Thursday, August 26, 2010

Short Story: The Playlist

 1984 Sectional Champs - I'm the thrilled chick on the left.
I opened the package from Robert.  

In January, he'd organized an event to celebrate the retirement of the coach who'd lead our tiny high school basketball team to back-to-back championships.  Having just been laid off,  I felt selfish spending the money to take the trip.  I emailed Robert that I wouldn't be there and he emailed me back.

"Watch your mail."

Taking pity on me, I suppose, he'd mailed copies of the slideshow he'd put together and the local AM radio station's coverage of the games where our David beat the Goliath in the last second, creating one of the highlights of our senior year.

I popped some popcorn and settled in to watch the cd.  My daughter Sophia came and sat on the sofa next to me.

"What's this?"
"It's a slideshow from my senior year of high school."
"Is that you?"
"You were skinny."
"I was."
"Look at your hair."
"I know, right?  I miss my dark hair."
"Did you like being a cheerleader?"
"I did.  But cheerleading is different now.  It's more like dancing and stunts.  We didn't do a lot of that stuff."
"Everybody had big hair."

My son came in from outside and flopped on the love seat.  "Why did those guys wear such short shorts?"

"That was the style."

They sat with me for a few more minutes, reading the story of how the team had decided over the summer to give it their all, how no one expected a win two years in a row from this team because we were the smallest school in the tournament and we'd lost so many seniors from the previous year's winning team.  The slides slid over one by one with the story of how they did it.  Determination.  Practice.  Teamwork.  Know your strengths and play to them.

The cd ended.  Tears prickled behind my eyes.  I'd seen some of those people at my twenty-fifth class reunion in June.  I swallowed the lump that formed in my throat.  How silly.  Homesick for the place and the past?  What sentimental claptrap.

"Mom, what's this?"  Nate held up a cd with a colorful cover - pictures of downloaded music from itunes.

"Don't know.  It was in the box, but I haven't listened to it yet."

He opened it up and looked at the playlist.  "I don't know any of these songs except the last one.  Isn't that on Rock Band?"  He tossed the cd case into my outstretched hand.

I opened the cover and looked at the typed playlist.  "Songs for Lisa"
1.  Lonely Boy / Andrew Gold
2. Broken Hearted Savior / Big Head Todd and The Monsters
3.  Stand Tall / Burton Cummings
4.  Feels Like Home / Chatal Kreviazuk
5.  We Just Disagree / The Dave Mason Band
6.  Always Gonna Love You / Gary Moore
7.  The Air That I Breathe / The Hollies
8.  At Seventeen / Janis Ian
9.  Midnight Blue / Melissa Manchester
10.  Everytime You Cry / The Outfield
11.  Don't Give Up / Peter Gabriel
12.  Sad Eyes / Robert John
13.  I Don't Want to Talk About It / Rod Stewart
14.  Leather and Lace / Stevie Nicks & Don Henley
15.  I'm Not In Love / 10cc
16.  What's Up?  / 4 Non Blondes

"Man.  I haven't heard some of these songs in forever."

"Are you going to listen to it?  Or, what I really mean, is are you going to make us listen to it?"  He shifted from foot to foot, itching to make a break for it.  Sophia stood up and slunk out of the room.

I laughed.  "No.  I'll listen to it later.  Just put it on my desk, will you?"  I tossed it back to him and hit the rewind button on the slideshow.

"What's this?"  Doug pointed at the dashboard.

"Oh that?  It's the cd Robert sent me.  I put it in my purse for when the XM isn't working.  I'm not going to  drive around listening to commercial radio or my own thoughts.  I'd go mad."

"Well, that explains the Memissa Manchester tweet."

"Indeed.  Did you like that misspelling?"

"Are you supposed to be texting while you drive?  I think not."

"It was a stoplight.   A long one."

"Uh huh."  He stuck his arm out of the car window.  "Thanks for driving.  My leg is still swollen"

I looked down at his leg. "Ouch.  Ready?"

"Yep.  God, isn't this weather nice now?"  The humidity had dropped and we drove with the windows down.  The sun had just faded at the horizon, leaving brushstrokes of salmon and lavender at the top of the ridge ahead of us. 

I turned up the music.  "Let's sing."


"Come on.  Sing with me.  Here's the Melissa Manchester song...."

"What year is this from?"  Doug pulled the cd case from my purse and looked at the playlist typed on the inside cover.

"I'm not sure.  But here's something kind of strange.  Some of these songs remind me of things from my childhood.  It's like Robert knows things about my past.  But I don't know how he could know.  Does that make sense?"

"Maybe he stalked you."

