The Madonna Timeline: Song #50 ~ Celebration ~ Summer 2009

{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

The summer of 2009 was the last summer before I got married. While I didn’t feel the need to sow any wild oats, it did not go unnoticed that technically this would be the last single summer of my life. My feet weren’t cold, but they were contemplative. Into this delicate time – and summer does have a way with swinging moods – Madonna released her third greatest hits package, ‘Celebration’, including a brand new title-track. The iPod has shifted to that club-ready song, and so we go back to two years ago…

I think you wanna come over,
Yeah I heard it through the grapevine,
Are you drunk or you sober?
Think about it, does it matter?
And if it makes you feel good then I say do it,
I don’t know what you’re waiting for…

My old friends from Cornell – the original College Ave. Crew – had planned a reunion in Ithaca, rented home and everything. As a sometimes-honorary guest (I was once told that my photo appeared on more end-of-the-year graduation slide-shows than some who had actually attended Cornell), I was invited to join in the fun, but I was hesitant. All but one had married and had kids (keep the faith, Chris) and a house with six kids ranging from two to five years of age was not my idea of an even tolerable time. But Suzie and Chris persisted, and I went against my better judgment and agreed. (Case #18465 in which I was right and should have listened to my instincts.) Andy didn’t want to go, so we had a bit of a fight about it, and I left – alone and in a foul mood – for Ithaca.

I arrived at the house first, and the family renting to us was trying to locate their cat that was missing. The first strike – a cat in the house. For someone deathly allergic to cats, this did not bode well. At long last they managed to find the thing, cage it up, and went on their merry way, leaving me alone in a large Victorian. The wood everywhere was dark, the recesses were dim, and even on the sunny day it seemed to suck a bit of cheer from the world. I love a Victorian home – especially around the holidays – but summers suffer there. Even Suzie’s childhood home – as much as I loved it – was a darker place in the summer.

When faced with the inevitable onslaught of kids and parents, and an atmosphere to which I was decidedly unaccustomed to say the least, I did what any adult would do to hang onto a shred of sanity: I fixed myself a very stiff drink. And then another. And then another. And possibly, though memory doesn’t serve, another.

Feel my temperature rising,
There’s too much heat, I’m gonna lose control.
Do you want to go higher?
Get closer to the fire?
I don’t know what you’re waiting for…

By the time my friends arrived, kids in tow, I had managed to take a bit of the edge off, but it was too late. I was gone, and hadn’t eaten a thing. For an all-too-brief moment, we settled in and had a very good time, but then it was time to puke – all over the bottom bunk bed in my room. (Oh, did I not mention I was staying in a bunk bed?) Anyway, after I lost my liquid lunch there, Chris decided against the top bunk for the rest of the weekend, sleeping on the couch (poor thing) right in the line of early-to-rise children. I was too sick, and embarrassed, to do much else but sleep into the next day.

The crew headed into campus that morning, while I stayed behind to clean up the mess I made, find some new bedding, and vainly try to air out the stuffy, and now pukey, bedroom on the third floor. The day was hot, but brighter than before, and the sun drifted in through the open windows, lightening the house a bit in spite of all the dark wood. I relaxed a little in the quiet. The importance of time alone impressed itself upon my mind, and I was grateful for the solitude.
Soon they would return, and ask me to join them for lunch, but I wasn’t ready. A bit of shame was at work – both for my behavior, and the fact that I was there without my fiancé. I just wasn’t entirely comfortable, even if they were some of my closest friends, so I declined lunch, and walked down to Ithaca Commons on my own.

Come join the party – yeah!
Cause anybody just won’t do
Let’s get this started – yeah!
Cause everybody wants to party with you…

Suzie called a little while later, asking if everything was all right. I told her I needed some alone time, but would be back for an early dinner. I walked around the Commons a bit more, ducking into incense shops and hand-made jewelry stands, watching how other groups interacted with one another. I have often wondered whether this is my lot in life – to watch from a distance. It lessened the risk of humiliation. It was safer, if lonelier, and sometimes safety is better than risk, even when the risk pays off. Too many times I would have traded in the pay-off for the calm. The reward of the steady and true may not be as flashy or exciting, but it is often more profound.

I walked back up to the house, where some of the kids and their parents were playing and relaxing on the front porch. I remembered the day in 1995 when I sat on their porch on College Avenue, waiting as each of them came home from class. It was the Spring then – both of season, and of our lives. We were just beginning. Fourteen years later, it was Summer, and the sun slanted down on a perfectly lovely afternoon.

They were ordering a Korean feast and I was finally ready to eat. As everyone sat around the large kitchen table, laughing and remembering, amid the noise of kids rushing by, I felt slightly more at ease, but still out of my element. It was all in my head, perhaps, but the next morning I awoke early and was the first to leave.

Boy you got a reputation
But you’re gonna have to prove it.
I see a little hesitation
Am I gonna have to show you
That if it feels right, Get on your mark,
Step to the beat, boy, that’s what it’s for…

A short time later I went back to Boston for another weekend alone. The summer still held onto its warm spell, and I walked through the night unarmed – no coat, no bag, no sartorial armor – just a pair of shorts, some flip-flops, and a T-shirt. A night wind, not much cooler, blew in from the harbor. I found myself in the downtown business district, walking by empty office buildings and closed restaurants. There is no sadder area than a business district at night.

Put your arms around me
When it gets too hot we can go outside
But for now just come here,
Let me whisper in your ear
An invitation to the dance tonight…

I skirted Chinatown, flirted with the South End, and finally made my way back to the condo along Columbus. Back in the light of the living room, there was a certain safety from myself. No matter how much you might safeguard yourself against the outside world, it’s what’s inside that always gets you in the end.

Come join the party, it’s a celebration!
Anybody just won’t do
Let’s get this started
Cause everybody wants to party with you.

In the midst of those heady weeks of my last single summer – from Ithaca to Boston and Albany in-between – I needed to be reminded that this was all supposed to be a good time ~ a celebration ~ and there was only one woman in the world who could do that for me – and she sang it out. I needed to get out of my headspace, I needed to stop over-analyzing, I needed to join the party.

And so I did.

Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?
You look familiar…
You wanna dance?
I guess I just don’t recognize you with your clothes on…
What are you waiting for?

Song #50: ‘Celebration’ ~ Summer 2009

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