincidentally, I had been working on a series of promos for a new community
radio station, KMUN in Astoria, Oregon, for which I had written a bunch of hokey jingles.  I felt compelled to take on the challenge of a jingle for zucchini.

I went down to the TV studio – no e-mail in those dark days – and asked the nice lady at the front desk how I might go about entering the zucchini jingle contest. She politely handed me an application form, and a couple of guys in the corner exchanged a bemused look. It seemed clear that they believed no good could come from a zucchini jingle contest.

I quickly wrote a parody, to the tune of “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini.”  The choice seemed pretty obvious.  I started it out with a little bit of the Mexican Hat Dance:

Tired of junk food? In a blue funk mood?
There’s no need to feel alone.
Don’t go wayward, come to Hayward
For the best zucchini ever grown.

1,2,3,4, tell us all a little more!

Well, there’s an itsy bitsy teeny weeny patch of Hayward’s fine zucchini
that I grew in my back yard this year.
An itsy bitsy teeny weeny patch of Hayward’s fine zucchini,
and my problems have all disappeared.

up, down here, there, tell us all about the fair!

Well, there’s an itsy bitsy teeny weeny festival for our zucchini
down in Hayward, at Kennedy Park
So grab your blue jeans or bikini, come and visit our zucchini
August 17th and 18th, from nine until dark.

I followed the directions on the application and made a cassette recording, brought the tape and the paperwork down to the studio, and a few days later I was invited to sing my song on live cable access TV the following Wednesday.

As it happened, my brother’s kids were staying at our house at the time. They had no choice but to come down to the studio that night. I mentioned it to a few people at work that day, and they wanted to come too. One friend even lent me a dress for the show, and to my shock it fit and I looked great in it.

Around 5:00 that evening, as I was getting ready to go, I was thinking about how to present my song.  I decided to bring some zucchini from my back yard. After all, since I had planted some of Hayward’s fine zucchini, my problems had all disappeared.

They looked so naked, sitting there on the bathroom sink. Impulsively I dove into my sewing stash and fashioned a pair of blue jeans for one squash, and a bikini for the other.  They looked about as cute as zucchini can ever really look.

As we waited at the studio I was shocked to see about ten folks from work come down to Hayward from the big city to watch the zucchini jingle action. I mean, these were cool people, people with real lives, and they came down to witness this peculiar piece of history. I was flattered and humiliated.

The order was picked by random draw, and I ended up going last. That sounded fine to me.

The first contestant was ten-year-old Melissa Gamboa.  Her proud mother came onstage with her, carrying a little boombox.  Mama punched the button and a jaunty, original tune, played enthusiastically on a home piano, began.  After the introductory bar, Melissa began to sing in clear, perfect tones:

If you really want a treat
Want a scrumptious food to eat
You can bake it, boil it, fry it, it’s zucchini!
It has vitamins and zest
It’s the food that I love best
Even Mister Paganini loved zucchini!

It went on from there, but my dyslexic melody memory goes into the theme from “Superchicken.” Suffice to say, as Melissa continued her song about the virtues of zucchini, I turned to my family and friends with a look of panic. If this was a sign of what was to come, I was not going to win this contest.

Fortunately for me, it was not a sign of things to come.  Nobody came close to Melissa. A charismatic fellow named Dagoberto changed “I’m Chiquita Banana” to “I’m Zucchita Zucchini and I’m here to say ….” There was a ghastly quartet who sang “Funiculi, Funicula” as “ZucchiNI, ZucchiNI” in three-part harmony, with a soprano clumsily trilling tra-la-la.  There were people in odd costumes with marginal talent.

Then it was my turn.  My goal was to do as well as Melissa, but my mom wasn’t there to punch my button.  I punched my cassette player my own damn self, and did my damnedest to sell my silly zucchini song.  As I got to the second verse I realized I had forgotten my little zucchini friends and had nothing to wave around, so I did a little dance. When I finished, my entourage – which seemed to be half the people in the studio – yelled and stomped and whistled and clapped like fools.  Aw shucks.

I made it to the finals, and we did our jingles one more time.  The only difference was that this time I remembered my zucchinis, and pulled out the blue jeans- and bikini-clad squashes when their lines came out, shook ‘em toward the camera as I sang.
The judges conferred for a few tense minutes, then reconvened to announce the winners.  Dagoberto came in fourth. That seemed right.

Then came a shock.  Third place was Melissa Gamboa!  The best jingle came in THIRD!  Now I had no idea how this might go.  What were the judges thinking?!?

It got worse.  The off-key quartet came in second.  Now I was worried.  These judges were insane.

Ah, but it got better fast.  I came in first and took home the prize!  The prize in this case was dinner for two at a swanky Hayward restaurant, a $100 gift certificate from True Value Hardware, and a Zucchini Festival T-shirt.  We also got to go to a big Zucchini Festival dinner full of city officials and delicious food.  We really enjoyed the food.

They used my jingle for the Zucchini Festival thereafter.  For all I know, they’re still using it.  That’s OK with me.  I still wear the T-shirt.
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