Where it began, I can’t begin to knowin’.

Friday, September 6, 2013, approximately 0635 U.S. Eastern:

“So, I’m in a bar in Auckland and they’re playing “Sweet Caroline.” I don’t think you’d like it any better sung in a sexy Kiwi accent.”

Thus begins the text message exchange that finally brought about détente with the song that has been the bane of my existence for decades.

July 2013:

Marc Anthony sings an anemic “God Bless America” at Major League Baseball’s annual All-Star Game.

Seriously anemic. Someone give that man a sandwich.

And then . . .

Marc Anthony  is followed by Neil Diamond.  I know what is coming. I can’t take the moral ambiguity any longer.

I text, “AUGGHHHH!” to my friend, who replies, clearly understanding my anguish: “I thought you loved that song.”

April, 2013:

The nation and the world watch as a terrible, sad thing happens in the city of Boston.

“Sweet Caroline,” a favorite at Boston Red Sox games, rises again as a symbol of strength, perseverance, and Boston pride.

I find myself once again steeped in moral ambiguity. I want to share in the expressions of sympathy and support.  But. Augh.

September 2010 to present:

In the course of a certain friendship, it becomes apparent that the number of Neil Diamond songs on my friend’s iPod is  inconceivably incongruent with his Antonio Banderas-meets-LL Cool J swag.

In a temporary lapse of judgment, I tell him of my lifelong struggle with “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum).

Bad move. Bad, bad move.

One of the pillars of our friendship is the shared inside knowledge that if I ever find myself holed up in the Vatican embassy in Panama and he is sent on the mission to dislodge me, it will take no more than the first line of the chorus of “Sweet Caroline” to elicit my immediate surrender. Mission accomplished.

Summer of 1990-something:

On a sweltering hot summer day, I find myself serving valiantly as time-keeper at a swim-meet.

In the natural course of conversation between events,  the identity of the time-keeper in the adjacent lane is revealed to me.  While he seems to be a nice, fair-and-balanced time-keeper kind of guy, he is none other than the band teacher / director from my days in  junior/senior high school,  he of the “Sweet Caroline” obsession.

I spend the rest of the day wrestling with moral ambiguity.  On the outside, I remain a calm, cool, fair-and-balanced, you might even say “sweet” time-keeper. On the inside I am running all sorts of Ally McBeal / Walter Mitty scenarios to finally exact my “Sweet Caroline” revenge. Bum-bum-bum.

Do I tell him how much I detest that song because of him?

Do I ask him what the deal was?

Do I “accidentally” trip him when no one’s looking and then hold him underwater while he struggles and gasps for his final breath?  Hands, touchin’ hands . . .reachin’ out, touchin’ me, touchin’ you. . . .(glub-glub-glub)

No. I do not.

I don’t remember how the meet turned out. I don’t remember exactly how hot it was. I don’t remember how much my feet and back hurt from standing all day. All I remember is that I won a small moral victory over my own murderous impulses.  Good times never felt so good.

Friday, September 17, 1982:

Columbia Records releases Neil Diamond’s Heartlight album, with the title track inspired by the sweet alien’s heart (bum-bum-bum).

Diamond calls the song,  “A simple musical statement that we all felt very sincerely.”

I call the song Neil Diamond’s  diabolical attempt to get around my “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum) embargo. I am not falling for it. No matter how cute that little alien is. Not even if you put him on a pony.

Friday, June 11, 1982:

Universal Studios releases Steven Spielberg’s E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial, “. . .about a stranded alien and his loving relationship with a fatherless boy.”

The alien is adorable. He is sweet.

The boy is adorable. He is sweet.

Enter Neil Diamond.

Diamond, Carol Bayer Sager, and Burt Bacharach attend a screening of the film and are inspired by the story and by  the sweet little alien creature, whose heart glows a  warm, caring red.

November 1980, it ends:

The end of football season in my senior year of junior/senior high school. I vow never again to listen to “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum).

I move on.  I go to college. My roommate plays oboe but not when I’m around. If “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum) is in her repertoire, I am blissfully unaware of the fact.

Life is good.

September 1976, it begins:

My sister, the newest Big Shot Seventh-Grader in our family, becomes a drummer in the marching band.  I have to wait for her to finish after-school practice before we walk home from school together. Every single day.

The band practices “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum) over and over and over and over again. Every single day.

She walks around our house tapping out the rhythm over and over and over. Every. Single. Day.

She sings herself to sleep at night, in the bedroom we share: “Sweet Caroline (bum-bum-bum) . . . “.

I spend way too many sleepless nights plotting an unfortunate bunk-bed accident. Every single night.

I come to loathe the song “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum) and to rue the day somebody put Caroline Kennedy up on that stupid pony, inspiring Neil Diamond, who in turn  inspired the junior/senior high school band director, whose apparent obsession with that song scarred me (musically) for life .

Some Friday Night, September 1975:

As a Big Shot Seventh-Grader at the junior/senior high school in my town, I attend my first high school football game. I only briefly wonder what “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum) has to do with football, when the marching band plays it . . .several times.

For the record, I’ve never understood what “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” has to do with baseball or Baltimore, but it’s a seventh-inning stretch tradition that I don’t question out loud. It would be un-American.

There are some facts of life you just go with. So. somehow “Sweet Caroline” has something to do with leading our team to victory.  Ok, fine.


Tuesday, September 16, 1969:

Neil Diamond’s single,  “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum), inspired by sweet little Caroline Kennedy, is released.

