The Photograph On The Dashboard – Part 1

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Today, I woke up to REM’s Nightswimming playing in my head and it didn’t stop until I watched the trailer for Sharktopus. I haven’t listened to this song in years but it was at one time in heavy rotation on my stereo (which had both tape deck and turntable). I couldn’t figure out why this song would just pop in my head, so I decided to play it (now through iTunes) and see what it triggers.

I am listening now as I write this.

On the first notes – a string section tuning up – it becomes clear why this song was in my head: an old friend who has recently gotten back in touch with me. She will always be associated with REM, and any song I hear by them instantly puts her image in my head. It makes me think of the first time we hung out, sometime in high school, when she was just one of the cute girls I couldn’t bring myself to talk to: on the Ocean City boardwalk in the humid but breezy air, before I was cool enough to wear jeans. Our group of five stopped at Tunes On The Dunes, and I tried to make it abundantly clear that I was buying an REM t-shirt with a ham-handed and loud declaration – a manner not out of the ordinary for our friends: “I am buying this REM shirt!” She didn’t hear, or didn’t care. (Note: we have since talked about that moment, and she doesn’t remember me being there). It’s not that I was trying to impress her – I did like REM, and still do – but I was hoping to get her attention. What I learned is that you don’t get attention by letting someone know that you like a band liked by everyone else on Earth in a manner involving the band’s most popular album – the shirt showcased Out of Time.

And it was a white t-shirt, which is incredibly lame.

Anyway, for a week or so before this reconnection I have felt an ever-swelling sense of sentimentality. This has strengthened it. I attribute it to loneliness, but that seems too easy and probably inaccurate. My mood has been all over the map: I flirt with a barista and get positive body language in response, and it leaves me feeling confident and charming, with the swagger of Steve McQueen. In another moment I make a girl smile and I am crushed by a sense impending rejection and feeling inadequate – I shut down completely. And it goes deeper: I think of the first girl I kissed and want to let her know I’m glad she’s happy (and that I still remember the smell of her shampoo, the taste of her braces, her giggle and manner, and how I imagine a hug from her would still feel exciting). I rock karaoke to applause the likes of Madison Square Garden. I sing in the car: one time energized by the person watching, the next time embarrassed. I sing well. I sing poorly. In the shower I get choked up while miming an Oscar-acceptance speech (hoping the people I thank know I still think of them). I toss and turn. I sleep well. I run 5K. I am too lazy. I am loud. I am quiet. I have something important to say. I have no ideas. I am fat. I am slimming down. I am happy. I hate everything.

I love me.

I love me not.

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