The song found me, on a late night scurry south, with old albums on the radio. Usually, it’s a book on tape or the set we’re set to sing come Sunday. Road trip Creature Comforts of black asphalt and Squid Ink sky, butterscotch latte, half the pumps, and the fuzz muffin, safe at home, gave me a nose bump before I left, so that’s new. The rental was German which, don’t tell my Jeep, is more car than I’ve ever driven. You think brakes and you stop. You breathe on the wheel and you turn. So blame this spiel on das sound system, but all bets are off when Bette is on. Not wind beneath my wings from a distance beaches Bette. But 1970s Hammond and ballads Bette. The kind that makes you slap the stage.
It started with Millwork – which ain’t easy or hard: “Ain’t nothing but an awful boring job.” And the angst in the vow, “May I work this mill just as long as I am able, and never meet the man whose name is on the label.”
But here’s the part that got me: I was waiting for the record to skip in that one familiar place. And when it didn’t, I missed everything else that wasn’t there.
My sense memory was waiting for the skip from the scratch on an album I played a billion times from ages 16 to 26. First, my father’s actual album, then the copies he recorded on cassette for me to take when I went far away for far too long. The Bluetooth seamlessly streamed this new “unbroken” version Broken Blossoms’ single from side A, and my heart skipped a beat when the music didn’t skip with me. I missed everything that used to live in that perfect imperfection: A silver carpet in lamplight, years of lollygagging while my father pulled record after record out of sleeve after sleeve and told me story after story of the songs he loved. Even albums he was on. We played them on my mother’s massive record cabinet (handmade in Taiwan while stationed there during the war so don’t ask how many battleships it took to float it stateside). Complete with reel-to-reel. Or a karaoke box with two tape decks that followed me from dorm to dorm and Brooklyn hovel to Upper West Side beautiful hole in the wall playing the same tapes over and over until they bled the same blood red as my wee little beating heart.
I wanted to pull a u-y from southbound to north across the dirt, and wake my dad to commiserate over bluesy disco on the floor of the music room that hasn’t been for 20 years. Bury my nose in the red fur of the Border Collie named after Lucille Ball, sleeping on the rag rug in the laundry room, warm from the late-night dryer cycle. Hear the squeak of the piano stool with the glass balls for feet, and the sanded circle seat that spun round and round “like a record baby right right round round.”
But my parents are sleeping the embattled rest of suburban adventurers, their latest saga, freezing hummingbird eggs outside their golf-course-plot-turned-Animal-Planet. Left to my own devices and vices, I had hit every landmine on Memory Lane. And then…that song. You know the one. I was a blithering puddle of backstory which had to come out somewhere. Somewhere you’re reading. Sing something say something. This run-on recollection spun on an insufficient wordplayer. Pinchedly lowering the needle, and waiting with too many thoughts in those several scratching seconds before the heartsong begins to play.
Halfway through, I was half a life away, with my favorite bass slide. And after the silence, you give your hand to me. It’s unbearable. All the all, wrapped in the envelope of that hardly noticeable, descending slip of a string. Every time ever, my heart slid with it, and left me standing there – here – on the selfsame sidewalks of Anaheim, eyes closed, stock still, holding a purse and a white jacket over one arm, waiting for the lift when the verse begins.
God tells us His mercies are “new every morning” so it’s no coincidence that “joy comes in the morning.” They arrive with the Mercies I assume. So I stand trusting in the nighttime, with a heart that stands on sidewalks, slides down strings, and sings. Appreciating the eventide for what it is, but waiting for new verses to begin.
post script: the song I’m going on about….
“You Don’t Know Me” — Bette Midler
Mercies new every morning: Lamentations 3:23
Joy comes in the morning: Psalm 30:5