What song will capture my summer? I am searching for it. Discussed: “I Promise” by Radiohead
I stopped going to the gas station closest to my apartment because it began playing unskippable content on the pumps. The first time I experienced it, I thought it was benign because it showed only the weekend’s forecast and a word-of-the-day slide (that day: loquacious) along with some inoffensive public domain muzak. Surely it was ok to pump gas and get the weather and an expanded vocabulary; in fact I left the pump heartened that someone might use a new word in conversation that day—a horizon broadened, an intellect deepened.
But the next time, the pumps played celebrity gossip and hockey bloopers (which aren’t bloopers because any mistake in hockey is a violent crime.) There wasn’t an opt-out button. No mute. No volume knob. The only way to stop it was to stop pumping gas so that the screen could interrupt the content to ask if you wanted a receipt. I am not against celebrities, I am not against gossip or sports or dudes getting hit in the crotch with a hockey stick. I am against these things when I have no choice. And so pumping gas at this station became a hostage situation, a late-capitalist violation of my right to tell marketing to shut the fuck up.
There is another gas station nearby that is always one or two cents more per gallon and I go there now, because no one else does, because it forces nothing on me, because for the 90 seconds it takes to fill up my tank I like to lean against the side of my car, place my feet on the concrete base of the pump, and zone out. I get a good stare going, alternating between an unfocused blot in the distance and the numbers ticking up in front of me.
Two days ago I was doing this—attempting a zen emptiness at the slightly more expensive gas station—when a minivan parked at a weird angle on the opposite side of the pump. It didn’t park like you would in any other car—lining the rear of it up with the nozzle—no the minivan’s nose was at the pump, and it broke me from my stare because I thought I was looking at a new kind of car with a gas tank in the front, that I was about to see someone pop the hood and stick the nozzle directly into the engine. Efficient! Dangerous, yeah, I thought, but efficient.
A woman in a sweater and an ankle-length dress got out of the passenger seat, walked around the front, and approached me. She had a kind, familiar face, one that reminded me of a kindergarten teacher, or a librarian, or a compassionate speech and language pathologist who would make a point of praising you for your work on eliminating your stutter, even though you don’t care about progress because you care only for the end result: speaking freely. Still, it would feel good that someone noticed.
“You look like you’re having a calm moment,” said the woman.
“I guess I am,” I said.
“Can I interest you in some uplifting literature?” She held out a brochure. Its title was Will It Never End? Finding God After Suffering.
“Oh.” I said. “No, thank you.”
“OK!” she said, and got back into her minivan and left.
At work I told one of my coworkers what happened. “I got proselytized to at the gas station this morning,” I said.
“Kind of a weird spot to do God’s work,” she said.
“Do I look particularly despairing? Do I look sad?
“No, you don’t,” she said without looking up.
Perhaps this is my summer’s song: a previously unreleased track from the twentieth anniversary reissue of Radiohead’s OK Computer. This is the song for a man with a resting sad face, a man whose life intersects at the comical and the ironical, who is naive enough to think he can avoid advertisements, whether they’re for gas station hot dogs or for God’s many-roomed house.