Paid a thousand bucks for a set of winter tires this afternoon, top-of-the-line Michelins, and drove straight off into the afternoon blizzard, tuned to the all-Abba station on satellite radio, lumbering along in my Saab. Under typical circumstances, your Michelin salesman would be getting good and desperate around Christmas time, ready to deal on wheels. And thanks to the recession, every other consumer item is currently marked down to the BOGO category, where you buy one and get one free. Not happening this year: the Quebec government made mandatory the use of snow tires beginning December 15th, and consequently they’re in short supply throughout the neighboring cantons.
So, I trudge a block or two further, stuck in traffic long enough to sit through two separate playings of “Two For the Price of One,” surely the oddest Abba tune in the entire Abba catalog of polar weirdness. At first I think Abba is mocking me for having overpaid on the tires, but the tune reaches me on second listen. They simply do not write songs like that anymore, period.
It follows that this poor sick twist is sweating in the throes of the imagined sexual encounter of his miserable lifetime. He’s probably already planning the adverbs he’s going to use when he writes the event up for the Svenske edition of Penthouse, but it emerges abruptly that he simply misread the ad. “She said, I’m sure we must be perfect for each other; And if you doubt it you’ll be certain when you meet my mother.”
So, yes, Two for the Price of One: a Vladimir Nabokov short story, and a bouncy pop tune, all wrapped up in one strange three-minute package. Brought to you through the courtesy of XM 31, All-Abba Radio.
I am looking forward to decyphering this astonishing tune a third time, when XM Channel 31 goes silent. Seems, unlike the full-time Sinatra, Jimmy Buffett and Springsteen stations on XM satellite radio, Abba Radio is a temporary thing, intended to promote the release of the “Mamma Mia” DVD and then fade away. Indeed, where Bjorn and Benny stood only minutes earlier, the frequency is now occupied by Chanukah Radio, with a properly guttural pronunciation of the “Ch.” I express my disappointment through a loud string of angry shouted oaths, none of which involve dreidels or latkes. It took me 30 years to jump on the Abba bandwagon, and here these satellite jockeys are set to yank the buckboard out from under me, without so much as a Yumpin’ Yimminy of warning.
I feel abandoned in my Swedish near-luxury car, unable to share the Michelin-cushioned journey with the penultimate Swedish band. Don’t get me wrong; there are many fine Hebraic troubadours — at least one in my own family, the redoubtable Martin Shaw — and others with familiar names such as Leonard Cohen and Mickey Katz, all capable of conveying the Chanukah experience to a listening audience. But none of them are Abba.
(I might even eventually come to terms with the advent of an all-Mickey Katz radio channel, though it would likely need to be padded out with performances by Katz’s untalented child, Joel Grey, and his even-less-palatable granddaughter, Jennifer Grey, and that would certainly pose a problem.)
So occurs the winter solstice here in the north country. The security department of Mastercard has an urgent message waiting for me on the voicemail by the time I arrive home through the storm. The grand I’d plunked down for the new tires was flagged as being outside my usual purchasing patterns. I assure the investigator the charge is legit. “What did you do,” the fellow asks, “put a down payment on a car?” No, I reply, I bought four 17-inch Michelin X-Ice beauties, and, daddio, I’m lovin’ them. I see, says the Mastercard cop, and he thanks me for my cooperation. The days will begin to grow longer now, a few less moments of darkness each evening, and I now fear no patch of black ice, no accumulated snow drifts on the Gardiner Expressway. The Saab is what you might call sure-footed, and you can clearly hear the snow crunching beneath the wheels, because of the silence left now that Bjorn and Benny have taken their peculiar, creepy, and irresistable music, and vanished somewhere over the Arctic Circle.