Thursday, September 30, 2010


Thirty days hath September...

So do April, June, and November, but there's something about this one that has—or hath—more permanence, less need for another day. Maybe because it comes first in the old mnemonic. Maybe because it's been so long enshrined in 9/30/55, the movie and the event. That was the day the actor James Dean died in a car crash in California. It cut short a life and career in a kind of end-of-an-era way. 9/30 has always had a built-in finality for me.

So, I'll let September go because it's aged to where it ought to be. The leaves are ready for the next artist. Ripeness is all. (Who said that? Edgar, in King Lear: Men must endure / Their going hence, even as their coming hither: / Ripeness is all.)

The trees are tossing like restless horses after a humid day with the promise but barely any fact of rain. Tomorrow could be another September day, but it isn't. Today is.

As the journalists say at the end of a story:


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

There's a line to put you at your ease. It's the opening line of "To Autumn." by John Keats. Makes me want to find a field—why not Hampstead Heath?—and drink to autumn, to Keats, to fruitfulness, with a nice Pinot Grigio and, if I'm not overdoing it, Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony playing somewhere nearby.

The poem goes on to extol autumn's conspiring with its bosom-friend, the sun

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease

Two friends emailed me this poem yesterday. Nicole in Boston, then a few hours later, Josh in Long Island. A nice coincidence. They don't know each other, although I suspect they are kindred spirits. Attentive to the kind, red spirits who color the leaves of sugar maple trees and the Macintosh apples (except for the green leaf shadows) with special red crayons.

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

This is a busy, lazy season Keats describes. Swelling, plumping; sitting, sleeping; watching, half-reaping. I picture a lot of yellowjackets around that cyder-press, drunk on the oozings. I also wonder if Keats ever heard Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. He would have been a teenager when it was first performed, so it's possible. There's that brook motif in the second movement, and the brook here. Both autumnal, eh, fellas?

John and Ludwig, both drunk as yellowjackets, nod and wink as if keepers of a great secret, their arms thrown around each other companionably. They hoist an ale together. "To Autumn!" says John to Ludwig, with an affectionate grin. "Bis Herbst!" rejoins Ludwig. Down the hatch! No pun intended. I think I'll leave them there, singing the brook motif from the second movement. Feel free to sing along.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Fisher King

This isn't an obituary for Eddie Fisher, who died last week at the age of 82. Not even an appreciation. I mean, I liked his voice. A little schmaltzy, but pleasant. "Oh, My Papa" got to me. That plaintive tenor."Wish You Were Here": nice. He was a nice Jewish boy who sounded Italian. He could have been called Tony Fisher.

All the other obits go right to his marriages, of course. Debbie Reynolds...Elizabeth Taylor... and later, since he couldn't go back to Debbie, Connie Stevens. And that is how he's mainly remembered. That, and maybe as Carrie Fisher's dad.

But when you hear about the death of someone famous, you have your own flash reaction. There's this little "Oh!" from the news, kind of an ouch, like a stone hitting the water, and then the spreading ripples of your associations. And for me, with Eddie Fisher (young, earnest, curly-haired, always on the radio), those ripples encompass pretty much the whole black-and-white fifties of my childhood.

In fact, there was one glossy black-and-white photo in particular. When my dad was director of public relations for the New York Heart Association, he often enlisted the help of celebrities for promotional things, and one was having a well-loved, high-profile couple serve as the "King and Queen of Hearts," coinciding with the Valentine's Day fund-raising campaign. Who could it have been but Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, America's sweethearts in 1955 or 1956, whenever it was? Before Liz Taylor, anyway. And I remember the big glossy of the two of them, smiling radiantly, their majesty both conferred by and reflecting back on my father, their prime minister.

Of course there was that other, more complicated, grown-up, side to the fifties that Eddie Fisher was part of. The seductive Elizabeth Taylor side. The Peyton Place side. Coinciding with my dawning awareness of divorce and sex. Nowadays, Eddie Fisher's indiscretions would be part of a very big company. Carrie Fisher calls Eddie, Debbie, and Liz the Brad, Jen, and Angelina of their day. But they were the pioneers. When Eddie left Debbie for Liz, some kind of Code of Innocence was broken for young Cub Scouts like me. Of course it was a fictional code to begin with—even my dad had been married once before. This was different, though. This was the King and Queen of Hearts.

