Do you have a pandemic playlist? Me neither. But then, I’m the least musical person on the planet. At the other end of the spectrum, the folks giving out vaccines at San Francisco’s vast Moscone Center decided to energize the staff and patients by playing songs that have now become famous around here for reducing people to tears of joy. “Getting vaxxed at moscone and they’re literally playing Here Comes the Sun on the PA and I’m shaking,” SF Chronicle restaurant critic Soleil Ho tweeted on March 17. “I’m gonna f—ing cry.”
The Moscone vaccinators soon learned that what people want to hear as they get the lifesaving jab is often the kind of cheerful, sentimental oldies they used to scoff at when their parents danced to them at weddings: “Walking on Sunshine,” “I Will Survive,” “O-o-h Child (Things Are Gonna Get Easier)." Now San Franciscans are going around comparing notes about what was on the loudspeaker when they got theirs and growing misty-eyed when “their song” comes on the radio.
As for me, I was in a suburban Rite Aid (the pharmacy originally known as Thrif D Discount Center) and I can’t quite recall whether the loudspeaker was saying, “Cleanup on aisle five,” or “Attention shoppers: we’re having a special today on hemorrhoid cream.” Obviously I’ll never again hear either phrase without welling up.
If you’re not yet vaxxed and would rather ensure there’s a more fitting soundtrack to your big moment, bring along the Moscone playlist (also available on Spotify).
1. “Here Comes the Sun,” The Beatles
2. “Happy,” Pharrell Williams
3. “Lovely Day,” Bill Withers
4. “Higher Love,” Steve Winwood
5. “Lean on Me,” Sandro Cavazzo
6. “Best Day of My Life,” American Authors
7. “ABC,” Jackson 5
8. “Walking on Sunshine,” Katrina and the Waves
9. “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” Justin Timberlake
10. “I Will Survive,” Gloria Gaynor
11. “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” Bobby McFerrin
12. “Sidewalk Talk,” Madonna and Jellybean
13. “Sleepyhead,” Passion Pit
14. “Alright,” Supergrass
15. “State of Grace,” Taylor Swift
16. “Jump in the Line,” Harry Belafonte
17. “Sir Duke,” Stevie Wonder
18. “O-o-h Child,” The Five Stairsteps
With or without the right soundtrack, there are moments from this year that are forever fixed in our minds. The first time we went out to the market dressed for the apocalypse. Buying our first mask. Learning Zoom. Realizing with horror that we’d touched our face without washing our hands. Finding out someone we know was hospitalized with Covid-19. Figuring out how to put the happy back into the holidays, in spite of everything. And throughout it all, spending a ridiculous amount of time watching Netflix and ordering on Amazon.
Like most people, I try to use Amazon responsibly, only buying things I can’t get locally and clicking the button that says my items will be combined and delivered in fewer packages (yet often, inexplicably, aren’t). But it’s pretty clear that for some, the online retail giant is all about entertainment and indulging in some seriously questionable fantasies, as journalists Shanon Maglente and Katie Bourque reported in “40 Weirdest Products on Amazon That People Actually Love.” How did I not know about these when I was making out my holiday gift list? Which of my friends and relatives couldn’t use a nice chicken leash, some pickle-flavored lip balm, or a potato with their very own photo on it?
Now that I’m vaccinated, I’m making a serious effort to cut down on my online shopping in hopes of reducing my wrap rage and packaging guilt. Wrap rage is the the fury and frustration we feel during our efforts to extract a simple object — a lightbulb, a computer cord, a set of measuring spoons — from a plastic clamshell clearly designed to protect the contents from a fall off a 20-story building during a nuclear blast. Every year 6000 Americans wind up in emergency rooms with cuts, abrasions, and wrist injuries incurred while attempting to penetrate protective casing. Of course, excessive plastic packaging is even more damaging to the environment, polluting our land and water, eventually finding its way into the food chain and our stomachs. On top of all that, it’s just plain silly, as writer Phil Forbes demonstrates in “13 Bad Packaging Examples That’ll Make You Cry for the Environment.”
We can’t blame the pandemic for superfluous packaging, which has existed ever since the days when you ordered via rotary phone and waited weeks for stuff to arrive by mail. And while I try to be responsible, I do believe there are times when a little retail therapy is as essential to our psychological survival as music, chocolate, or wine. And now my shortlist of necessary indulgences has a surprising new addition: poetry.
This week, for the first time in more than a year, Rich and I had another couple over for dinner, and upon arrival Tobey Hiller, a distinguished poet herself, gave me a copy of Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins.
I confess I’d never heard of Billy Collins, who turns out to be a Poet Laureate of America and, according to the NY Times, “the most popular poet in America.” I opened the slim volume and it was love at first stanza. As Daily Beast puts it, “Whereas some poetry ignores its reader and seals itself in a shell of its own construction, Collins engages with his audience. One of the ways he welcomes the reader with open arms is through humor. He’s pretty much always funny; it is part of his aesthetic, his poetic DNA.”
“There’s something very authentic about humor, when you think about it,” Collins once said. “Anybody can pretend to be serious. But you can’t pretend to be funny.”
Here’s the first Billy Collins poem I read.
Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House
The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.
The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,
and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.
When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton
while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.
That’s an image I’ll treasure forever. And I can only hope that somewhere in the Moscone Center vaccination playlist there is room for that Beethoven symphony with the famous barking dog solo, and that an entire generation of vaccinated San Franciscans will get teary-eyed every time the neighbor’s dog begins to make a ruckus.
What songs have gotten you through the pandemic? What other indulgences have kept you going? Let me know in the comments section below.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain and currently visiting my home state of California.
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