Around the Island

Charity’s Column: Change, mortality and an earworm

I had a little problem this spring.

Every time I went to the IGA to get a half-gallon of milk, I picked up a deadly ear worm.  At some point during even the most direct dash from the dairy case to the check-out, I could pretty much count on hearing the 1971 tune, “Sweet City Woman.”

“Well, I’m on my way, To the city lights, To the pretty face, That shines her light on the city nights ….”

This song was the devilish work of The Stampeders, who created a catchy tune with a jangling banjo track that could have driven Earl Scruggs to break his 1934 Gibson Granada over a barstool. I thought I had rid myself of Sweet City Woman decades ago, but last month, every time I bought lettuce it was back in my ear, a condition no doctor could treat and no mask could prevent.

My husband was skeptical. “How many times did you hear the same song?” 

“Every time. Every single time.”

On my next trip, I sent him a recording I made on my phone when “Sweet City Woman” began playing from a speaker outside the store as I ventured in for yogurt. For the rest of that day there was an endless loop in my head,

“Bon, c’est bon, Bon-bon c’est bon-bon. Bon, c’est ba-ba-ba, bon-bon.”

In 2011, the company known as Muzak was purchased and re-branded as Mood Media, the current term of art for the stuff you hear that is designed to make you buy something. It’s the aural version of those ads that pop up hours after you buy shoes online, offering you some snazzy socks. Mood media works on the demographics and preferences of customers, and the IGA’s line-up of Solid Gold from the last century means something about who they see at the check-out.

To remember that music, you’ve got to be over 50.

I was overreacting to the grocery store music, but we live in stressful times, and little things are starting to get to me. When an expert or pundit uses the phrase, “another tool in the toolbox” to refer to say, a new cardiac care medication, or a novel approach for teaching special-needs kids (I am not making these up) I shut my screen in disgust.

I am so done with people who used the term “unchartered territory,” a place on the chart where civilization seemed to be going a lot in April.

I’m annoyed when I see a real estate ad with the words “chef’s kitchen” in the description. Has anyone talked to a chef about these kitchens? Because mostly they look way too tidy, and poorly-ventilated for any serious cooking to take place in them, even if you have a chef in your employ.

Spring is a time of birth and rebirth, but also of death. It’s when my friend Carolyn, who lives upstate, sends me updates on creatures she sees around her house, and I reciprocate. Mostly, the creatures are outside our houses, and we have taken to calling this communication “Wildlife Drama.” (The episodes involving an albino skunk who lived for a time in Carolyn’s outdoor fireplace were particularly dramatic.)

Last week she sent me a picture of two small groundhogs peeking between the stones of a fence near the house, orphaned by a passing car that killed their mother. She called a wildlife rescue organization and they told her the babies looked old enough to survive on their own, but she might help by putting out some water for them. She made them a salad of dandelion greens, too, and they seemed to enjoy it. The next day she had five little groundhogs eating greens.

The groundhogs around my house have been pretty quiet this spring, so I sent her a headline from the online edition of a newspaper announcing, “Researchers launch pilot study to learn more about seal population, Code change could lead to new affordable housing.”  This was some provocative Wildlife Drama, and she was surprised to learn that here on the East End, a pilot study could result in affordable options for housing local marine mammals.

I’m very glad to see new life growing, and I’m especially glad to be putting a time of illness and suffering behind me. But being glad for a new lease on life doesn’t mean forgetting about how I got here, and who was with me on the journey. Things are getting better, but there is still so much sadness and so much to recover from. I’ve written more notes to friends who have lost a loved one this year than in any I can remember.

Some of those lost were too young to recognize the music playing at the IGA.