Happy Birthday, Neil Diamond.

I know that I had heard Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline before the time I’m going to tell you about. But —

The time I remember vividly was in Wilmington.

I was a senior in college and I had gone on a spring break trip to the beach with my best girl friend. Wilmington was only half of our spring break — the second half of the trip was at the end of the week.  To Chicago. Looking back, that was quite a lot of miles for seven days.

We went to Wilmington to visit my friend’s brother. Older brother. You know how these stories go. What I remember was driving the 350 miles straight to the chain pizza restaurant where Jesse worked. He served us draft Blue Moons with orange slices; a taste brand new to my recently-turned-21 lips. We had a few of these beers and they went down cold and easy.

After Jesse got off work, his sister and I followed him back to his sparse apartment. You know how these apartments are. One floor lamp, a camping chair, a coffee table with a few empty coffee cups, one pint glass half full of water. Or old vodka.  There was a huge tv, an upholstered couch that was an indeterminate shade of grayish tan, and a broken vinyl mini blind that let streaks of light shine in from the street.

From the kitchen came the greenish glow of the refrigerator door opening as Jesse handed us cans of beer. I don’t remember what kind of beers they were but the room was full of grown-up energy.  It was the first time I had drunk beers in an apartment with a man. Never mind that I was there with his sister. You know how it feels to be in a room like that.

We sat around the living room and drank those beers and talked about school and jobs and relationships.  While my friend sat on the couch with her brother, I sat in the camping chair.  I hadn’t yet learned the art of strategic seating arrangements.  You remember how that was. We got tipsy and giggly and Jesse turned on the tv. His tv had an antenna (a real antenna because this was in 2004) and there were only a few tv stations that would come in clear.

Jesse flipped through static and landed on an annual fund drive of a PBS channel.  After the please-send-us-your-money spiel, the programming returned to a pre-taped live Neil Diamond concert. We had had just enough beers to shout with delight and dissolve into laughter at this revelation.

The concert crowd went wild with the opening bars of Sweet Caroline.  They screamed WHOA-WHOA-WHOA at all the places they were supposed to and the 3 of us sang right along with them. Neil shouted out, “We’re coming to the very last chorus now and need all of your voices to join with me! ARE YOU GOING TO DO IT OR WHAT!!!  I looked at Jesse and he looked at me.  The crowd went crazy and so did we. In unison the 3 of us belted out the last verse and fell into a heap on the floor laughing so hard that my sides hurt.

Neil then told us how wonderful we were but asked why we were all still standing… He licked his lips and said, “Surely you’re not expecting us to do the song again?” The crowd roared — completely lost their collective minds. AND THEN HE SANG SWEET CAROLINE AGAIN. And so did we.

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD CLICK HERE AND WATCH IT.

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After the epic Neil Diamond concert my best friend slept on the floor.  I spent the night on the couch.  You know how these stories go.

The only other thing that I remember about the first leg of that spring break trip was using Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap for the very first time. If you’ve never used this soap you absolutely should.  The tingling that happens to the sensitive parts of your body is memorable; especially after a long night of drinking and singing Neil Diamond songs.

Years later, I caught a few episodes of the tv show Glee with my cousin.  I had previously eye-rolled through the show until that hunky jock/bad boy Puck stood up in class and said, “I’ve been working on something…” (to be honest I listened when this character said anything) “…a personal tribute to a musical Jewish icon.” And just like the bitchy Gleek did as soon as she heard those first bars, I sat up straight, too. And felt a tingle all over again.

NOW PLEASE CLICK THIS SO YOU CAN TINGLE, TOO.

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Because of all of this, today I say:

Happy Birthday, Neil Diamond.

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