To all outward appearances, I am a normal person who drives a normal car. But look closely at the dashboard of our 10-year-old Japanese compact. Now reach for the radio: There isn't one. A plastic insert fills the void where a radio would be.
This might seem radical, like a home without a TV. It was an economy move when we bought the car. The dealer assured my wife and me that when we wanted a radio, we could have one installed.
The urge never arrived. And not just because of the cost. I like the silence and its invitation to open-road thinking.
Besides, when I want music, I can produce my own. A car just may be the best place ever invented to compose and perform your own material or croon someone else's big hit. Some of the world's greatest unfinished symphonies may swirl between the air bag and the rear-window defroster.
Shower stalls are good, too, but you can't cut loose with the rest of the family still in bed.
My biggest frustration as a car singer is that I can't remember the words. A song may find its way into my heart, but it bypasses my head.
So I sing a line or two and hum the rest. But this is not very satisfying.
RECORD companies occasionally recognize the need to fulfill a listener's desire to sing along by providing printed lyrics. A recently released Peter Seeger CD is a good example. Seeger's songs often tell a story or deliver a social message, so the words carry special significance.
But the tune that played on my internal jukebox recently was "Gee, Officer Krupke," from the musical "West Side Story." A live performance can sometimes start the least-expected songs spinning on one's mental turntable.
Many of us hear songs in our heads, sometimes for days on end. Far fewer, I suspect, can sing a handful of favorite numbers all the way through.
My own limited repertoire includes "The Star Spangled Banner." But even so, I sometimes switch "night" and "fight" around in my mind. (As in "Whose broad strips and bright stars through the perilous ... night? fight?")
Besides the national anthem and hymns, my ability to sing an entire song is very thin. If pressed, I reach for several fallbacks: my high school and college fight songs and my college alma mater.
If I must dig deeper, there's one more musical ace in the hole, "Tamale Joe," a playful little tune learned in freshman-year, high school chorus.
It's not the sort of thing one expects to remember. I wish I could sing all those chorus numbers I once memorized for high school productions of "Camelot" and "The Sound of Music."
Anyhow, here are the words to "Tamale Joe." You'll have to provide the music yourself:
Tamale Joe, he is a man in town,
who makes his living by going round,
and selling from a pushcart all day long
to people who will buy and listen to his song.
Hot tamales, sure are tasty,
always made from finest pastry,
so delicious and nutritious,
you will like them, so buy them now!