Thursday, March 17, 2011

Salt, Sugar and Plastic Bags (And Other Reasons You Don't Want Me To Drive You Anywhere)

When you lose your shit, as I have, there is a wide swath of collateral damage.   In addition to the front and center risk of making a fool of yourself for attempting to start a rock band after 40, there are various and sundry other items that get folded into the insanity batter inadvertently while the baker's attention is fully devoted to finding the right kind of chocolate chips.  One little moment of inattention and you've switched baking powder for baking soda or added a cup of salt and a teaspoon of sugar, and well, you have a real fucking mess on your hands.  (Still, if you get the chocolate chips right you never know.  Maybe it could be good.)  In any event, the point is other stuff can sneak-up on you and escape your notice while you're busy focusing on finding the chocolate chips in your life that you're pretty sure are stuck somewhere in the back of the cabinet if you just look hard enough and move the whole-wheat flour and molasses out of the way.  In my own search for the misplaced chocolate chips, I confess some weird shit went down with the batter.  Normally, I would care about these kinds of things, but given that I can feel the chocolate chips just at the edge of my grasp, the mix-up with the salt and the sugar really doesn't concern me at the moment.  In other circumstances I would be a bit sheepish about revealing the additional evidence that shit has, in fact, been lost, but given what's already come before this, what's a little bit more?  

(1) I sometimes sing along to songs I don't know and try to guess the lyrics. 

By this I mean I literally attempt to anticipate the rhythm, tempo and next line of a song that I have never heard before or only partially heard before, but that has caught my interest.  I am terrible at this.  Happily, I have decided not to let this bother me.   My success rate has no deterrent effect on my behavior at all.  (Which also shows that the death penalty makes no sense, though you may nevertheless wish that it be extended to cover musical crimes before this is over.)  So, for example, I will keep trying to figure out both what Tapes 'n Tapes is saying in the first place and then what they are going to say next.   I am never right.  Ever.  It has occurred to me that this is the same phenomenon that goes on in front of slot machines and blackjack tables across Las Vegas and in Indian casinos everywhere, though I will quietly distinguish myself from my gambling-addicted, AARP cousins by noting that I'm not usually wearing polyester pants and holding a plastic cup full of coins when I'm playing this game.  Also, this is why it is so universally joyful when you finally get to the chorus of a song, because most of the time the chorus is the part that repeats, so your odds of getting it right increase the second and third time it comes around, making you feel like you might just have a few psychic powers up your sleeve after all.

The only time I ever have any success outside of the chorus is when my kids have taken over control of the dial and, although I am driving the car and sitting just inches away from the stereo and all of its operational parts, I am in fact hostage to Top 40 radio.  In these circumstances, I bat about .300.  And while Joe Mauer may not be satisfied with that, it's nothing to sneeze at.  The hazard, of course, is that the predictability of these songs is what makes them terrible and is the primary reason why you don't want them stuck in your head, which, unfortunately, they will be after you have correctly guessed that Enrique Iglesias is going to rhyme "situation" with "nation" in his chart-topping song "Tonight."  Also, because I have actually listened to the lyrics of these songs while trying to guess what will come next, I have noticed in great detail how much I dislike them.  This caused me on one occasion to engage in the following exchange with my children:

Scene: suburban mom driving two young daughters somewhere while Katy Perry's "Firework" is heard coming from the radio.

Radio and children together:  "Do you ever feel, like a plastic bag? . . ."

Me: Hey, guys?  

Children and radio:  ". . . through the wind, wanting to start again."  Yeah?

Me:  Um, if you ever actually feel like you're a plastic bag . . . I mean, you know, you wake-up one day and think, "I don't feel good.  I feel kind of like a plastic bag."  I want you to come tell me immediately.  Because that's going to involve a trip to the doctor.  It's not normal and just doesn't make any sense.

Radio and me together:  "You just gotta ignite the light, And let it shine, Just own the night, Like the Fourth of July . . ."

