ONCE I WENT WALKING through a forest in Bavaria with my wife. We were far from the house when I heard a cuckoo. It went "cuckoo, cuckoo," and I turned to my wife and said, "There must be one hell of a clock around here." Because she is my wife, she did not laugh. She knew I thought cuckoo birds lived only in clocks.

She does not know, though, that for many years I thought that veal was an animal. Like cows.Only veals. I thought that if you went to the right place, Greece or Italy, you coud see hill sides covered with veals munching their way along. I imagined vealboys herding the veal to the roundup -- "Git along little veal," they would say, only in Italian or Greek -- and then the veal would come to market. This is what I once thought.

I attribute most of my ignorance to having grown up in a big city. People who grow up in very big cities don't know the things that other people know. They know other things, like how to ride the back bumper of the bus and how to tell a transvestite from a real woman before it gets embarrassing, but they don't know other things.

Whatever the reason, I have gone through life not knowing the things everyone else seems to know. Just the other day, for instance, I learned that the red coats fox hunters wear are called pink coats. I don't know if this is an affectation or if the people who fox hunt are somewhat color blind. They are the same people, after all, who wear lime green pants.

I also know nothing about plants or trees. I donht know any of their names. I see a tree and it's a tree. A maple is a tree and an elm is a tree and an oak is a tree and an evergreen is a tree. They are all trees. I know the difference between a palm tree and a sequoia, but I don't know the difference between one palm and another. I know a redwood when I see one though. Seen one, seen 'em all.

I am similarly ignorant about birds. In my book, there are robins and blue jays and cardinals and then billions of things called birds. If they are not red or blue, they are just birds. It is the same with flowers. There are roses and tulips and then flowers. All the rest are flowers and they are distinguished from one another by calling them red flowers or yellow flowers or the flower with the funny leaf. The ones with funny leaves you put on the table.

It was just recently that I heard the word trivet used. Someone at dinner said, "Get the trivet, honey" and I could not wait to see what they came up with. I thought it was maybe the same of a bird I didn't know -- as in roast trivet or, better yet, roast wild trivet. It turns out it's what I used to call a hot plate -- a thingus you put under something hot to protect the table. Just a few weeks before, someone told me to put my jacket on the newel post. I didn't have any idea where or what it was so I just slung it on the end of the banister. That's what a newel post is. Now I keep my trivet there.

In the Army, I never knew what people were talking about. I was in the Army maybe two days when the sergeant called us all out of the barracks, and then ordered me and some others to return to the barracks and clean the commodes. I did not know what a commode was, but I thought if I saw one I would know it. I ran into the barracks, looked around, saw beds and lockers and toilets and showers, but no commodes. I told the sergeant this. He made me do 20 pushups.

The avocado was invented in 1965. It did not exist before that. I know there was no such things as avocados when I was young. No one I knew ever ate an avocado. Pesto had not been invented yet; basil was the name of a tough kid who lived around the corner and the only pastas were spaghetti and macaroni.

I know nothing about fruits and vegetables. I thought a zucchini was a pasta dish for years and when someone said they were growing them, I simply assumed that is how you get pasta -- you grow it. I would like to grow fettucini. It is my favorite pasta. Just my luck I would grow it and then the veal would come along and eat it.