We're digging ourselves out of the blue and making summer playlists to share with each other. If you have one, or want to make one, and write a little about it, send them to Meowmeowpowpowlit@gmail.com (Spotify or any platform, or just write the songs down)
Return of the Cheese Fries and the Fairytale of Old Mixes; My 2023 Summer Playlist
by: Jane-Rebecca Cannarella
A decade ago, I was laid off from the Canadian Yellow Pages’ outsourced US office, located in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. We had gotten the notice regarding the layoff six months earlier and several days before Thanksgiving. The obscenely early heads-up was due to our severance package and benefits. By giving so much notice, our severance and unemployment benefits were contingent upon the notification of the layoff and not the end date. This also meant that we stopped accruing hours for PTO, vacation, and sick time.
In the tepid blue grey office, padded from floor to ceiling like a cell, my coworkers and I spent the remaining six months training our replacements in Canada. Or, if you were me, you spent six months throwing away bundles of work orders for complex publishing, watching Netflix, and stealing everything that wasn’t nailed to the ground.
Summers have always been a time of renewal in my life. Moving, quitting jobs, getting laid off from jobs, starting school, graduating school: all of these have come during the summer months. When June arrived and my unemployment began, with framed office-place inspirational posters tucked under my arm, one of my best friends who worked at YPG (a Ms. Liz Bergland, otherwise known as the art editor for MMPP), one of our coworkers, and I went to the Cork Tavern in Glenside, Pennsylvania. The Cork was a small tucked away little house converted into a green-carpeted bar with wood paneled walls, a more-plastic-than-TV big screen TV mounted in a corner, and “don’t drink and drive” posters from 1985 framed on the walls (including one of Stevie Wonder that I think of often). The whole bar smelled of smoke, a blissful nicotine holdout from cigarette bans, and the only food available were dusty mini bags of chips and pretzels. Three bodies in a row at the bar, we were “allowed” to leave YPG at noon, and the afternoon sun broke through the smudged small windows in oily prisms. Liz, my coworker, and I all in dresses and illuminated by the defiant rays, drank cheap pitchers of golden beer, smoked Camel blues, and crushed gin and tonics. Progressively getting louder and drunker, the hours moved in speeding currents as curious regulars filtered in and out of the bar around us.
By the time the sunshine swapped to slate blue night, a dense fog of smoke shadowed the atmosphere above our heads. And as blast-assed drunk folks will do, in between gossiping and chain smoking, my coworkers and I commandeered the lime green glowing jukebox at the end of the bar. We played Paula Abdul’s “Forever Your Girl,” three times in a row, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” by Stevie Wonder (in honor of his poster), “If I Should Fall from Grace with God” by the Pogues, and, when the alcohol was hitting harder shortly before the drunken crying would begin, Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” I remembered the sweat pouring down the back of my peter pan collared dress, the thick fringe of my bangs sticking to my forehead, every pore smelling of smoke, and our three bodies huddled around the orb of the digital jukebox. The click of nails against the screen tried to tap in whatever song jumped into our addled minds. Someone was laughing loudly; it might have been me.
The next morning, my cheeks the texture of cotton and head several sizes too big for my neck, I was unemployed and would be homeless within three months. Buoyed by the confidence of my wanning twenties and the sweet summer child assurance that things would work out alright, I committed to having a weird summer. With my cats, Liono and Easy Mac, beside me in the bed, I took some Tylenol and put my “chill playlist” made years earlier on Windows Media Player. The ancient silver Dell computer whirred with effort from its reachable position on the thrift store desk nudged up against the bed. The solar lines from the Media Player danced lazily to “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters.”
The years before YPG, and graduate school before that, I would celebrate summers with themed playlists burned, and decorated, and distributed to friends. During summers back home in San Diego, the chronically bugged family desktop would dolefully bleat out mix CDs struggling under the invasion of whatever was plaguing the computer as a result of LimeWire and Kazaa before that. Following graduating college before I moved back to the East Coast, and in between shifts at the Michael’s Arts & Crafts off Midway Boulevard, I would burn copies of CDs to mail to my friends in Glenside, often including Dizzy Rascal, Ben Folds, the Libertines, and Arthur Conley.