But, hey. You can't choose your Eddie Fisher. Well, actually you can, as long as it's understood that you're being selective. So, farewell, Eddie Fisher, all of you, but especially the one of my cozy, innocent childhood. The guy on the radio, in the glossy. Wish you were here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Telling Time

I'm sitting against the trunk of the enormous, time-telling maple tree at Pleasant Street and Mass. Ave., the center of Arlington Center.

It's Arlington's Town Day, so there is a lot going on around me. Heavy traffic at the Fried Dough booths, kids firing cap pistols at each other and sometimes me, and a few feet away, the AHS Boys' Soccer Club Soccer Shoot-out, with kids lined up, trying to throw a soccer ball through a hole in a board dressed in soccer shirt and shorts, which is suspended from a tree limb. Not exactly the peaceful interlude I had in mind. Mostly I'm being ignored, but an occasional young pair of eyes sizes me up as a borderline Old Geezer.

All trees tell time (secretly, ring by ring), but this tree does it so centrally and so conspicuously that Arlingtonians look to it as a bellwether of the seasons. I can see from my trunk-leaning vantage point that most of the leaves are still green, but there are a good dozen patches of orange to red at different locations. I suspect these will spread over the next week and come Oct. 1, green will be the minority color. It already is in many of the honey locust trees lining Mass. Ave.

For all the advance of fall, it was unseasonably warm today. Summer redux, sort of—or more like a visit from summer, unable to stay away from the office. Just don't call it Indian summer, which is elevated untimeliness. Tomorrow it's back to the seasonable sixties.

Gauging what's timely and what's not is a major occupation nowadays. It feels like summer but it looks like fall. Although there are still summerish flowers, summerish birds. Swallows (ready to take off), warblers (on their way south). Short sleeves on Saturday, long sleeves on Sunday. Green light!

In other seasons, there's a similar telling of time: the unseasonably warm day in March, the January thaw, accelerating and retarding of what we expect the day to be, based on...well, a lot of calendars, old magazine covers, learning the seasons in kindergarten, and enough seasons under our belt to work out a rough average.

Time has rules, we were taught. The o'clocks. Suppertime. Bedtime. And then we learned how to apply those rules to pleasures and opportunities. ("Hey, kids! What time is it?" IT'S HOWDY DOODY TIME!) Sure, why not create new times to suit the content, not just the old way of tailoring the content (planting crops, etc.) to suit the time.

So what's different about this season? Not sure. Maybe it's that sense that we're running out of time. New 2011 calendars on display. Loose-leaf September, heading inevitably to bare-tree November. Maybe there is something to those pensive lyrics in "September Song": Oh the days dwindle down to a precious few. September! November! Enough to watch time-telling trees, listen to time-counting crickets, and be more attentive to the pace of the time that's left before we put in the effort to pump up the new momentum at the time that's right, be it January, February, June or July...

Thursday, September 23, 2010


It was a grand early morning and I wish I'd been up to see it.

First, the autumnal equinox clocked in, in its usual mysterious manner at about 3 a.m. Coordinated Universal Time (UTC): the sun apparently directly over the equator. (One of those "if you say so" facts, I know, but it's always good to track what's happening on the old orbit.)

Second, about six hours later, more or less, the Harvest Moon—the full moon closest to the equinox—rose over the equator as well as horizons from Tuktoyaktuk to Timbuktu. A rare occurrence for this to happen on the same day as the equinox. Last happened in 1991. Won't happen again till 2029. Shine on, dude! (As only Leon Redbone can sing it.)

And apparently the planet Jupiter got in on the act, too, in opposition with Uranus. (As usual; those two have never gotten along.)

A few other seasonal notes:

• No other season has a highbrow name and a lowbrow name of almost equal familiarity. Efforts to promote Vernum, Hibernum, and Aestivus have not been successful.

• Apparently there is no truth to the folklore that you can balance an egg on its end at the exact moment of the equinox. To quote from the website of The Money Times:

But this belief has been rubbished. According to a research, any one can balance egg on its point every day of the year, provided that surface is rough, like sidewalk or pavement, to support egg. Also, by sprinkling salt on the smooth surface, one can balance egg.

• There will be a reunion tour of Three Embers and an Ober between now and 12/21.

• In some parts of the world, the traditional autumn greeting is "Humpty Dumpty!" (i.e., "have a great fall")

• pumpkins, pick-your-own apples, chrysanthemums, asters, Indian corn, cider, cider donuts, hay rides, and fall foliage. Attention must be paid.

Finally, a reprise of "Shine on, Harvest Moon" as only Laurel and Hardy can sing and dance it.

