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>Three. Twenty. Thirty-Seven.

April 4, 2011

>If you’re all alone
when the pretty birds have flown
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
Gonna do my very best and it ain’t no lie
If you put me to the test, if you let me try

I couldn’t have been more than three. It was one of those rare moments of childhood that felt like all the rules were being broken at once, and therein lay its magic and its permanence.

I was fascinated with the glossy black envelope that held the vinyl album. Vivid rainbow letters I could recognize but not pronounce. My parents brought it home and we played it on my older brother’s record player. Or perhaps he had bought it with the money he saved from delivering newspapers. I remember him making money. I don’t remember him ever spending it.

His wood-paneled bedroom was always cool. He was so much older than me, it was everything that seemed grown up and forbidden. He was man enough to sleep alone in this dank basement bedroom while the rest of us were upstairs. I had an Easy-Bake oven and Barbie’s town house in my bedroom. He had a Hi Fi and a bean-bag chair.

The bedspread was navy – I was on top of it, jumping up and down (usually forbidden). Mom was bopping like a go-go dancer and Dad doing a great Bill Cosby while the walls were vibrating from the bass.

All of us, singing at the top of our lungs and slightly off-key, the volume turned up as high as we could stand it.

Well I could dance with you honey,
if you think it’s funny
Does your mama know that you’re out?

Seventeen years later, in another basement, this time under the Imperial College of London.

It was called Belushi’s, I think. They didn’t care that we were, most of us, only 20. We went there for the music, and the cheap food, and the Snakebites (but my mother never knew that bit).

Gold had just been released; Bjorn and Benny were smiling down from posters in every tube stop in the city. Friday nights would find us in the basement – the air was thick with smoke, and dim. And no matter how tired I was, or who I was talking to, when their songs came on I had to go and dance.

A foolish bunch of melodies that tied me to my childhood, even now weaving their way into the adult I was becoming. They were anthems for those cold and rainy days on that little foreign island.

Friday night and the lights are low
Looking out for the place to go
Where they play the right music,
getting in the swing
You come in to look for a king

Another seventeen years goes by. The red SUV is covered in cracker crumbs and finger prints. The memory of London fog now blinded by the California sun. Mom is gone, and so is her laughter. And yet – as the boys and I make our daily trek, our favorite playlist is on the iPod. They fight over their favorite songs, but there are a few on which they agree…

Mamma mia, here I go again
My my, how can I resist you?
Mamma mia, does it show again?
My my, just how much I’ve missed you

All of us, singing at the top of our lungs with the volume turned up as high as we can stand it.

On, and on, and on.

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