Call Me Maybe

Chasing the Great White Earworm

Call me Maybe. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me other than the music on my phone, I thought I would walk about a little and start humming pop songs, the kind that really get stuck in your head. So whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth, whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul and I’m almost out of minutes for the month; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet, I find a new infectious pop song to hum. There is nothing surprising in this, and almost everyone some time or other cherish very nearly the same feelings towards infectious pop songs as I.

So I booked a vacay, but I must have been distracted by a catchy song when I was making reservations, because while I was expecting a Carnival Cruise ship, with the promise of daily pop music shows, I became crew on a whaling vessel. I tried calling Greenpeace, but we were already out of cell range. But I had four gigs of music on shuffle, so swabbing the decks wasn’t so bad. And my itinerary said my vacay was only a week long.

I bunked with (no dude, not in that sense of the word) a seaman named Queequeg. He seemed like a cool millennial type, being covered in tattoos, and my God he was not handsome. I had another pair of earbuds, and soon he loved infectious pop songs, too. He had a curious habit of sleeping in a coffin he had made from the cabinet of one of those huge old stereophonic systems that featured a record player and tuner and cassette and 8-track tape decks and big speakers.

I had some, ah, issues with the captain. When he finally appeared on deck one day, he said his name was Ahab, and he told the crew that we were searching for the Great White Earworm in order to kill it. He was tortured by this Earworm, that of a popular song played far too much on the radio years ago, and he railed about how it had ruined his sense of serenity so much so that he gnawed off his own his leg, and now he wore a prosthetic made from the plastic of the last boombox that had played the song. I spoke up and advised him that perhaps his Earworm was exacerbated by our diet, that of stale non-gluten free hardtack, non-free range salt pork and no yogurt. And if he should start humming a different catchy song, that would banish the Earworm, and that the Great White Earworm was really misplaced hostility towards his parents. But he was incredulous that a mere mate would deign to diagnose or give him advice, and he banished me to the aft deck for insubordination, and also because I missed so many spots when swabbing the fore deck.

Starbuck, the chief mate was a religious man, and he was curious about my earbuds and phone. I explained that they were the sacraments of my religion, along with my spontaneous dance moves, and he respected that and asked no more. I rationed my battery power and asked around about a solar charger, but the rest of the crew gave me puzzled expressions, so I guessed they hadn’t been invented yet. I again wondered if this vacay would last more than a week.

To be honest, there could be a whole lot of boring stuff here about Ahab’s infatuation with the Great White Earworm, and how we hunted for it night and day, all about the (really gross) biology of whales, long tangents on philosophy and literature and human nature, and on and on, and it would all easily make a 550 page book stuffed with metaphors and would probably be ignored for hundreds of years until someone rediscovered it as a classic of literature and it was made required reading in high school and everyone older would buy a pricey hardbound copy and lie about actually reading it. But who has the time for all that? So little of that would fit into a three minute pop song, and it would hardly be catchy and danceable.

Long story short, my cruise came to an end one day when the Great White Earworm appeared and with a loud blast of stereophonic sound sank our ship. Bummer. And I didn’t even catch the hook of the song. Queequeg’s coffin floated by, and I survived by climbing inside. Good thing I had a waterproof case for my phone. Soon, another whaling ship rescued me, but again, there was no cell coverage, or USB chargers, so I still couldn’t call Greenpeace.

There’s not much else to say. We returned to land and I was able to charge my phone and get some yogurt. I decided not to try writing a 550 page book about my adventure. But I still wonder if the Great White Earworm is alive and somewhere out in the vast sea, and what pop song it might be now humming. And I wonder if Queequeg might be alive, too, that maybe he was rescued and was crewing on another whaling ship. And though I thought he was so very ugly, I wondered that he might call me, maybe.

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