"  But seriously.  Like, I remember I'd gotten my hot pink Huffy ten speed. I must have been about ten or eleven.  I was riding it out to my cousins' house and I was really excited because I learned how to go with no hands."

"Look ma!  No hands!"

"Just like that.  But here's the thing.  I remember riding along and singing that song Midnight Blue all by myself.  I probably did hand motions, I was so happy and carefree."


"Work with me here.  It was a long time ago."

Doug took up his phone and started messing with the buttons.

"What are you doing?"

"Looking up that song.  Did you know Smokey Robinson has a song titled Midnight Blue?"

"Come on.  Sing with me....I think we can make it, if we try....."

"Are you sure he didn't have a thing for you?"

"Who?  Robert?  Nah."

"Maybe he just never told you."

I shrugged.  No, that was silly.  We'd never dated.  I probably kissed him during a game of Spin the Bottle, but that was it.  He was always nice, always there, but he never said anything about liking me.  Not like that.  Not even when we went away to the same college.  By the third week at Ball State, I hardly saw my high school friends.

"It's a funny playlist though, isn't it?"

"Heh, cheese and more cheese.  Just your kind of thing."

I hit the button, skipping to another song .  "Okay, so how about this one.  It's 10cc.  You know this one.  Duet?"  I glanced at him.  "You don't have to do the hand motions.  Just do back up, okay?"

He glanced again at the playlist, holding his phone over it to illuminate it.  "This is 10cc?  No way. This is their worst song."

"Honey?  Come on.  I know you can sing.  I've heard you when we play Rock Band.  Come on, time to sing.  I'm not in love, so don't forget it.   It's just a silly phase I'm going through..."

We rode along for a few minutes, him scrolling through his phone messages, me singing both lead and backround, mentioning that I could really use a synthesizer on the steering wheel.  Sometimes doing hand motions or pretending to clutch a microphone and trying not to sing with my eyes closed.

"Be quiet, big boys don't cry, big boys don't cry, big boys don't cry...."

The song ended and I pushed the button again.  "Oh!  Leather and Lace.  Do you want to be Stevie Nicks or Don Henley?"

He laughed.  I could see him shaking his head out of the corner of my eye even as I kept my focus on the road stretching ahead of us into the dark.  The cool wind blew over us and he reached over and tucked some of my loose silver hair behind my ear. 

"I would never have given you a cd with Leather and Lace on it."

"But I saw Stevie Nicks in concert in 1983."


I pushed the cd button one more time.  "Okay then.  How about this song - you can play the guitar solo, and I know you know the words to this one."

"This song does not go with the others."

"I know, right?  But let's sing it anyway.  Twenty-five years and my life is still trying to get up that great big hill of hope for a destination..."

"More like 44 years, Lisa."

"Don't remind me.  And I say, hey hey hey hey I said hey, what's going on?"

Okay, spill it - which of those songs did YOU sing along to? Hand motions? Were your eyes closed?


  1. Maybe he did have a tiny crush on you. Anyway, it was thoughtful of him to send you those memories.

  2. Doses of the past need careful management. Too much and a longing can overwhelm. Nerves are touched. memories pop back to the surface and you then glance sideways at your modern life. That's why I'm building a Time Machine.

  3. Um hi, about that crush, ya think?

    I'm at work, sadly. I love that playlist. I'll be listening to lots of those songs with my eyes closed. And I'm not afraid to admit it!

  4. Oh - and way to play out a story!

  5. Back-to-back championships obviously built on the solid foundation of your enthusiasm, muah.

    I know it was a digital, not analog, gift, but ah, the mixtape.

  6. I still love that 4 Non Blondes song. The kid and I belt it out while driving.

  7. I said hey! What's goin' on?

    In a "past" life, I used to sing that one.

    Great post, Lisa. It still amazes me how quickly time move on.

  8. How sweet to send you a playlist of songs from those days. I'm a little old than you, but do remember singing the Melissa Manchester song. Thanks for the memories Lisa.

  9. this writing you did here is so full of win i cant even answer the question at the end.

    i hereby declare you have won the innertubes for 2010.

    and you know how much influence i have!


  10. You know, the way you say things without really saying them is pretty thrilling to read. Moving. Letting others say the things...

    I need to learn from that.

  11. Yeah. I love that playlist - it had me bad at 10cc.

  12. Of course he had a crush on you!
    Now you've made me wonder where my favorites mixtape of years past is.

  13. What a wonderful present. Amazing walk down memory lane. And pretty much no matter what is on the CD, I LOVE when I get a mix made for me. It's so thoughtful.

    So, I don't know all the songs, but the ones I know I like. Cheese and more cheese I guess describes my musical taste. Big Head Todd's Bittersweet is one of my all time favorite songs.


And then you say....

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