The Search for Summer’s Song: Magic City

Perhaps this is summer’s song, when the varnish has come off your seasonal gig, when the latest in subhuman offal has demonstrated his inability to order a sandwich during the lunch rush.

“What can I get you today?” you ask.

And he says, “First, I’d like mayo.”

Perhaps this is summer’s song, when the rain comes and stays, when the million tourists of coastal Maine forget basic etiquette, when someone will start an order with a condiment instead of the goddamn protein or vegetable that anchors the sandwich. Even if they started with the bread—though incorrect—that would at least be forward movement.

Perhaps this is summer’s song, when your life has come to this: another BLT ordered with no tomato, another reuben on white bread instead of rye, another gluten free wrap dissolving into dust at the slightest touch.

“Magic City” by Gorillaz is another result in my search for summer’s song, now nearing its end. The last result was “65 & Ingleside” by Chance the Rapper.

The Search For Summer’s Song: 65 & Ingleside

Regardless of how many of our storied institutions have broken beyond repair, I can’t imagine a timeline in which The Onion is irrelevant. “Chance The Rapper Clarifies He From Chicago” is one of its latest headlines, an obscure, esoteric joke. It is unshareable. It is unviral. I love it.

I finished my master’s creative writing program last week, and I walked across the stage while a professor read a line from my thesis. “My favorite yoga pose is corpse pose because it will be my final pose.” He read it in a deliberate, rhythmic way that I can never replicate, and in doing so he drew an auditorium to laughter.

I traffic almost entirely in the obscure, esoteric joke—so much so that I’m deep into a manuscript of dumb cracks about colonial New England townships. Will this be a book you’d purchase? I’m not sure I care. As a project, it keeps me occupied, keeps me from whatever deep darkness waits in the wings.

Chance provides a balm. He is from Chicago and he doesn’t much care that you know its grids and buildings, its vocab or shiny gaudy sculptures. Once I ate a vegan hotdog in Wrigleyville. Once I made a table of enemies in Logan Square when I started a Scrabble game with a bingo. “KERATIN,” I wrote on my first turn. My opponents couldn’t catch up, and at the end of the night when I slept on the couch of an old college friend’s, this friend said to me before turning out the lights, “You shouldn’t have played that in your first turn. Now everyone thinks I was a nerd in college.” Sorry, Matthew.

Perhaps this is summer’s song: one of the four songs Chance released this week.

“65 & Ingleside” by Chance The Rapper is another result in my search for summer’s song. The last one was “Fast Slow Disco” by St. Vincent.

The Search for Summer’s Song: Fast Slow Disco

Another of my summer side hustles is my t-shirt kiosk at Old Orchard Beach in Maine. Old Orchard Beach is like if the Jersey Shore had a younger brother with leprosy. It’s like if a tie-dyed tank top came to life and got an advanced degree in city planning. If you want to see coastal Maine tourism in its most debauched and eerie form, then you go to Old Orchard Beach, find the one bench that isn’t soaked with ass sweat, and watch the people.

But I can’t say any of this to my customers, who pause and marvel at the many t-shirts and tank tops I offer at my t-shirt kiosk business, which I named “TONEE’S OOB TEES, 2 FOR $20 ONLY.”

The one shirt that elicits the biggest chuckle—and is also my number one seller—is the black t-shirt that reads “I’M JUST AN OLD ORCHARD BITCH” in bright pink lettering. It is disgusting, and I hate myself for coming up with the idea, and I hate how capitalism encouraged me, and I hate it, especially hate it, when a kid walks by and laughs at the shirt and then says it aloud to even louder laughs from his parents. Still, I smile graciously when they hand me a crisp twenty and I hand them two vulgar shirts.

Perhaps this is the song of my summer: an uptempo version of a track off St. Vincent’s Masseduction from 2017. One line captures it, I think: I’m so glad I came but I can’t wait to leave.

This is the second result in my annual search for summer’s song. The first was Cardi B’s “Be Careful.”

The Search for Summer’s Song: Be Careful

Emily and I are spending this summer applying for full-time jobs with company health insurance plans and amenities like parking spaces (for her car) and unfettered access to printers or copy machines (for my quarterly anticapitalist tattoo appreciation zine).

Until we secure those gigs, we’ve taken part-time summer jobs. We asked ourselves, “If this season is an ellipsis—a break in the thousand broken promises of millenial adulthood—then what is our summer dream job?”

And so the answers: Emily works for a catering company, and passes bacon-wrapped hors d’oeuvres to people at weekend weddings, and I am now a part-time associate at a local delicatessen, where I portion out pounds of chicken salad and sliced muenster cheese to the endless amount of French Canadian motorcycle enthusiasts of coastal Maine.

I haven’t worked at the deli long enough yet to have a say in the shift’s music. Sometimes, when I am mixing mayonnaise and solid white albacore, or restocking the shelves of sour cream & onion potato chips, or chopping lettuce into perfect chiffonade ribbons, I fantasize about the day when my supervisor turns to me and says, “Anthony, you can choose the music now.”

On rainy days I will choose ambient electronica, humming and static. On scorching, busy days: instrumental hip-hop beats and trap rhythms. On slow afternoons nearing the end of August as we lean into the shoulder season and the tips of oak leaves turn an expectant, burnt yellow? Carly Simon on repeat.

And every other day, every regular day at the deli when the order tickets line the sandwich prep station and the drink fridge empties of white wine and rosé, I’ll play my playlist of Summer 2018 songs. I just need to find them first.

Here is the first result in my search for summer’s song. It is Cardi B’s “Be Careful.”

When I was young and bored, I played a game by myself called “Car Commercial Bingo.” I would cycle through the 80+ channels on my television and keep a tally for how many car commercials I encountered. I would always encounter a car commercial—the question was how many. I’ve been thinking about “Car Commercial Bingo” a lot lately because whenever I turn on the radio in my car, the likelihood of it being a Cardi B track is HIGH AS FUCK. Does she sleep?!

I love her, and I love her meteoric rise, and I love her Instagram presence, and I love this song, “Be Careful,” because it is a song reminiscent of the main menu music of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island.

You played as Yoshi and your task was to keep Baby Mario coddled and safe. If you failed, Baby Mario would float away in a bubble and wail the unrepentant, apocalyptic wail of an uncomfortable infant. I am sure that Cardi B never let that happen to Baby Mario.

The Search For Summer’s Song: I Promise

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.