Coincidentally, if you believe in such a thing as coincidence, this is about the same time, possibly even the very same day,  that a boy named Jeff chased me around the playground with a caterpillar, eventually slipping it down the back of my favorite maxi-dress and squishing it, forever changing the way I felt about maxi-dresses and caterpillars and Jeff.

I think it’s safe to say that September 1969 profoundly shaped my destiny, not in a happy way.  Caterpillars still haunt me. As does Caroline.

Friday, September 7, 1962:

LIFE magazine’s cover photo show adorable Caroline Kennedy riding a pony.

She is adorable.

She is sweet. She is Caroline.

Can you get any sweeter than a pony called Macaroni? (LIFE magazine, September 7, 1962)

Can you get any sweeter than a pony called Macaroni? (LIFE magazine, September 7, 1962)

Friday, September 6, 2013, approximately 0635 U.S. Eastern:

“So, I’m in a bar in Auckland and they’re playing “Sweet Caroline.” I don’t think you’d like it any better sung in a sexy Kiwi accent.”

We don’t see each other as often or have the chance to catch up as frequently as we used to, which makes me appreciate these random text exchanges from anywhere at any time all the more.

In the silly banter that follows, my world-traveling friend points out that as long as this song plays on in every corner of the world, he will think of me whenever and wherever he hears it  I fire back a silly response. I begin my day. Later I come to realize that whenever I hear the song, I think of him, too, and the times we’ve laughed about this song.

I have to admit to wondering what it sounds like in ‘sexy Kiwi.’ I’m grateful for the friendship that the song now brings to mind and for my new appreciation of the song.

And I suppose I’m grateful that I didn’t drown the band teacher. Bum-bum-bum.

Peace. Love. Hitchcock’s chin

This is a re-run. Today seemed like as good a day as any to bring back the idea of peace.


For whatever reason, I recently stumbled across two videos of Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam’s “Peace Train.”  I was fascinated at the difference between the two and how very moved I was by both versions.

My favorite comment from that  post explained that the first was from a time of celebration and the other was a prayer.

I love the youthful joy of the first version and the sweet silliness of the line where he explains the song’s origin, being on a train and thinking about Alfred Hitchcock’s chin:

If everybody could, you know, love Alfred Hitchcock, I think it would be a better world, don’t you?

I’m intrigued by the stories artists tell of where particular works came from and it gives me hope to know that he created such a timeless piece from a seemingly idle thought.

A timeless peace would be nice, too.

I love the quiet maturity and hopefulness, however measured, in the later version.

Wherever you are when you read this, whatever you believe or don’t believe, who(m)ever you love, whatever is your joy, here’s wishing you peace, love, and music. And maybe a little Hitchcock.


My twain of thought is loosely bound

I guess it’s time to mark this down.

Nathaniel Hawthorne nudged Jimmy Buffett out of my head this morning and as much as I admire Hawthorne, I find this unacceptable. Hawthorne is for fall, the time of year that I used to (try to) teach The Scarlet Letter. This is Mr. Buffett’s time of year.

For the past few days, the Live From Anguilla cd’s have been in rotation while I drive and think over a lot of things, including choosing the answer to one of those 20 questions that are going around.  I’ve been putting a lot of thought into  what year and place I’d like to go to. One of the top contenders has something to do with a timeless beach in Hispaniola.

It’s not that Buffett isn’t literary.  Maybe Twain and Lewis Carroll crept into my dreams and Hawthorne was striking back.

Whatever the reason, the first thing in my head this morning was a phrase he notoriously penned to a publisher. Frustrated at the lack of his own literary success, Hawthorne complained about the “d****d mob of scribbling women” rising to fame and fortune writing the domestic fiction that was wildly popular in mid-19th century America.

I spent a semester in college studying Hawthorne and the women writers of his time, examining whether Hawthorne’s quote was the rant of a misogynist or just a frustrated writer watching the free market respond to something other than his highly disciplined, carefully crafted work.   It was a whole semester and I came away with many thoughts. I could go on ad nauseam (and you know that’s true), but I won’t.

More to the point is why this was the first thought on my mind this morning, especially given that I fell asleep watching The Hangover.

(Please don’t judge. It was on regular cable and I need to renew my passport. If renewal involves any sort of citizenship test, I want to be as up to speed as possible on American culture and I think I was the only US citizen over the age of 10 who had not seen it. If the test includes anything Kardashian, I will not be crossing international borders anytime soon.These are the things that I worry about. )

Relieved to find the bathroom free of tigers, I set about my morning with the thought of the d****d mob still in my head.  It may help or it may distract you to know that I tried many variations of “ScribblingWoman” when I set up my blog user name and all were taken.  Apparently, there are a lot of us. [The Phrase I Didn’t Write would go here.]

Holy cow!  THAT right there is the overriding point that I’d need to muddle us all through for the next thing I say to make sense.

[The Phrase I Didn’t Write] is what keeps me from being one of the  popular bloggers. It’s the kind of phrase that haunts me. It’s the kind of phrase that dashed my high school BFF Billy’s dreams of vicariously donning the homecoming tiara. It’s the money line, the kind  that you would laugh at. The kind that would bond us as hip modern women and the men who dig them.  The line that I know goes there but something keeps me from going there.

I’m sorry, Billy.

It’s that something that I came to the keyboard to write about, but I’ve gone on enough for now and the time has come for me to hit the road.  I’ve lost an hour of steel drum reverie this weekend and the work week looms ahead.  Maybe I’ll come back to it in The Phrase I Didn’t Write, Part II. 

Or maybe not.  You just never know with me.