The other day I had had enough of thinking about this awful pandemic, so I got out my earbuds and my loudest dance playlist and headed out for a run. I often run without music so I can work through things I’m thinking about, but my purpose here was simply to escape, enjoy the music, and get away from it all.
As I did my warm-up walk up the hill from my house, the music kicked in. Elvis Costello began to sing, “She’s been a bad girl / She’s like a chemical / though you try to stop it / she’s like a narcotic.”
My first thought was, is this about the virus? It’s like a chemical? Though you try to stop it, you can’t?
I glanced up the sidewalk to make sure no one was coming around the next bush.
But narcotic? I wouldn’t say that, except for the talking about it. We all keep talking about it. How could we not? That’s definitely a drug right now. Stop thinking. Just walk, enjoy the music.
Then it hit the chorus.
“Pump it up / when you don’t really need it / pump it up / until you can feel it…”
Oh god. Pump it up? When you don’t really need it? It’s about hand sanitizer. Like a chemical and a narcotic? Yes, because it’s only available on the black market. I mean, you have to know a guy.
Yo, what you got? I got some PURELL motherf&%$. This Sh&$s real good. With a double-action pump!
Having reached the top of my block, and sufficiently warmed up, I turned on the flatter street and began to jog along, nice and easy, hoping the next song would allow me to stop thinking about the virus.
As I broke into a stride, Soft Cell began to sing. “Sometimes I feel I’ve got to run away / I’ve got to get away from the pain you driving…”
OK, it’s just a running song. No big deal. I ran faster.
“Once I ran to you / Now I run from you”
Oh no. That’s about the virus for sure. I saw someone running down the street on my side and switched over to the other side of the street. Now I run from you too.
Tainted love is right. We’re all tainted right now. If you give someone a hug that could be some seriously tainted love…
I passed a free little library in front of someone’s house and wondered if the books offered tainted love. I was running even faster now, sweat forming. The next song began.
“Watch out, you may get what you’re after…”
Ah, David, sing your crazy song. Take me out of my talking head!
“I’m an ordinary guy / Burning down the house…”
OK, I mean it’s kind of about how we’re all going crazy in our homes, ready to burn down the house, but that’s a stretch. Just enjoy the music…
I smiled at a couple with a baby, being careful not to show my teeth as I smiled.
“Hold tight wait till the party’s over / hold tight we’re in for nasty weather
there has got to be a way…”
There has got to be! Got to be. And when will this horrible house party end? I love you kids but…
“Here’s your ticket pack your bag / time for jumpin’ overboard…”
Amen, Brother! I’m weaving a rope ladder with my own pulled out hair…
I sprinted across an intersection and began to climb another steep street.
I need to stop reading meaning into these lyrics. This song is so clearly not about…
“Close enough but not too far / maybe you know where you are…”
Oh god, it’s about social distancing. Is there no escape?
What I need is just a mindless song. One of those party songs added for the teens on the dance floor…
Oh here we go. Who is this? I glanced down at the screen. Missy Elliot’s Get Ur Freak On. This oughta do it. I don’t even know what she’s talking about. Good beat.
I’m running up the steepest hill. I’m over it. I streaking past the market where they’re lined up six feet apart, washing their hands out front before they go in. Doesn’t matter. I’m singing “Get Ur Freak On / Get Ur Freak On!”
And then this happens.
“Shh, hush your mouth
Silence when I spit it out
in your face
Open your mouth
give you a taste…”
Hands to my ears. Oh god, no. Should not have heard that. Should not have heard that. I don’t like that image right now. Missy, how could you? Next song quick!
There are people on both sidewalks of the bridge so I run right down the middle of the street. No cars? All clear.
Guitar kicks in. Aretha begins to sing.
“What you want
Baby I got it
What You need
You know I got it
All I’m asking
Is just for a little respect when you come home (just a little bit)…”
That’s not too much to ask, Aretha. Now this is more like it! Aretha has everything I need. It’s all going to work out. She’s even going to give me all her money. All I have to do is give her respect when I get home!
This is great. I run, I smile (no teeth), and the light turns green just as I hit the big intersection. I’m sailing into the rich neighborhood, winding between the mansions singing, “Sock it to me / Sock it to me / Sock it to me…”
But then suddenly I hear a very quick line…
“I get tired (just a little bit) / Keep on trying’ (just a little bit) / You’re runnin’ out of food… (just a little bit) / And I ain’t lyin’ (just a little bit)…”
Wait, did she just say “You’re running out of food?!” That’s right! I forgot to buy more eggs and Milo ate all the frozen personal pizzas and when I tried to make my friend Cristen’s magic rice and beans in the rice cooker, I doubled the recipe and it overflowed and the switch flipped off way too early and now I’m running out of rice.
Why didn’t I listen to Mary the hair dresser that first week of hoarding when she said, “I wouldn’t worry about toilet paper. You can survive without that. What I’d buy is rice.”
How did Aretha know I was running out of food?! [I later realize she said “fools”]
Am I escaping yet?!
The streets are getting narrower here amidst the mansions. Runners, walkers, families…too many cars to fit in their garages.
Oh wait, Sinkane is singing. I love this song!
“It’s been some time since I have seen your face
Seems we both gained some weight”
Oh MAN! You’ve got that right. I run faster.
“We had to know the simple things would change
we knew they’d complicate…”
Well, you might have known, but I didn’t think things were so simple to start with. I mean most of us were hoping the elections were going to start undoing some of the complications…
“When the end is coming
we probably won’t be around to see it”
What? What kind of attitude is that? You’re bringing me down, Brother! OK, that’s it! You’re out, buddy! I need a good pop song.
Time to turn around and head back. I need to get back in my house and stop thinking about all this stuff. I’ll give it one more song.
I break into a run back up out of the mansions. Ah there’s the radioactive cell towers to show me the way back home.
And on with a guttural shout comes that awesome song Maya and her friends were singing in the back of the car, back when friends rode together in the back seat of a car. You know that want you back song, the song with the animal yell in it…
“Remember all the things that you and I did first?
and now you’re doing them with her?”
Ah, just a good angry stilted break-up song. That’s more like it. Testify!
“….And now you’re taking her to every restaurant?”
Well, I mean, you can’t really GO to restaurants now, but…
“We used to be, but now there’s a separation between you and me”
And there it is. It’s hopeless. Every song is about the pandemic. I give up. I’m just going to run in silence and hope my mind doesn’t go there.
Well, let me just see what the next song would be…
“At first I was afraid
I was petrified
thinking I could never live without you by my side…”
OK, Gloria, whatever. Bring it home. Tell Coronavirus how you really feel.
walk out the door
don’t turn around now
cause you’re not welcome anymore…”
O snap! Covid just got told! Go on, Girl!
I streak past the market. The line’s gone! I head down the hill, curving my way back home, and Gloria takes me all the way there…
“Weren’t you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye
do you think I grumble?
did you think I’d lay down and die?
Oh no, not I, I will survive
oh as long as I know how to love
I know I’ll stay alive
I’ve got all my life to live
and I’ve got all my love to give
and I’ll survive
I will survive
Just another run in the pandemic.
(Actual songs on my shuffle. Health and Safety to all! My heart goes out particularly to New Yorkers and their loved ones right now!)