I love early late summer. The heat’s off – it could come back any time, this being August – but there’s no heat under the heat, if you know what I mean. The afternoon light is a bit more wan than it was two weeks ago. We’ve still much summer to go, but the transition has begun. If it’s been a good summer, the change is welcome. If you’re 22 and single, it brings a feeling of weary despair: only two more weeks to get a date. There’s always something about summer that increased the need to find a Special Friend, as though it would all be ruined if you passed the season without a humid interlude. But then you’d pin your hopes on fall: the time of fresh starts. (See also, spring, and summer.) You’d meet someone in class. Then you remembered you weren’t in school anymore.
You never shake that back-to-school feeling. Even the years between school and kids of your own, the turning of the leaves brings back the sense of industriousness and new situations. For most adults the emotion dims and dulls, as they all do, but sometimes you catch it full and bright. When I was shopping for new school supplies with Gnat, I had a moment where I recalled a pencil case I had in grade school; the sharpener was built into the box. Somehow this bode well for the year to come. The notebooks were empty, the folders pristine, the pencils perfect. Anticipation, sure, but jitters as well: what if you sat in front of the bully? What if the teacher was mean? What would it feel like when you opened the new math textbook, flipped to the last few pages, and beheld the horrible things you’d be expected to do?
The items were cheap. Glue sticks: twenty cents. Folders: seventy cents for ten. Pencils: twenty cents. We bought everything on the list for the price of two packs of cigarettes. The Crayola and RoseArt items were equally priced, which made me wonder: who buys RoseArt when you can have Crayola? Any crayon that isn’t Crayola might as well be called Old Snap-in-Half, regardless of its quality; it looks like the sort of crayon you get in restaurants to help you while away the time doodling on the kid’s menu. The boxes are uglier, too. Crayola: Iconic. Ditto Elmer’s Glue: you dasn’t buy anything else. Glue comes in white bottles with an orange top and a hugely confident bull on the label.
Elmer’s come a long way, incidentally. (I wrote a column about this for next Saturday, so I’m repeating myself.) He was a glum old fart, naked except for his top hat, sitting around the house in a funk unless Elsie had slid him a shot of milk, in which case he danced around on two hooves exulting over the glories of HEMO. The ads always showed Elsie, wide-eyed and smiling and utterly insane, reassuring the kids that dad was just full of HEMO, and that’s why he was acting like he just put a pound of meth up each leathery nostril.
The washer-drier combo arrived today. My wife was pleased, and said they looked “industrial-strength.” I suppose that’s the front-loader advantage. We put in some laundry and marveled at the low water levels; I think they use a cup, maybe two. We must have looked like apes from “2001” staring at the Monolith, touching it and leaping back, screeching in confusion masked with aggressive vocalizations. The new arrival meant much preparation, of course, so I spent most of the afternoon cleaning and rearranging and throwing out crap from the closets that once stood in the laundry room. I was saddened, somewhat, to come across a soft-serve ice cream maker. I’d bought it to make swirly cones for Gnat. Years ago. My wife was on a trip, I think, and I’d planned a great night with ice cream cones. You put in hard-pack carved from a scround, turned the crank, and voila: soft serve. As I recall it was like grinding granite, and the end result was ice cream that was no so much soft as defeated. Gnat had been unimpressed, and I’d never used it since. Out it goes. Ditto the breadmaker, which had been resting in the closet for five decades. Why did I buy a breadmaker? It’s too much work and it involves yeast. If I wanted to worry about yeast I’d buy a vagina. There’s bread everywhere. To hell with it. Liikewise the snow-cone maker, which I believe was crippled by the Sno-cone Trust; it doesn’t produce granulation on the level you get in Fair Sno-Cones, which means it’s a disappointment for all. I also found some extra spare glasses from 2001 – when I find glasses with a graphic I like I buy an extra set, since you’re bound to smash your favorite some day. But not only had I not smashed the originals, I’d demoted them from the daily rotation because I didn’t like them anymore. Now I do. Back they go.
This is the sort of thing that drives my wife nuts, because tomorrow she’ll open the cupboards to get those tall plastic glasses with the retro Coke ad pattern, and find them replaced with glasses that have 1930s French produce-company ads. Which is fine. Except the plastic glasses held more water, and she used them to irrigate the small plants outside in the gazebo. She could get out the watering can. But still. Why? Because I needed space to rotate in the juice glasses, that’s why. And she despairs: it’s nice to have a husband to cares about these things, but WHY DO YOU HAVE TO CARE ABOUT THESE THINGS?
I pity her. I really do. I bought four flavors of Stoli to put up in the liquor cabinet. Of course they have to stand in a line, so the labels can be seen and admired. I will not hear any nonsense about lining them up behind one another; that defeats the purpose. Nevermind that it makes it hard to get to the stuff behind the bottles; that’s irrelevant. What counts is the satisfaction I feel when I open up any cupboard and bask in the graphically symmetry.
You can imagine the hell this wreaked on our cupboards. I didn’t buy dishes or bowls, because that would contrude with the Fiesta aesthetic, but the mugs? Damn.
She puts up with it. Why? Well, she loves me, poor dear. But also because my taste is her taste, and because – take note, single men who note the waning of summer with tremulous dread – because she knows that when the last garbage bag has been drawn from the box beneath the sink, or the last spongy nodule of dishwasher soap fished from the tin (which is not the original box, but a collectible Electrosol Jetson-themed tin [with Rosie!] repurposed as a permanent dishwasher-soap supply depot, its eventual eBay value be damned) (well, I have a spare) she knows that an entire cupboard in the basement is devoted to storing replacement items. Should the Western world collapse tomorrow, we can play out the string for a year.
The other day I was hooting at the Giant Swede: I hoard! You don’t! Too bad for you when it all goes south!
I have a gun, he said.
Yes, well, that’s your answer to everything, isn’t it? Lock, load, pillage.
He shrugged. One of those six-foot-five shrugs.
Yeah, well, for the record, I had TWO girlfriends in the summer of 87, and he just played out the string on a duplicitous hottie.
Tall sullen gunned-up sod.
Anyway! Bottom line, fall good, school bittersweet, appliances disappoint and amaze, and I’m a fan of retro barware. Thus endeth the lesson.
Oh: if you’re wondering where the Bleat ban illustration comes from, it’s this. New Quirk (link fixed - and for future reference, just bookmark http://www.startribune.com/lileks, if you wish.) See you tomorrow.