Humpty Dumpty!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Loyal to a Day

A house sparrow and I are regarding each other. I just gave him some scone crumbs, but he’s still wary. Trust but verify. It’s the 20th of September, the beginning of the last third of the month. Deep into back-to-school territory. The 9/ on homework is developing a personality now, like a cat in a bookstore. The click of chalk in a quiet room, kids listening, daydreaming. The drone of information occasionally stopping to ask a question. Gears in brains sluggishly turn: Alexander Hamilton? No, someone else they never heard of. Outside, trees are agitating in a know-it-all wind. The leaves dance. It’s like musical chairs. Or war. One of them will lose their grip, if not today then tomorrow. The tree-crickets are like a crowd rhythmically encouraging a jumper. We are at the opposite of spring. Rolling away from hope and mercy and warmth, toward underground, night, interiority. We know this turning, this flickering on and then winking out of leaf light, berry light, aster light. In two days summer will have been renamed autumn, and we may not notice. Didn’t fall move in a while ago, a daddy longlegs on an ear of corn?

Yom Kippur is falling farther away from me, a fleeting visit from a Very Important Day. Usually it arrives later in the season, typically a toasty day in early October that finds me in a meadow or hillside contemplating my place in the Grand Scheme of Things, surrounded by the mortality of crickets. This year brought it earlier, and I gave it shorter shrift than I’ve done in recent years. Didn’t go to temple, didn’t validate the day with the hundreds-strong congregation of Temple Shir Tikvah in Winchester’s Town Hall. Instead, I went back to the Mystic River in the mid-afternoon to sit on the mystical Nine Steps, with my small pad, not even the big one. I noted superficial things: goldenrod, asters, blue jays, and mysterious ripples. Two old dudes in a motorboat zoomed by, ripping the river into sloshing strips. I dozed, partly because of my mini-fast (an abbreviated lunch), partly because of a less than full engagement with the Yom. Other Yom Kippurs have yielded pages of self-annotation in the big notebook along with interesting narratives about passing goldfinches and cloud events. One even brought forth the three important things, which I offer here at no charge: 1. Be open. 2. Make an honest effort. 3. Forgive yourself.

This time, what I squeezed out was that I had been loyal to the day. Minimally, but it counted. I had inhabited an hour like a small house. And emerged just before the old dudes in the motorboat zoomed back from the other direction. Perhaps there’s something to that, that is also the momentum of this almanac. Being loyal to the month, the day, occasionally the moment. Inhabiting the calendar like a roomy house.

Monday, September 13, 2010

moment of reflection: reflection of moment

I had been thinking about what a moment is ever since hearing Hillary Clinton talking about "a new American moment" a week or two ago. I think she was referring to a moment as an opportunity, in this case to make a difference in global politics. And on "The Takeaway," a radio show I half-listen to most mornings, they were asking listeners to offer their own suggestions for America's defining moments. Civil Rights, Obama, women's suffrage, Nixon's resignation were some responses. Others suggested that America ought to take a moment to wise up. I wondered if we were the only country in the world quite this obsessed with defining ourselves, like a teenager primping in front of a mirror, frowning at our acne, our hair, and our clothes.

Anyway, a few days later I had a moment of my own. This past Monday, September weather at its sweetest, I took a walk along River St. to the opposite side of Mystic River than the side I'm used to. A kind of unknown land. Shady overhanging river trees. An open grassy area alongside, hemmed in on the other side by dowdy Medford houses. A private enclave of river and glade—not exactly a clearing in a woods, but influenced by those river trees, a consort between them and the houses. (Lucky people. They must hear owls.)

I passed a pair of cormorants perched on a half-submerged tree limb. One slipped into the river at my approach. Came upon a group of mallards, simlilarly arrayed on the limbs of a waterlogged tree. They ignored me. Private property.

The river bent left, the angle between houses and river narrowed. I was behind a row of backyards, nobody home, just stacks of wood, wheelbarrow of branches, chicken wire fencing, a kid's pink playhouse. Ahead another road loomed, crossing the river. But before that, still shaded by the trees, was a small wooden stairway, nine steps down to the water's edge. Someone's makeshift jetty. Don't mind if I do.

