Last Friday I lost my job. My boss called me at 5pm. I ducked out of the Starbucks where I’d relocated to work for the day to take the call. It was 80-some odd degrees outside and on the bench beside me a homeless man was scratching at a dried patch of something crusty on his fly. As the truth sunk in, the bottom of my stomach gave way. I wasn’t getting another paycheck and my rent was due in two weeks. The homeless guy was asking me a question but I was having a hard time making my ears work.
The call came out of the blue. Being separated from the home office, I had no idea the hit was coming. I was anxious about work, but I am always anxious about work. That the sword of Damocles was hanging so low was a fact to which I was ignorant. My now-former boss explained that it wasn’t me, but they wouldn’t be renewing my contract. He waited for me to say something and I realized I was just nodding at the phone. I smiled big and said some cogent things. Then I hung up.
The homeless guy was still talking to me. “What?” I asked.
“I SAID -- your coffee spilled,” the homeless guy barked at me. I looked down and saw he was right. I cursed and then thanked him before starting my walk home, teetering like a drunk baby deer.
I was the only employee in New York. I thought of the rest of the team in the San Francisco office, perched on their yoga balls, typing in silence, sending each other messages via Slack, making plans for their next happy hour, all under 30, and I felt tired to very marrow of my bones.
I tried to muster up outrage, but it was too hot outside and I was too tired and too mired in the panic of how the next few days were going to unfold.
I sent the required texts. I made the required calls. You know, the ones you make when the bottom falls out, the grappling hooks you shoot off in the hopes of finding something that will support your weight and pull you up. I did the scrambling you become well versed in when you make the decision to live a life for art. The next two days were a blitz of overt begging for money on Facebook, and applying for jobs, making sure that I applied only to positions I really, really wanted, no desperate resumes would be submitted (I’ve made that mistake in the past).
Once that initial flurry of panic and activity subsided there were empty days that needed filling and because it is a cliche, I turned to housecleaning and television. I wound up watching On Demand TV shows on Bravo, TLC, A&E, Logo, and many, many, many more. I basically turned into a Podling. I watched indiscriminately and without emotion, enjoying the deadening effects of the binge and the adjustment period to my upped fluoxetine dosage.
I didn’t cry. Not once. It was a nice change of pace, having spent most of the month of July prone and sobbing. I probed my psyche like a loose tooth -- how far could I go before I drew blood? But nothing broke through that thick wall. Nothing at all. Until I saw this commercial:
This is not an essay about me discovering I have Fibromyalgia. This is an essay about how this commercial kept coming on, again, and again, and again, and how each time it did, the sweet, simple, melancholic quality of the piano music backing the ad reached into my guts and yanked: Hard. It got to the point that I’d be the next room, loading the dishwasher, and I’d hear the commercial start and I’d drop everything to race into the room and mute the television, or dart into the bathroom and close the door, humming to myself.
To me, the most tremendous thing about art is its ability to take us by surprise. It shocks feeling out of us, it purrs into our ear, eager for us to lower our defenses and wallow in the excess of emotion. Art doesn’t come to you in predictable ways, it sneaks up on you, using a pharma ad as a Trojan horse and where this commercial is concerned, I resented it.
I’ve been having trouble sleeping during this the summer where I was dumped, fired, and thought it was a good idea to go off of antidepressants. I do a lot of strange things in the small hours of the morning when they less stirred up among us slumber. Now, added to that list of oddities is researching this mournful piano track I heard on a commercial. I’m not the only one. The track has crept into other people’s ears and taken up residence. The comments on this keyboard cover of the track (yes, this has happened) is proof of just that.
The video's creator was so infatuated with the music that he composed this cover by ear. The comments are mostly folks like me (but who comment on YouTube) saying stuff like “omg I’ve been looking everywhere for this!” One woman took it a step further than most saying she’d reached out to Pfizer, the company who makes Lyrica, and they rerouted her to the ad agency, but she hadn’t ever contacted the folks responsible for the campaign. I picked up the crusade where she had left off, tweeting obnoxiously at the ad company in question -- they got back to me in the negative. “Sorry Rebecca, not our account!” I furrowed my brow and debated taking on Big Pharma and then thought better of it.
In commercials like these, I learned that it’s usually studio musicians who are required to remain anonymous responsible for the tune-age. This gave me free license to paint a picture of the mournful individual responsible for the song that won’t leave me alone. Maybe it’s a man, who, in another life fished for Alaskan King Crab until he saw one too many of his comrades embraced in the ocean’s cruel and icy depths. Maybe it’s a conservatory grad, a woman in her early twenties who would be mortified to know that anyone is looking for her because of this. Maybe my cat leads a thrilling double life where, when he is done rage-pooping on my bed, he nips in to a high-end recording studio and tickles the ivories.
It doesn’t really matter. What does is that it found me, it got me when nothing else was coming close. Me, scrolling down the comment thread of that YouTube video, feeling a rush of warmth flood me with each resounding chorus of “yes!” of “me too!” and trying not to be as moved by the notion that we are never as alone we imagine ourselves to be.