When I was little, maybe eight years old, I was overcome at times by the uncontrollable desire to burst into song. Any song. Anything from the easy listening I heard in my mom’s car to songs we were singing in Chorus class to Disney tunes. Really, no song was safe from my sudden vocal outbursts. It was a kind of musical Tourette’s, without the swears, although when I was on a roll and composing original musical scores in the tiny bathroom facing myself in the mirror, all words were game. I can’t explain why I needed to sing so much, or why my energy came out in song rather than in, let’s say, running (which, looking back, would probably have been better for my thighs), but a child cannot control her energy and therefore it came out in the easiest way possible: through my mouth, in the key of C. And in the bathroom. There was something comfortable about singing in the bathroom, though I know not what.
I suppose I learned about musical outbursts from my mother, whose whistling was an audible sign of her concentration, happiness, or compulsiveness. When we went to the Grand Union grocery together, and if we were separated while I browsed the salad bar hoping against hope that I could, for once, please just take home a plastic container of the chocolate pudding and fluffy whipped cream that some angel had placed out there as an option for a salad topping, and while my mom browsed the aisles for our health cereals and unsalted peanuts in glass jars, I could find her again by opening my ears and hearing a high-pitched repetetive whistle of the same musical bar from across the store. There she would be, somewhere between the soups and the pastas, picking up a few cans of Progresso lentils that we would that week mix with Uncle Ben’s rice, and sprinkle over all a block of Parmasean cheese. I would come to her with begging, pleading eyes, even willing to compromise about the potential dessert salad (I’ll get fruit, too! I’ll get croutons! Anything you want! But please! Can we please get the pudding?!) and knew she’d say no because there we were, just breezing past the cookies and candies, so there was no hope for the salad bar. She’d be off to the frozen vegetable section, whistling the same part of the most recent Anne Murray song we’d heard in the car, and I’d be left at the end of the aisle with the stacks of on-sale toilet papers, downtrodden and pouting.
She used to whistle while she cleaned the house–and actually still does. Still singing the same bars over and over while she rinses out the sink or sweeps the kitchen or the basement or the garage or the hallway or the entry way or any other place a broom is an acceptable tool for cleaning. When she cooks, she whistles; when she wipes off the counters, she whistles; when she drives, she whistles, even over the singing on the radio. And as soon as she turns off the engine, her repetitive whistling of the most recent bar of music she’s heard commences and she will spend the rest of her day stuck in those same notes until one of us–my stepfather or myself–alerts her to her neverending tune. Except my stepfather can’t hear her whistling because he kind of can’t hear in general. So it’s up to me to stop her insanity.
But, like the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And so it was, during my eighth year of life, I found myself in the lobby bathroom of a mid-West Hampton Inn during the hotel’s free continental breakfast, sitting on the can and belting out, again and again, the Austrian folksong “Aidelweiss.” If you have seen “The Sound of Music,” you will understand that the song, “Aidelweiss,” is one of the last songs that apears in the film. And thus, it was very likely the last song I’d been thinking about because I had a slight obsession with the Von Trapps since they had, according to my young interpretation of the movie, hiked all the way from Austria to Vermont in secret during World War II. But I digress.
It was a single bathroom, the one in the Hampton Inn, but still fairly spacious–and therefore, echoey and good for accoustics. So while I began by humming the song, it didn’t take long before I was up and dancing around the bathroom, singing it louder and louder, glancing occasionally at myself in the mirror, trying to relive the emotions that I was sure Baron Von Trapp had felt in that very moment, alone on stage, singing his farewell to his country. I worked myself into such an emotional state that I didn’t hear the knocking on the door until I had paused dramatically–for emotion, people–and heard a voice through the doorway.
I stopped suddenly. Was that voice my mother’s? Was she talking to me? Was I taking too long in the bathroom?
“What?” I responded.
“Is that you singing?”
I looked around the bathroom. It hadn’t been anyone else, that’s for sure. But it also hadn’t occured to me that anyone could hear me. I had sung myself so seriously that I had imagined myself in Austria on stage as if I were one of the Von Trapps themselves. Without waiting for my reply, my mother said, “Because we can all hear you out here.” And by “we all” she meant every single other hotel guest who had come down to the lobby for cereal and bagels that morning, along with the Hampton Inn staff and any delivery people who may have dropped by to bring the hotel a fresh supply of towels. I swallowed hard and looked down into the porcelain sink. It was still wet from the last, silent, person’s handwashing. “Okay, yeah,” I remember saying. “Yeah! I’m coming out now! Just washing my hands!” I don’t remember much of what it was like to walk out of my makeshift sound booth into the crowd of strangers, or what they thought about me–this little Liza Minelli in big sneakers and even big clear plastic glasses. I’d like to think that the room was filled with old people who thought I was cute. But the truth is, I was beyond the “cute” stage and into the “(pause) that was weird” stage, and probably was faced with more pairs of staring eyes than I care to remember.
The truth is also very likely that the reason why my parents sent me off to camp for the following three summers was so that I wouldn’t risk replicating the embarrassment I had brought to myself and my parents by my lively bathroom singing. Little did they know, however, that I would have absoltely no problem bringing embarrassment to myself in the years to come, and that one day, for no reason at all, I’d do it again by choice by writing to expose myself to millions about the one great moment I sang on stage in Austria in the 1940’s while simultaneously stuck in the bathroom of a Hampton Inn somewhere in between Pennsylvania and Minnesota.