#459: The Drifters, "The Drifters' Golden Hits" (1968)

There are ways the world can slip up from underneath you and then, you know what I mean, a regular Saturday morning with your son in his Batman costume, shrieking at his own shadow, and your husband grumbling at the TV, turns sideways and then all the way upside down—you're a bat now in your own life and it's wonderful. 

Your family’s apartment is every song sung by the Drifters that you ever loved. The furniture itself and all the empty spaces between are filled up with the whole sound of the Golden Hits album.

    Everything I want I have
         whenever I—

You stretch, accidentally burn your wing on the hot plate of the coffee maker, but the sudden delight of wings and your super sensitive giant bat ears make the burn so forgettable. Pain is trivial when you can fly, when you look like a mouse married a dragon and delivered you into the universe: a bat.

  Illustration by Annie Mountcastle

Illustration by Annie Mountcastle

    Everything I want I have
         whenever I—

You open the refrigerator for eggs and milk, let the shame and pleasure of this much plenty flicker through you like electricity or the sick feeling after a hundred bowls of your favorite ice cream. The music keeps playing. The rubber seal of the refrigerator door pulls open and the light comes on in its cold interior like a lit stage. Dare anyone to believe that the neighbors can’t hear it, too, the refrigerator singing,

    the ferris wheel ride isn't turning around anymore
        but I've still got some sand in my shoes
    

You reach for the old loaf of sourdough bread, crack the eggs into a wide bowl, add milk, vanilla, and cinnamon. Stir. The routine of it comforts. The whisk slaps through the eggy mixture. Frustration starts melting away or dissolving into something else. You’re making French toast, but this Saturday morning feels like when you put the sugar and the water in the saucepan on the stove and stir to make caramel.

    There’s some kind of wonderful.     

You want another sip of your coffee, but don’t reach for the mug because maybe actually you don’t want it. Your son somersaults across the length of the rug. Your husband’s still growling at the news. You reach for your coffee. You’re still not used to your wings, your furry feet, your little paw claw. You spill your coffee.    

    your shoes get so hot you wish your tired feet were fire proof

You say something vile at the TV, something that expresses vehement agreement with your husband. You don't do it because you agree or even because you want to be agreeable or make his day. You're going for the startle effect. You're hoping he'll grin. Or better: he'll giggle. Or better still: he’ll like you more.

Why? Because you called that TV talking head a nasty word and because you're a bat now. People love bats. They’re enchanting. Your son knows where he came from—part man, part bat. None of it is costuming. Your family is a team sport and you’re all starters. There is no bench. Like the cheerleaders in your high school used to chant at pep rallies, “You gotta want it to win it. And we want it bad.”

“Don't curse,” says your husband. And now you're like the sugar and the water in the saucepan when it gets too hot, been in too long, not stirred enough. You’re burning. You’re burnt. You’re somebody’s ruined dessert.

Don't curse? As though you couldn’t have said something so much worse. You could have asked him why he was too tired last night, again. Started that fight in front of your four year old. If you wanted a man to lecture you, you’d get divorced and go be single again, spend your Saturdays at coffee shops on blind dates listening to some stranger go on about brake fluid, and your husband could sing “I Count the Tears” to himself,

    na, na, na, na, na, na, late at night

You whisper in your husband’s ear something even more vile than what you said to the TV. You intend for there to be a joke in your voice, an unmistakable playfulness.

Instead it comes out like you mean it or maybe, best case scenario, it sounds sarcastic, acerbic. Then you start thinking maybe that’s what you’ve become—a complete miscommunication. A failed joke. You’re not even funny. You’re mean. Disingenuous, on a good day.

Don’t go there. Stop the thought loop before it starts.

Still, when did you become so full of rage and judgment? Strangers deserve respect. Don’t be cruel. Anything else is better. Be didactic, moralistic, silly, sentimental, gross, whatever—be anything else. Don’t invent strangers just to be condescending to them. Your car seems like it really might need new brake fluid. Your husband disagrees, probably just to be disagreeable. There you go again. Throwing rocks. Is that who you are? A rock thrower?

This is supposed to be a wonder-filled upside down Saturday. Stop ruining it. Sing “This Magic Moment” to yourself. Or hum it, at least. Cut another piece of bread off the loaf, and slice right back through all that self-involved I’m-so-terrible talk, find your way to your own beating bat heart and the lovely angry man in front of you.

  Illustration by Annie Mountcastle

Illustration by Annie Mountcastle

“I didn’t mean it like that,” you say. You wait a moment, over-soaking the French toast, and it occurs to you that maybe he meant what he said as a kind of joke, too, and you didn’t get it, didn’t want to hear it, chose not to. Maybe you’re both doing the same thing—flipping flirting into fighting like two people stuck in a lazy old habit. “Still, don’t tell me what to say,” you say to him.

He looks over from the TV. He could laugh the whole thing off, but why? You slide the soggy French toast onto the griddle and listen to it hiss.

“We want it bad,” he says and laughs.

Oh. We’ve had this argument before, been all the way upside down and laughing. You flap your bat wings and give that man a kiss, while your shrieking son pounds his fists on the floor and roars for the two of you to tell him and tell him now, “What are you guys talking about? And why are you so loud?”

Your husband makes up an answer as each of you balance a breakfast plate on your head. You and your baby Batman son take your husband by either hand, and the three of you fly away from the broken news on TV to eat breakfast up on the roof. Rise up above all that rat race noise, the tired beat feeling, the stale heat of it all, and head to the only place I know where you just have to wish to make it so. We’re almost there, now. I hope I made enough toast. Everything I want I have whenever I—. Our neighbors have found their way to the rooftop, too, thank God.

You better believe the sun is shining, and the day is good. Each of us sings to the others, darling, you can share it all with me. We cozy in, rest.

—Annie Mountcastle