Children (with great pain and irritation audible in their voices):  M-om!  (Much sighing and rolling of the eyes occurs.) Can we listen to the song now?  And can you please STOP singing?!

Me:  O.k.  Just wanted to be sure we were clear on that.

(2) I keep a camping headlamp in my nightstand and regularly strap it around my head it in the middle of the night.

For those of you who do not already own a camping headlamp, I implore you to immediately go to REI or and order one.  If you're not familiar with headlamps, they are the functional equivalent of a flashlight taped to your forehead, but they are more ergonomically designed and easier to put on and take off.  They generally look like this:

For those of you who already own one but, for some odd reason that I will never understand, keep it stored away with all of the camping gear you never use, you are going to want to seriously consider relocating your headlamp to your nightstand.  Here's why:  when you have what at least initially appears to be a brilliant idea in the middle of the night, you are going to need to write it down.  Unless you are gifted with night vision or are willing to chance that in the morning you will be able to read the long-awaited follow-up to Coleridge's Kubla Khan that was scribbled furiously in the dark (and trust me, that never works out), this will require some light.  Instead of flipping on the bedside lamp and waking the cats and irritating your spouse, however, you can just reach for your handy headlamp and strap that sucker right on.  Then, with the simple push of a button right in the middle of your forehead you have perfectly focused, hands-free light.  Of course, one thing I have learned over the years is that the headlamp does not improve, in any way, the quality of what you are writing down.  Still, if you're like me and you're playing the odds that one of these days you are going to guess the lyrics right (as referenced above) and one of these other days you are actually going to have a brilliant idea or capture the greatest rock 'n' roll lyrics of all time before they are lost forever on the edge of a rapidly receding dream, well then, of course, it's all worth it, right?  This is what nightstands were made for -- to hold your headlamp, notebook and pencil in the event a worthy thought or idea unexpectedly comes your way.

(3) I sing in my car.  Loudly.  Even when waiting in traffic while others are looking.

Because my daughters will not tolerate any amount of this in their presence, I can only do this when I am alone in my car.  Thankfully, that happens at least twice a day on my way to and from work.  Unthankfully, my commute time is about 8 minutes, unless there is weather, in which case it bumps up to about 12.  Every morning as I am backing out of my driveway, I go through a little ritual.  First, I turn on the stereo and surf the local radio stations for something singable.  This can range from indie rock to classic rock to soft rock depending on my mood and the nostalgia meter reading on that particular day.  Some days its Boston, other days its The Black Keys.  If the radio strikes out, as it often does, I turn the dial to the iPod that is connected in the glove compartment.  I have equipped this iPod with numerous playlists full of songs that I enjoy singing.  The advantage of this option is that I will get 8-12 minutes of singing time without any time sacrificed to DJs, commercials, or an atrocity of a song rotating in.

As I have mentioned, I have recently gotten a lot more comfortable with singing in front of others (others, of course, being two people in a basement).  This has carried over and emboldened my automobile singing as well.  While I have been singing in my car for decades, I would only do so while traveling at sufficient speed that no one could really see or hear me.  Thus, when a stoplight would be reached, I would inevitably taper off, attempt to sing quietly and without moving my lips, and wait for the light to change.  As the good folks along Glenwood Avenue in Minneapolis are now viscerally aware, however, this is no longer the case.  I will now continue to sing, loudly, while stopped at a traffic light or stop sign and sometimes even in front of the people waiting for the bus just yards away.  I no longer care.  (What was I supposed to be adding next?  Salt?  Sugar?  Whatever.)  And while no one has ever clapped, neither has anyone ever thrown their bag lunch or pounded on the window and asked me to stop, for the love of God.  So, I haven't.  Turns out most of them have iPods in their pockets and earbuds in their ears anyway, or are secretly masking their own singing in the car next to me while waiting for the light.

As for the batter, who knows what will come of it.  I'm not even close to being finished with it yet.  But, just to be safe, you may not want to eat any cookies I bring around for a while, you know, in case they are a bit salty and hard as rocks.