“3 Small Words,” from the Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack, “Under 21” by Save Ferris, “Ball and Chain” by Social Distortion, and “Anything Anything” by Dramarama were standards from the San Diego summers in between my undergraduate years. A mix called “Cowboy Fuck Fuck” included the Groovy Ghoulies, Pinback, The Black Heart Procession, Jurassic 5, and De La Soul and was compiled with help from my friends Schwarzey and Tim the summer between Freshman year and Sophomore year, and to this day it makes me feel SO COOL to listen to it. And even years before *that*, there was the mix CD that Kelly made our friend group, Loser Hill, after senior year of high school and the summer before we all left to go our separate ways across the country. I have carried these summer mixes with me throughout moves and major life changes, they live in cobwebby corners of my apartment, but they are never lost to time, space, or memory.
Then there was moving back East, and quitting my office job, and graduate school, and YPG, and the antiquating of Walkmans, and the shuffle of Apple products, and the consumption of time that comes with adulthood.
I am a year, and some months, shy of a new decade. I have a job, apartment, cats, and stacks of gem cases filled with old CDs, many of them burned and the bottoms filled with scratches. I have no time. I have the bodies of old Apple products that were used just for music, now plastic shells of their former selves. They will not wake up. I live in a home filled with ghosts. I have a phone that is a computer, that is a crutch, which has an app that has more music than I will ever listen to queued and played at random in the background of my life. I have a framed painting in my living room that used to hang in the women’s bathroom of YPG that I stole off the wall the last day of my employment there. I have regrets that I call “life experiences.” I have a longing for summers spent making mixes, or the three hot months spent as a degenerate wearing hot pants and drinking Bloody Marys and listening to a mix with NKoTB songs threaded all throughout and eating hydrogenated oils in a baseball field.
Sometimes it hurts my heart when a song from carefree times comes up randomly on the Shuffle of Spotify. I used to skip those songs, songs that hurt. I decided this summer to stop doing that. One time, years ago, my friend Melody told me that they had “to forgive the music,” from bad times. I am taking this summer to forgive the songs from a decade lost, and sometimes lost to very bad times.
A week ago, I made a playlist on Spotify titled “Summer 2023: a return to cheese fries.” It’s not a burned CD made off a dinosaur Dell, or a mixtape made with friends sitting on a bed in San Diego, or the sweltering intensity of the last summer of my twenties spent with as much free time and summer-themed playlists as I could compile. It is a playlist made up of songs that I’ve forgiven from certain years of my life, and the joy of past summers, and the recollection of dirty feet moving in dance during 90-degree days, and concerts I’ve attended, and songs that were once played at a house transmuted into a bar where three young women bullied the jukebox.
I made the playlist in a fever, adding as much as I could, eager to go on a walk to the park so I could get lost in the summertime songs. When I finished, I ambled around my neighborhood, so different from Glenside but with the same abundance of flowers and smudgy sunlight.
By the time I made it to the park by my apartment, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” by Stevie Wonder was playing. It reminded me of the day spent in the Cork that turned into night. In between the songs we put on, I had pulled out a stamp and stamp pad I filched from YPG’s office on the way out the door. It was the stamp to indicate which orders were to take daily priority, a stamp that stamped the word “HOT” At the bar, sticky with indulgence, and freedom, and the fear that comes with that freedom, I stamped the word “HOT” on my bare arms and legs and then on my coworkers’ arms. I tried to convince my coworker to let me stamp her forehead as we giggled like maniacs around smoky coughs.
The Stevie Wonder song that sparked the memory played and rattled my eardrums with the volume up too high. Someone was laughing loudly at the memory; I think it was me.
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