James Lileks's Ode to Summer


You'd think by this time I'd get the hang of spring. Every winter, as I slog through slush and snow, the same unrealistic hope sustains me: Tomorrow the birds will sing. Probably comes from the cartoons I grew up with. Spring was symbolized by a deep wood ripe with frisky creatures that looked like they could use a cold waterfall. Bears bumped and rubbed torsos; earthworms twined suggestively. The better-socialized fauna, like the bluebirds, were more circumspect, and simply pressed their heads together to create a rising stream of heart-shaped bubbles. But they weren't fooling anybody. In my childish innocence I thought: Everybody's hugging! Now I think: Heironymous Bosch, meet Ralph Bakshi.

Still, the message stuck: Spring brought joy. To get through a Minnesota winter, hope needs a hard target. Mine is the 60s, a low, mean decade but a gorgeous little temperature range. I deploy the weather widget in March, and keep close watch throughout the long, sunless days. Come the big six-oh, the widget is programmed to play "In the Summertime" by Mungo Jerry. What would my pioneer forebears have made of that? They'd tip their woolen caps and smile, satisfied that they hadn't lived on salt beef and rainwater for nothing. That's what.

Yesterday we made it: 61 degrees, the widget sang, skies bright and sunny as June Allyson after a few stiff drinks. I flew to the living room. Trust but verify: I parted the drapes and touched the window glass—warmth!

I picked out a spring ensemble—by which I mean a coat that does not resemble a sarcophagus—and broached the relatively unprotected confines of my garage. Not exactly a sweat lodge, even with the heater on, but promising. I got into the car, engaged the autodoor, and with a full heart headed for the mall.

Things started well enough: My tires sang on iceless roads, and the flooding sunlight raised a dew of sweat on my forehead. I turned off the heater, and in a fit of wild abandon brought down the driver's-side window. The wind slapped and stung, my knuckles whitened on the wheel, but I pressed on. Spring! Shivering means you're alive!

Then Mother Nature swept in, slapped her palm with a nightstick, and barked, Show's over, pal. Clouds consumed the sun and soon the familiar aerial bombardment of sleet played Penderecki on my windshield.

I brought up the window, cranked on the heat, and braced for the inevitable hydroplane ballet. We tapped our brakes with the anxious delicacy of bomb defusers. No one honked, of course. (A New Yorker would lean on the horn and channel King Lear with Tourette's. That sort doesn't last long here.)

Eventually I skated the vehicle into the parking lot and found a spot not too far from the entrance. I zipped up my "spring" coat and executed my escape plan: on a five-count, door open, door slam, then a dash to safety.

Except some blubberbutt blocked my corridor between cars with a cart full of Dell products.

Plan B: I did an end-around and emerged, precious seconds wasted, in the foyer. Slick with ice-gunk, I furiously patted myself down, drawing notice from a pack of teenage trolls whose parents had been too busy holding key parties to teach them not to point and guffaw at people in distress. Before I could formulate a rejoinder, I was wracked by a sneeze that would have humbled Fred Ott. You can't high-hat gawkers while you're digging through pockets for Kleenex.

To Starbucks, then, for a grande magnifico chocolatto horribilis—charred fresh daily! Served by baristas down with la huelga! Scotch would have better suited and been served 10,000 times faster, but the din of Dave & Buster's gives me headaches and the sun had yet to pass the yardarm.

I was warmer and stocked with napkins, but too dispirited to challenge the Target clerks to a game of Name That Processor. I grabbed some copies of City Pages that appeared to be phlegm-free from atop a garbage can, and used them to shield myself from the downpour as I dashed outside.

After sealing myself inside the car and cranking the heat to 11, I checked the rearview and read a bit of that Dan Savage fellow, which the wet paper had imprinted on my forehead. I could only make out the words "butt plug" and "Santorum," but I think I got the gist. A few swipes with my napkins and I was ready for the road.

Traffic slowed to the speed of a Kubrick tracking shot, with an occasional sharp skid to keep things lively. I brooded. "In the Summertime" played in my head, only now I saw surly teens pointing and mocking me with a chorus of "da da da, dee da doo dee do da deedle da."

Right now, sitting at my Mac with a hot-water bottle and two blankets, I still look forward—not to spring, but to global warming. Let the icecaps melt and the sea roll up to take the coastal cities; they've been flooding us with their sexed-up media pap for decades. I wouldn't mind a little less Miley Cyrus and a little more sunshine. Then I could reach right up, and touch the sky.

*as channeled by Roy Edroso