“I forgot how quickly I start narrating stuff out loud to myself when left to my own devices.” –Message to a friend about my month in Melbourne
The other night I walked around for hours, too afraid to listen to my iPod based on my current dreamy state and nervousness about not looking the right way when I looked both ways. I sang songs in my head, like I always do, except maybe at a more fevered pace. It was cold and I was hungry. I wondered, could a night have a Top 5 list? As I walked and shopped, ate and remembered, I came up with mine. Here’s what happened the other night, and what I was singing in my head.
“For the Young Sophisticate” by Frank Zappa
It was raining the first time I realized I had missed Rosh Hashanah. I slept until 1:30pm that day, a blessing when you work until 4:00am, but even all those precious zzs couldn’t help me shake the tired fog that surrounded me. That level of exhaustion veers in two directions: magical or depressing, but the depression is particular. It’s not real feelings and chemicals, even if you think it is. It’s little kid sadness—you’re so tired, you could cry over anything. A stubbed toe is a tragedy, a missed TV show is a reason to call it quits and crawl back into bed. As for the magical—well, sometimes you’re sitting at brunch and you wonder if you’re awake or dreaming. Rain drops twinkle and wink. You wonder if you thought about it really hard, if maybe you could fly.
It was raining and I was walking to my third convenience store, trying to find the perfect Cadburys bar or a flavor of Tim Tams I hadn’t tried yet. I remembered it was Rosh Hashanah. No apples, no honey, no family dinner. I burst into tears. I conjured the song that had been looping through my mind for days. “Dear Heart, Dear Heart, tell me tell me what’s the reason,” I hummed. I turned it into a Zappa mash-up, I imagined his voice saying “Is that a REAL poncho or a SEARS poncho?” I smiled.
“Pablo Picasso,” Jonathan Richman
I went to a souvlaki joint. I ordered a souvlaki, and while I waited, I killed a cockroach on my table with a handful of receipts I’d found in my purse. I wondered why people always ask me twice if I want chili sauce. Did I stutter? I read “Love Goes to the Building on Fire” and I thought about Jonathan Richman. What does his music sound like now? Is he good live? I tried to figure out what my Top 5 Jonathan Richman songs are, but I got distracted by the phantom cockroaches that I kept imagining scuttling across the Formica.
“Dry the Rain,” The Beta Band
High Fidelity showed up on TV a few hours before I left the house. I caught it a minute before it started. It was a Rosh Hashanah miracle. It wasn’t the first time that I felt like Rob Gordon knew I was feeling down, and had arrived to pull me out of a funk, or give me permission to embrace it. And what better song to walk through the rain, in need of cheer and food and a good soundtrack, then the Beta Band’s “Dry the Rain”? Yes, I will be alright. You’re right, Rob Gordon, you’re right as usual.
“Stupid Thing” and “Freeway” by Aimee Mann
I keep coming home and listening to Joni Mitchell. I keep resting my forehead against the cool, calm of tried and true singer songwriters. Joni Mitchell, Aimee Mann, Carole King. I play a little Etta James as the day winds down, I play a little Joni Mitchell during my first late night espresso. I play Carole King when it’s raining really hard, but I only did that once because she kind of bores me, and listening to “Far Away” started to seem downright maudlin. And I listen to an entire Aimee Mann album every night, so the low buzz in my head when I’m not thinking is replaced for days by “Freeway” and “Stupid Thing.” Musical comfort food, Aimee Mann.
“Listen to Her Heart,” by Tom Petty
My friend Amy Berkowitz did a reading from her new book “Listen to Her Heart” a few months ago. There was a line in one of the poems about going to the drugstore when you’re lonely, buying hair ties. I’ve done that a hundred times. I love moments like that in poetry—when you see a bit of yourself that’s always been there, but you’ve never noticed. When I went to the pharmacy in Melbourne the other day, hair ties cost double. No thoughtless buying allowed when they cost double.
My boyfriend was working late, and every day I tried to bring him a treat. I went treat shopping after souvlaki. I flicked through racks of Tim Tams, I dawdled in a myriad of brightly colored candy aisles. At the grocery store, I bought a chocolate bar with raspberry jelly bean bits and honey comb laced throughout. It reminded me of the kind of candy bar a child would make, the first experiment that would’ve come out of Willy Wonka’s factory after Charlie took over. “All sweets together all at once!” I ate half of it on the way home.