Over the past few weeks, as reality started to bend until its spine snapped and it took on a nearly unrecognizable shape, I’ve been hit by waves of surreality.
Oftentimes when these waves wash over me, I feel a bit dizzy, my stomach gets a little queasy, and I find myself short of breath. After a few seconds, the sensation is gone. What I experienced in the cereal aisle at the local Hannaford a few days ago exceeded those experiences, though.
First off, my regular supermarket began renovations a couple months ago. So shopping there already felt more like a psychological experiment than anything else. Beer, Easter candy, and baby diapers should never be in the same aisle under any circumstances. Also, I was trying to grocery shop while not becoming a vector for a microscopic bastard that wants to kill people.
Anyway, I was trying to find the store brand frosted wheat squares, and I became aware of the drone of music from the store loudspeaker.
Filmmaker John Carpenter (The Thing, Escape From New York, Big Trouble In Little China) theorized that a movie’s score should be akin to wallpaper: there, but you don’t really notice it. I think supermarket music works on the same principle.
Unfortunately for that concept, the song that came on at that moment was Billy Ocean’s Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car, a song deeply connected to my subconscious, despite (or perhaps I part due to) my deep hatred of it.
It was right around this time in 1988. It was spring of my 8th-grade year, and I was sleeping over at a friend’s house. We were wasted on Mountain Dew and Cheetos, tossing Monty Python quotes at each other (did I mention I was really cool?) while listening to the radio.
That Billy Ocean song came on, and I don’t know what it was, but something about it struck us funny. Probably just stupid, early-teen-boy sensibilities, or maybe we thought one of the saxophones sounded like a fart, or it might’ve had nothing to do with the song and we were just exhausted to the point of sheer idiocy. We laughed our asses off for the longest time, and it felt great.
There aren’t a lot of middle school memories that I cherish, but that’s one of them.
Standing in front of a long wall of picked-over cereal boxes, laid off from my job, scared for my loved ones and the world in general, the sound of that song being piped into the store crushed me. The banality of Billy Ocean’s lyrics collided with the carefree memory of that sleepover and the ugliness of now.
The world isn’t going to stop turning. Humanity won’t be wiped out by COVID-19. We have very bad days ahead of us, but life will go on. That weird confluence of past and present broke something in me, though, and it’s something I won’t get back.
Does that make sense? I’m guessing not. Oh well.
The moment passed, I kept shopping, and Billy kept singing.
I’ll be your non-stop lover
Get it while you can
Your non-stop miracle
I’m your man
Sure thing, Billy. Whatever you say.