In 1986, I spent six weeks of varying gloriousness in Harbor Beach, Michigan, on a summer exchange program. It was a memorable summer in many ways but one of the highlights was that I got to taste New Coke. They were exciting times because not only was there Classic Coke and New Coke, there was also Cherry Coke and Diet Coke, which had been introduced to the Finnish market two years earlier as Coca-Cola Light.
Yes, this is the history of the world, told with the help of sixty-one 1980s pop songs.
I heard the tape had originally had some KISS songs on it, believe it or not. I don’t know if that’s true, so I probably shouldn’t be spreading rumors but I also figured that since nobody remembers or knows who the original owner of the tape was, I won’t be hurting anyone. No foul, no harm, right?
Everybody should have a friend like Emma. I don’t know if I deserved her, or if that’s even a word you can ever use about your friends, but I’m really happy she’s my friend. Or that she was my friend. Or possibly is, I don’t know which word to use since I haven’t seen her in almost thirty years.
It’s always been like that, though. Not that you always don’t see her for thirty years, but it’s always been Emma who’s chosen the level of friendship we were going to have.
Her first words to me were, “We’re going to be friends forever.”
Andy always said that “not every night ends at the karaoke bar, but every good night does”, but Andy was always saying stuff like that. He was one of those guys who always had an answer to everything, and not only that, he made his answers sound like they were eternal truths, originally from God (or something) that had since been passed from generation to generation to him, and him only.
“Any decision you make mustn’t take longer than it takes to cook an egg” was one.
“People who wear hats are always hiding something” was another.
“Never eat a meal alone” was a third, but there were dozens of others.
The one that we lived our lives by right then was the one I quoted first, the one about the karaoke places. That’s how I found myself sitting in a dark bar with my back against the wall, surrounded by a group of people I didn’t know. Andy didn’t, either, but since “strangers are only people you haven’t gotten drunk with yet”, that’s where we were.
He wasn’t a religious person. He was, however, “a spiritual person”. His words.
It meant that he was snacking on the big buffet table of different faiths and beliefs. Some days he believed in reincarnation, other days in nothing, and on yet some other days, he believed in everything from astrology to God to magic and other dimensions. Those were the days he was at his happiest, although, it was difficult to see cause and effect there.
In short, the happier he was the more he believed in everything and everybody but effect could have also gone in the other direction.
And he was never happier than when he walked through town early in the morning in the summer after a long day and night in his favorite bar in the middle of the said town.
He couldn’t wait to tell her the joke. It was an old joke, for sure, and he didn’t know what had made him think of it just now, but it was a good one. He had even chuckled out loud while standing in line to pick up a package from the post office. (It was a book, if you must know. Which one? The latest Harry Potter book. Happy now?)
My great-grandmother had always told her daughter that when she died, she’d come back as a ghost, and she’d haunt their home.
“But in a good way,” she’d said, “like a house sitter.”
By the time I was born, my great-grandmother had already passed away but she had, by my grandmother’s account, found her way back into the house. Whenever my grandma couldn’t find her keys, she blamed her mother. When the windows were open when she got home from the store – her mother’s doing. When people were walking their dogs outside her house, and the barked, they could see something not any human couldn’t: her mother.
People often ask me how come I’m always so happy. Now, nobody’s always happy and I wouldn’t even dream of saying that I’m always happy, but it is true that I often seem to be smiling, even when I’m not. I can say, though, that there hasn’t been a day when I haven’t been smiling going to work, and then I just keep smiling all day long.
I think that helps. It’s hard to be unhappy when you’re smiling.
And it’s hard not to smile when you’re riding a rollercoaster all day long. Literally.
She woke up with a short gasp. A silent one, but a gasp nonetheless. She wondered how long she’d been holding her breath in reality. In the dream, she’d raced through long corridors until she had come to a dead end and then she had heard a door close behind her, and then the walls had started to close in on her, and she had screamed and then she had tried to push back with everything she got, before she had blown a bubble with her gum and hoped it would hold the walls, but the bubble had burst and the walls got closer and closer, and then there was … a circus and … she had flipped a bird at a guy watching her at the ceiling window and … just as the walls had touched her on both sides, she woke up.
She didn’t need to analyze the dream all too long to figure out two things about it. First, it was nonsensical like most of her dreams seemed to be. They didn’t feel that weird to her when she was having the dreams, but when she told them to him in the morning, he always laughed, and told her they didn’t make any sense.
And second, she knew what had made her brain produce the image of walls closing in.