kiss my sharretts, o my droogs

I’m not ready for summer to leave. Whenever you say that, you suspect it’s already on the way out. Summer never leaves like a dinner guest; it never folds its napkin, declines the last cup of coffee. It never pushes its chair back, jokes about the time, lingers at the door, waves as it heads down the stairs. No. Summer is the tall pretty woman at the party who was here before but isn’t here now. You look up, look around; she was over there, talking to that guy just a minute ago. Or ten minutes. Whatever. It’s a great party; you don’t notice. But an hour later there’s a hole in the room, somehow; the mood’s changed, the momentum dissipated.

Summer never says goodbye; you say goodbye to it. You decide when it ends, and it’s entirely subjective – your appraisal of the five o’clock sun, the faint chill at sunset, the leaves that spatter a lawn ahead of schedule. But these things mean nothing. In a week the noon sun will boil you dry, the night will be humid again, and summer will feel eternal.

It’s a nice lie, and there’s no harm in it.

I know, I know: summer really lasts until Sept. 22 or so. Every year I tell myself I’m going to believe it, and every year I give up around the tenth. The glorious decline is so seductive, the ruins so lovely. You acquiesce. You look forward to bonfires and warm coats and pumpkin aromas and all the details that bear you into the dead cold winter, even though you know it ends on Christmas Day with a present made in China demanding to be assembled, and one loud clanging thought in your head: wasn’t last Christmas yesterday? It’s the peculiar trick the year plays on you: From here, from the shank of summer, Christmas seems close; from Christmas, summer seems half a world away. Yet every day unspools at the same pace. Nothing has changed. Except for you, and the thing you have somehow acquired against your will. Momentum.

No, I didn’t do squat but brood this weekend; why do you ask?

Not entirely true. We had the contractors over Sunday morning. We’re having a Water Feature installed in the back of Jasperwood. I’ve long wanted some sort of running-water feature in the backyard, and not because I intend on sitting by the brook with a slim volume of Keats and contemplating Truth, but because there’s something soothing about running water, and the back corner is a dead zone. There’s a path that goes up to Gnat’s little plastic playhouse, but she doesn’t play there anymore. Can’t blame her: like all outdoor plastic playhouses, it got grimy and scratchy and filled with bugs, and last year it disgorged a buzzerium of stinging insects. She’s been disinclined to play with it since. I remember putting it together – spring of 02, right before I went to New York, and I was suffering the shin-chews of the Black Dog then, too. The site has fallen into desuetude, and this will rescue that corner of the lawn. I know what you’re thinking: o such an easy frictionless life that you must concern yourself with corners of the lawn in need of rescue. True. I look forward to a moment of peace and calm outside, with the fire cracking in the brazier, the water ploshing down the rocks. I will probably recall it as the time when I was worried about Matter PB932, which replaced Issue JR9283, all of which have been superceded by Concern GH3923, which has the potential to wreak hypochondriac mischief through the first quarter of 06.

But every now and then, everything’s fine. Those moments come more frequently than their obverse examples; If only I took them as seriously as I do their gibbering mates.

Watched some movies. “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” was billed as a tense Crime Thriller in the indie British mold; had Clive Owen and Malcolm McDowell. How could you go wrong? It was good, but low-key and contained an excess of attenuated scenes in which Clive Owen – bearded, poorly dressed – stared blankly for six minutes before uttering one or two gutteral phonemes. Malcolm McDowell was good – is he ever not? All his youthful charisma has pooled in his eyes, where they live in a fierce and bitter state of incandescent discontent. Action packed it’s not, but if you’re a fan of British crime movies, with all the thick accents and crappy flats and odd sad plastic English modernity, it’ll do. The other film was “My Favorite Year,” which I’ll deal with tomorrow.

On Saturday I drove around town and took pictures. On Fairview in St. Paul I saw something I’d never noticed: a 1920s telephone exchange building with a carving of a candlestick phone over the door. I screeched up to the curb, hopped out, took the pictures. Most peculiar; I lived down Fairview at the end of the 80s, and drove past this building all the time. Never saw the carving. That’s why I keep retracing old routes, perhaps; something always turns up. Kept driving, stopped at an antique mall to pillage and loot. As much as I love the beach and the creek and sitting outside reading and all the other summer joys, there’s also great deep pleasure had sitting in a basement sifting through the bureau-drawer detritus of someone who was a teenager in 1942. I’ll post some of the spoils tomorrow. Main impulse purchase: a 1950 black telephone. Rotary dial. Murder-weapon heavy; wake-the-dead bell. It works.

There’s something about having a caller activate a clapper that bangs the bells. There’s something about a thick cord that keeps you tethered – no pacing. Sit; talk. We assume we’re all connected now by invisible streaks in the ichor; it’s different to consider a voice that flows up a rope swathed in fabric.

The antique store consisted of many booths reflecting the collections and tastes of several dozen vendors. Some were the usual dim great-Grandma hodgepodge; a few were devoted entirely to 50s and 60s kitchenware, and the bright cheery newness of the stuff still shone over half a century. The colors, the materials – such things had never been seen before. Original packaging showed families romping outside ramblers with TV antennas on the roof; happy nuclear family fun. There was one Bygone Sixties Dad Room, a cenotaph to expired concepts of manliness; gun magazines, swizzle sticks, ashtrays, duck decoys, country-western records cut by small-eyed men with flattop haircuts posing in front of weathered wagon-wheels, beer cans, the inevitable bag of early 70s Vegas matchbooks.

You can learn more about people and culture in one of these antique stores than you can learn in the entire Walker Art Museum. And you can buy it all and take it home.

At the cash register I remembered I’d forgotten something. I went back to a booth where I’d found the 1943 Calvert Liquor Ration Book Holder, and got the Skelly Wyoming Map from the late 40s. The cover illustrations were remarkable, the colors undimmed.

“This is one of mine,” the clerk said. “I’m surprised it wasn’t snapped up. Look at it!”

We admired it for a moment. The logo, the hues, the illustration, the promise contained in its tightly folded interior. Wyoming!

“Enjoy,” she said, and handed me the bag. I walked out into the sunlight, half the summer Saturday left to enjoy. Went home, fixed dinner for the family; Gnat and Wife went to the park, and I went upstairs to scan the new stuff –

Stopped, and thought: am I nuts? Inside? Now? Grabbed a book and went out to the gazebo to read about Krakatoa. Cup of black coffee, a fresh Panter cigar. Early evening sunset. I’m not ready for summer to leave, I thought. Good thing it’s still here. More coffee? Another cup? Why yes; yes, of course.


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