It was some years after the fact that I learned the irritating (understatement) phenomenon actually has a proper lexicographic, if not taxonomic, name: Earworms, like a disease from a dog’s ass somehow made its way into your noggin. Like that nasty, slimy creature Ricardo Montalban put in Chekov’s ear in “The Wrath of Khan.”
I was in the early stages of a 62-day hike of the Colorado section of the Continental Divide Trail, making my way along about 850-miles of gorgeous terrain from the New Mexico border toward distant Wyoming. Though I do not remember the genesis or gestation, I realized, as I was making my way through the lovely South San Juan mountains, that I had embedded between my ears a tune that did not seem inclined to go away, or even moderate. It perhaps would have been one thing if the channel would have changed occasionally, like a radio station or an iPod set to shuffle. And it maybe would have been one thing if the tune-in-question was one of Bach’s Violin Concerti, or maybe side one in its entirely of “Abbey Road.” Or, hell, if it would have been “Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number” or even “Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkees!” But, no, I was not so graced.
Rather, the tune that lodged itself in my cranial mainframe, as though it had been implanted by a lab technician out of “Brave New World,” was, of all hideous and torturous things, “The Hokey-Pokey.” Now, how such a thing transpired, I can not say. What previous-life sins I must have once committed to get myself karmically sentenced to mile after mile of “The Hokey-Pokey,” I can scarcely guess, though, given the obvious seriousness of those karmic repercussions, I must have at one time been guard at a Nazi prison camp or something equally hideous. I mean, I don’t believe I had found myself prior to leaving on my hike in any environment where “The Hokey-Pokey” would have been played. I personally do not own any recorded versions of “The Hokey-Pokey,” and, if by some small chance, any of the recordings I do own incorporated so much as one note from “The Hokey-Pokey,” either by way of irony, satire or derision, I would dispose of said recording to quickly and summarily that there would have been little or no chance of that awful tune, or any component of that awful tune, taking up residence in my consciousness.
Yet, somehow, it did. And, step after step, uphill and down, in heat and cold, in dryness and in rain, in the early morning and in the evening, as I sat back staring up into the cruel heavens, “The Hokey-Pokey” was always with me, like a case of tropical ass rash.
And, worse (as though there can possibly be anything worse), I found myself desperately ignorant when it came to the entire lyric set of “The Hokey-Pokey.” So, rather than being able at least to listen between my ears to what subsequent research showed me are a full 10 verses of “The Hokey-Pokey,” I was cursed with less than one full verse. I now know that the first verse consists of:
You put your right foot in,
You put your right foot out;
You put your right foot in,
And you shake it all about.
You do the Hokey-Pokey,
And you turn yourself around.
That’s what it’s all about!
Subsequent verses make their way through much of the exterior of the human anatomy (sadly, leaving out the most interesting parts), so that, when one is happily past the right foot, one has the golden opportunity to Hokey-Pokey oneself to the left foot, both hands, both “sides,” the nose, the “backside” and the head, until, finally, one reaches the nebulousness of one’s “whole self.” Now, while I’m certain there is enough in the way of allegory and symbolism here to keep many a professor busy dissertating for years and years, for my luckless self, I was not even blessed with so much as one complete body part. I had no idea that the “song” commenced with a right foot, and, therefore, had to idea that it then visited the left foot and, then, the hands. I was not even blessed with complete verse. Rather, for most of 850 miles, the words that played over and over (and over and over and over, ad infinitum) in my mind’s ear were limited to the last three lines that grace all 10 of those verses:
You do the Hokey-Pokey
And you turn yourself around.
That’s what it’s all about!
Now, I had an awful lot of time to ponder every facet, every ramification, every subtle nuance of those three rousing lines of “The Hokey-Pokey.” And if there’s one thing I wished, more than anything — more than a hot shower, more than a big bag of potato chips, more than an icy six-pack — while hiking along the Continental Divide Trail that summer, it was even the faintest knowledge of what the goddamned Hokey-Pokey actually was/is. I mean, it was kind of like an algebraic equation that didn’t have enough numeric skinny for you to solve the problem. According to the lyrics themselves, once I did the Hokey-Pokey, then, and only then, could I rightfully turn myself around, and then, and only then, would I be able to understand what it’s all about, a not-inconsequential goal when one is backpacking for a long period of time. I mean, that’s one of the main reasons people like me venture into the woods — we have some small sliver of hope of learning, first, what “it” is, then, after reaching that obviously requisite level of enlightenment, applying our newly procured understanding of “it” to then progress on the spiritual plain to the point where context is achieved, where we know not only what “it” is, but, we know what “it’s all about!” How glorious!
