Some melodies are hard to shake. They can lodge in your brain as relentlessly as the accelerator on a Toyota. We’ve all experienced it---that song you just can’t stop singing.
The term for it, strangely enough, is “earworm.” It’s the reason you can remember the lyrics to the Kit Kat candy bar jingle but can’t remember the title of the last book you read. It’s the reason you keep singing, “Who let the dogs out,” even though you own a cat. And it’s the reason you keep going back to Chili’s for baby back ribs.
Throughout life I’ve suffered earworms from hearing anything remotely musical, whether a song on TV, lyrics on the radio or the sound of a toilet flushing. My earworms recently got so bad that my husband and kids secretly placed bets to see how long it would take me to start humming after they whistled the first line of a song. That’s when I decided to see a shrink.
“So, what brings you here today?” Dr. P. asked.
“How Much is That Doggy in the Window?” I answered.
“How Much is That Doggy in the Window?” I repeated.
“I don’t understand.”
“The song. It’s stuck in constant rewind in my head and I can’t get it out.”
“I see. How long has it been stuck?”
“Since early November.”
“So, a week?”
“I see. How does that make you feel?”
“Like I want a frontal lobotomy.”
“I see. Tell me about it.”
“I want someone to take a scalpel and…”
“I meant, what causes it.”
I explained to Dr. P. that anything could trigger it, like a word, a sound, or my husband snoring.
She mentioned something about mental pathways, which I couldn’t follow because her words competed in my brain with, “ the one with the waggley tail...”
She told me that I had earworms, which she said are sometimes associated with obsessive-compulsive behavior. Then she asked me a bunch of questions like whether I was preoccupied with details, rules, lists and organization, and whether I was a perfectionist. I wasn’t sure where she was going with all this obsessive-compulsive disorder stuff but told her to ask me again in order of importance and to annunciate better next time.
She moved on to explain that 98% of the population has been afflicted with an earworm at some time or another and that those most susceptible are women, musicians, the worry prone and parrots. I found this news normalizing since statistically it meant that more people experience earworms than dandruff.
She also said that some people suffer a more serious affliction called musical hallucinations where they actually hear music that is not playing. Just then I heard a Mariachi band, which caused me to panic.
“Don’t worry, you’re not hallucinating,” she assured me. “That’s my cell phone going off. Sorry about that.”
Her earworm diagnosis helped me understand my problem and I left her office feeling much better. I had accidentally left my sweater behind so I ran back to retrieve it. I didn’t see Dr. P. anywhere but I heard music coming from the bathroom. Curious, I cupped my ear to the door. I’m pretty certain it wasn’t just the toilet flushing but Dr. P. singing, “How Much is That Doggy in the Window,” -- over and over again.
When Jersey Girl Lisa Tognola traded her job as freelance writer for that of full-time mother of three children, it didn’t take long before her writing was reduced to grocery lists, notes to school nurses excusing her kids from gym class, and e-mails to her husband reminding him to call his mother. Her hunger for adventure ultimately led her to local reporting, where she now finds herself thrown into harrowing situations and narrowly escaping dangerous places like lacrosse games and town hall meetings. Her new weekly humor column, Main Street Musings, highlights the humorous side of local news. Ms. Tognola lives in Chatham, New Jersey with her family.