Flash mob for one

gaynorI was stalled in the candy aisle of my local supermarket yesterday,  weighing whether the soy lecithin in a Ghirardelli chocolate bar would kill the gluten-free friend for whom I was making dinner.

Then I heard it over the store’s music system, unmistakable:


My ears perked.  My eyes quit pondering the ingredient list.

I looked down the aisle, toward the frozen seafood.  Empty. Then up the aisle, toward checkout.  Not a soul in sight.

I felt one foot begin to tap.  Then the other.


I had forgotten entirely the  possibility of involuntary manslaughter by gluten.  I was seized by the impulse to leave behind my squeaking shopping cart and my ordinary little life, toss off my winter coat and … dance!


I don’t know why I have these episodes;  an ex wryly described me as having a rich inner life, and perhaps she was right.  But I suspect I’m not alone.  I distinctly remember an experience similar to yesterday’s candy-aisle interlude,  back when I was a grad student at the University of Michigan.  I was in a downtown drugstore when a song by Jennifer Warnes and Joe Cocker  that was popular at the time came over the sound system:

I felt my body begin to sway, and soon I was singing under my breath.  And then I heard this hushed chorus all around:   In every aisle, people were wearing the same dreamy, cow-eyed expression, singing along.

This was long before the phrase “flash mob” came into being;  in fact, it was a decade before any of us heard the term  “internet.”   Yet, I had a sudden impression that we were all in a beautiful, implausible musical, that we had been lifted out of the colorless and commonplace.   Plucked from our individual preoccupations about homework, or the bills, or meeting a work deadline,  and transported to a common and richly choreographed life, where love —  and our hearts, and our spirits  — were writ large.  Where we were more than our small selves.

And then, the moment passed. I went to class, and my fellow singing strangers to their everyday obligations.

I do not have a bucket list.  But before I die, I am going to do this:  I am going to be in some store, maybe even in the most boring aisle — the cleaning supplies, or the paper goods — and I am going to hear through the music system a certain song.

My ears will perk;   my eyes will get dreamy.  I will feel one foot begin to tap, then the other.  And I will toss my coat to the floor, leave my shopping cart behind and — even if the aisle isn’t empty — dance my way out of the ordinary, and into the epic ….





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