But, without having the fundamental understanding of the foundational requirement of that path toward enlightenment, with knowing what on earth the Hokey-Pokey is, how can we hope to learn what “it” is, and thence, to learn what “it” is “all about?”
Basically, I can tell you with absolute certitude that there is no way. I feel like some poor gullible schmuck who opted to follow in the footsteps of a sage old Buddhist wise man and sit in an ice cave for 10 years, only to learn that ice caves are damned cold places to hang out.
By the time I got to Monarch Pass, I was starting to feel as though the whole hike was a waste of time. I mean, if I couldn’t achieve Hokey-Pokey enlightenment, if I couldn’t crack the Hokey-Pokey code, what chance did I stand of returning home a more sage hombre? None! I stood no chance.
I felt even more benighted when I later learned that “The Hokey-Pokey” has strong mountain roots. Roland Lawrence LaPrise concocted the song along with two fellow musicians in the late-1940s for the ski crowd in Sun Valley, Idaho. The group, the Ram Trio (with Charles Macak and Tafit Baker), recorded the song in 1949 and gained a copyright for the tune and the lyrics the following year.
So, this was not some glib melody that was birthed in, say, Peoria. This was not some vapid set of lyrics penned by some flaccid “A Mighty Wind”-type folk ensemble in Greenich Village in 1959. This was obviously, rather, serious mountain music created to deliver a serious mountain-based message, and here was I, slogging my way though the most-intense mountain country in the Lower 48, and this one fragment of this one song came to me and stuck with me like a Zen koan for a reason, goddammit!
And, so it went, past Leadville, through Summit County and the Eagles Nest Wilderness. Unenlightened! Over James Peak. Still not understanding what “The Hokey-Pokey” was trying to teach me, or even what it was. Though the Indian Peaks. Still not comprehending what “it’s all about.” Wanting more than anything to grasp the most rudimentary concept of the “The Hokey-Pokey,” to touch them hem of “Hokey-Pokey” wisdom. Past Grand Lake, into the Never Summers. Still nothing. Until, at last, I arrived at Rabbit Ears Pass, where my buddy Chris Nelson was due to meet me for the last six trail days.
It was not long before I shared my “Hokey-Pokey”-based angst with Chris, who just smiled, and said, “I can help you with this.” I stopped dead in my tracks. Perhaps Chris had already ventured down the Yellow Brick Road of “Hokey-Pokey”-ism. Chris and I had trained together for years in Tae Kwon Do. He’s a professional firefighter who has faced death in many forms many times. He’s also, like me, a bowler, a sport that in my mind serves more than any other activity in the world as a metaphor for life and all its myriad intricacies. It would not have surprised me one iota therefore if Chris, wise man that he was, would be able to at least share with me what “The Hokey-Pokey” was, therefore allowing me of my own accord to learn what “it” was, and, then, if I focused and studied and meditated and lived a humble life, I could maybe plug everything together and learn what it was “all about.” Just think!
Chris looked me square in the eye. His lips pursed, as though he was thinking of kissing the atmosphere, which, given the depth and gravity of the subject at hand, seemed appropriate enough to my dimwitted self.
But, instead of kissing the wind, he starting whistling the melody of the theme song to the “Andy Griffith Show.” And, at that instant, “The Hokey-Pokey” dissipated from my mind. I had apparently learned, without even comprehending that fact, all I needed to know about “The Hokey-Pokey,” and its various implications and ramifications. I had made it almost to the end of my journey, and perhaps “The Hokey-Pokey” had helped me along the way, helped me to put my right foot out, and then my left, to persevere through rain and fatigue and hunger. Maybe that was “it,” and maybe that was what it was “all about!” Maybe “The Hokey-Pokey” was analogous to backpacking and living and trying to grow as a human being. And maybe turning yourself around was an indication that, despite vocational and spousal requirements to the contrary, I was being told to about face and hike back along the path I had just followed. Maybe forever! Was the literal? Was that metaphoric? Who knew? Who cared?
Either way, the journey-at-hand was not yet complete. I still had a few more trail days ahead of me. And, for every step of the way, the melody from the theme song of “Andy Griffith Show” went with me. No deep lyrics to ponder, no hidden messages to decipher. Only the tune.
Which, of course, might mean something deep. I wonder what that’s all about …