A couple days ago, standing in line at a Walgreens, I heard a song that I literally forgot existed: “Somewhere Only We Go,” a super-sappy-dippy-drippy 2004 tune by the English rock band Keane that I’m guessing you forgot existed, too. There is no reason in particular to remember it. Why my brain felt the need to stow away its lyrics in a lockbox for retrieval 15 years later, I can’t say. But as I stood there, my previously dormant Top-40 neurons aroused and pinging with excitement, I began to sing the song. Like, out loud. In a pharmacy on New Scotland Avenue. Because what the hell.
Oh, simple thing, where have you gone?
I’m getting old, and I need something to rely on. . . .
This could be the end of everything
So why don’t we go
Somewhere only we know?
And as I sang, the young woman in front of me twirled around and shot me a look of startled, eyebrow-spazzing incredulity. There was no mistaking its meaning. It said: DOES THIS PERSON REALIZE SHE’S SINGING A SHITTY POP SONG ALOUD IN LINE AT WALGREEN’S, AND IF SO, WHY DOESN’T SHE STOP.
The look contained no question mark, because she did not request or expect an answer. She simply needed to confirm with her eyes what her ears had already told her: that the singing ditz behind her didn’t give a rat’s ass what anyone else thought.
Next up in the pharmacy-radio queue was Steve Winwood’s “When You See a Chance,” and yup, I sang that, too. What can I say. It was a long line.
RUN-ON SENTENCE ALERT, 1:
All of this reminded me of a little incident from the late 1970s (mentioned briefly in my first crazy memoir, House of Holy Fools) when, sitting with my fearless mama Jeanne at a Chinese restaurant in Connecticut, we ran out of tea – and then, after trying and failing to snag the attention of a waitress, and trying failing again, and trying and failing AGAIN, and truly not caring what anyone else thought, including her mortified teenage daughter with a mouth plagued by braces and a face plagued by bangs, she hefted the empty pot over her head and kept it there, holding it aloft and smiling benignly as strangers turned and stared and the aforementioned daughter cringed until her face broke and shrank as far under the table as geometry and anatomy allowed.
Mama, stop! the suffering teen whispered. Mama, please! Mama! Don’t! Mama!
My mother smiled again. She really didn’t give a rat’s ass. (What does that expression even mean?Are rodent butts something people normally gift?) Hers was the placid mien of a strong woman who had been through the wars and emerged with the secret to living. “Someday,” she told me, “you’ll stop caring what people think of you.”
And I thought: NO WAY, OH MOTHER OF MINE. I WILL NOT.
But she was right. It took me quite a few years to get there — plus a war or two of my own — but I did, finally, reach a point of truly not caring when strangers turn and stare. Giving birth three times in a large teaching hospital surrounded by 12 doctors, 19 med students, 37 nurses, 69 random passersby and a 100-person Greek chorus probably helped. But my husband’s suicide sealed it: So long as I’m alive and well, and the people I love are, too, nothing else really matters. Make a boob of myself in public? Sing like a dork at Walgreens? What the hell do I care?
RUN-ON SENTENCE ALERT, 2:
And all of that reminds of another little incident, not too long ago, when someone informed me with great and sober authority that my sunglasses were “goofy,” a piece of breaking news uttered as though A) I hadn’t realized my sunglasses were goofy when I purchased them; B) I didn’t enjoy and celebrate their goofiness each time I wore them; C) I were not, myself, profoundly goofy by nature; D) goofiness is somehow something to be avoided; E) more serious-minded sunglasses would vault me to a higher social status, tax bracket and station of influence in the echoing halls of power; and F) I gave a rat’s ass.
I didn’t say any of that at the time. I wish I had. I also wish I’d said: COME ON, HUMAN! HAVE SOME FUN! THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND! WEAR GOOFY SUNGLASSES! SING YOUR WAY TO THE CHECKOUT COUNTER IN THE SKY! LIFE IS TOO DAMNED SHORT TO CARE WHAT PEOPLE THINK!
It is. And I truly don’t.
Thank you, Mama.