June 09, 2006

Song in the Supermarket

He’s only going there to pick up some eggs, he’s got the carton in his hand and is heading toward the checkout when a song comes over the loudspeaker, a high-stepping guitar lead over a rippling piano, instantly recognizable: a song he hasn’t heard in maybe twenty years. It’s a song about missing someone. He stops in the middle of the aisle. Can’t go to the checkout now. He’s got to hear the whole song. The chorus is like a photo of a forgotten love. Fortunately it repeats many times in this song; you can sneak lots of looks at the photo.

He’s got to do something with himself while he’s listening, can’t just stand stock still listening to the ceiling like some kind of lunatic, so he starts moseying up and down the aisles, and soon he’s picking an item or two off the shelves: a pound of butter, a bag of chips. Then he’s got to grab a basket to put them in. The song is playing, he knows the lyrics of the next verse…

“Good afternoon, shoppers.” Blaring right over the song. It’s infuriating, it’s… “Look for our weekly specials blah blah aisle 23 blah blah…” She’ll stop in a second, he thinks, but no, there are more weekly specials to announce… What’s the point of making these announcements when the sound is so garbled you can’t tell what she’s saying? No one’s going to go to Aisle 23 because of her; what is she bothering for? If the song is over by the time she stops, he might have to throw something.

Thank God it’s a long song: five, six minutes. The chorus comes on, then an instrumental break and then the same ecstatic chorus again, those boys knew they had a good thing when they recorded it. Could listen to that chorus forever; it could be the soundtrack of the afterlife.

It’s so wonderful to hear that song again, he grabs more and more items – cookies, an organic soft drink, he’s a retail psychologist’s dream. He times his arrival at the checkout to coincide perfectly with the song’s ending. It’s over, he pays his money, he breathes a deep sigh, goes out into the hot afternoon…

He remembers the first time he ever heard that song. Funny, there was also a supermarket involved: he remembers turning on the radio in the store parking lot, and the song spreading across the sky like a revelation. It was a stinging cold night, the kind of cold that can make a car radio freeze, cracking into silence like a frozen tree branch splitting from its trunk. He drove back to his apartment in the below-zero dark, listening to that starbright twinkling guitar. At the time, he had no one to miss but felt that someday he might miss someone. And now there are so many, he doesn’t even know who the song reminds him of anymore. All of them really, every little one, every little thing, every little kiss. They blur together; it’s the missing that counts.