I arrive at my gigs with a list of this month’s famous birthday people and events. I will wrap each one around a song. It’s March and one of the notables is Oscar Ferdinand Mayer. He was born March 29, 1859. The guy liked meat. I bet he ate a lot of it. And he lived to be 95 years old. Hooray for hot dogs!
We are sitting in a circle at my music therapy session, the memory care folks and me. I mention the name “Oscar Mayer” and watch their eyes glint in happy recognition. My eyes are glinting too. I tell them about the lunches my mother made for me when I was a kid. She poured slices of bologna and Velveeta cheese onto a pane of aluminum foil, rolled it like a mini-duffle bag and sent me off to school. No avocado toast, no carrots or celery. Not an apple or orange slice in sight.
I’m lucky I’m still alive.
That said, when I’m feeling all gunky about the state of the world, do you think I reach for tofu? Or lettuce? Or even chocolate? Are you kidding? I run to Sprouts, stand in the meat deli line and ask for half a pound of bologna. And then this happens: The deli lady appears with lovely folded slices on a pane of plastic, lays the whole thing on the scale and usually the weight is a little over. “Oh that’s okay!” I chirp. Food therapy is close at hand.
So the memory care folks and I launch into the iconic Oscar Mayer jingle.
Oh I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Wiener. That is what I’d truly like to be…
I’m here to tell you that a well-written commercial jingle is like Velcro in our brains. The gusto-factor has kicked in and everyone is singing and swaying along after the first line.
Cause if I were an Oscar Meyer Wiener…
She is sitting next me. I’ll call her “Sparky.” She is a human spark plug, a walking-talking firecracker. But she couples her joie de vivre with a rare and indefatigable equanimity, even in the face of the challenges that are a constant her life. The woman is laser-sharp, feisty and ever protective of those around her. Including me. “Cali, did you sign your invoice. We want you to come back.”
In a voice that slices through the ragtag chorus in the room, she sings the final line of the jingle.
“Everyone would take a bite of me.”
Let me introduce you to “Big Bad Bob…”
“That’s so F–ked Up,” he bellows. Some of the ladies in the room roll their eyes. They are familiar with his colorful language. I silently admire his verb substitutions. But Sparky is undeterred and sings her line again.
“Everyone would take a bite of me.”
I love it when stuff like this happens… A sudden burst of spontaneity and irreverence. Maybe this is what I love most about my work–when I am willing to let go of my own agenda, just a little, and trust this moment to lead us somewhere unexpected. And let me tell you, the rewards are bountiful. Surprising. Joyful. Scary. Deeply moving. Letting go can crack open our hearts.
The actual last line of the Oscar Mayer jingle is everyone would be in love with me. I sing it to Sparky and this is how I read the expression on her sweet face.
“Come on Cali, that sucks.”
“Sparky,” I exclaim, “I like your version better and it makes a whole lot more sense.” So we sing it again. Even Big Bad Bob joins in.
Oh I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener. That is what I’d truly like to be.
Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener. Everyone would take a bite of me.
Yes we may love bologna or cucumber and watercress sandwiches. But when we take a bite, well that’s a whole different picnic.
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CLICK HERE to read about songwriter Richard Trentlage and the story behind his famous Oscar Mayer jingle. Guess what, he played a banjo-ukulele!