So I sat and I looked at the surface of the river, which had settled into a glassy stillness. And in it, or on it, of course, was the reflection of the sky. A perfect mirror image. Just as blue, the sky. Just as white and in slow motion, the clouds. Just as correct in texture and hue the upside down trees. And I was seeing this phenomenon as if for the first time. How was it I never noticed this before? That the skin of the water—really nothing, if you tried to catch it in your hands—could recreate the sky, its color, its movement, its altitude, in perfect duplication? What was the physics here? (I didn't really want to know, but I felt I should wonder) How did water become a mirror? Fantastic.

It was one of those jamais vu moments: as if you've never seen the often-seen before. You have them from time to time. But it got me to thinking about that kind of moment as opposed to Hillary's American moment as opposed to a fleeting moment in time. And how a moment could be the smallest, sub-atomic, microsecond or a monumental, immortal moment: time stopped forever. "I have a dream." "President Kennedy has been shot." One moment, please. Momentary or momentous. Depending, perhaps, on how much momentum it has.

Here's my glib definition that maybe Hillary could get behind, too. A moment is when time becomes a place. Something you can inhabit, whether it's a glance or a historical opportunity or ten minutes regarding the reflection of sky in water (which I sort of know is a kind of illusion created by light bouncing off the surface, like a lens, but it's still amazing).

I described this reflection on reflection to my friend Bill, a psychologist, and he immediately remarked, "As above, so below." Which turns out to be not just a Jungian creed but this ancient mystical tenet to the effect that the macrocosm is a reflection of the microcosm: the universe is a cell, a cell is the universe. Hmm.

My head is starting to buzz. Fortunately, it is Yom Kippur tomorrow. Another good day for reflection.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

London still calling

London follows me at a distance. It's falling behind, but I can still see it when I turn around. The tower of Big Ben sticking out from behind a tree.

The trouble is, it's also September in New England. And summer is turning. That blend of warm and cool. That Kodachrome blue sky that suggests migrating hawks. Or cloudy chilly days like today: pads of paper for writing down stuff I meant to write about. Because unwritten stuff must be written or it will shrivel like an unquacked quack.

So here's a shepherd's pie of British memories in no particular order. Another pie to follow.


"Who is Bumper Harris?"
—an ad along an escalator at a Tube station, self-promoting the London Underground with a story of a one-legged employee named Bumper Harris who was hired to ride the escalator and demonstrate its safety. (This job is in some dispute, but there was indeed a Bumper Harris.)

"I was born tomorrow. Today I live. Yesterday killed me."
—inscription in a bench on Hampstead Heath, attributed to Parviz Owsia, Iranian poet

Old York

We were getting off the train after a two-hour ride from King's Cross Station. What was the story about all these women in chic dresses and high heels and stylish hats? At first a few, then out on the platform a river of them, all dressed to kill. And all heading for a line of buses parked across the street, destined for the York Racecourse. Aha! Today, August 19, was Ladies Day at the race track. We considered climbing aboard with them, decided not to, and instead mounted the Roman wall that still encircles this old city, one-time bastion of Romans, Saxons, and Vikings, who called the place Jorvik. I could have walked the wall all day, like a model in a 1950s tourism film. (Voiceover: "Our hiker reads that Lendal Tower was rented as a water tower for one peppercorn a year.") But lunch called, then a walk through York Minster, the titanic, gasp-inducing cathedral dating back to the eleventh century, even listing its former Precentors and Chancellors the way churches list their ministers, except these included Hugh Sottovagina, 1133; Hamo, 1174; William d'Eu, 1139; and Ranulf, 1091. To say nothing of such long-lived names as Belevant, Grindal, Langtoft, Streusall, Ampleforth, and Cencellarius Dannington.
Later, heading back to the train in the rain (little knowing a five-hour delay through Sheffield and Derby awaited us) we encountered some of the ladies back from their day, variously richer, poorer, dampened, and in their cups. Farewell, old York.


"Many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall be increased."
—Daniel, xii, 4.
(inscription on some plaque in Hampstead)


Tate Modern Gallery piece by David Shrigley:
Pie chart:
(small wedge, about 15%:) "Portion of birds' lives that birds feel truly belongs to them."
(remainder:) "Portion of birds' lives that birds feel are public property."

Outside Tate Modern Gallery, Southbank, Thames:
Members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds with spotting scopes aimed at gray wind-ruffled peregrine falcon (Bert or Misty) on ledge of nearby office tower. RSPB website elaborates.

Desserts in café of Tate Modern Gallery:
Gooseberry crumble with vanilla ice cream
Elderflower and raspberry fool with elderflower thins
Apricot, buttermilk and almond tart with créme fraiche


Painted People

A race of semi-mythological people is gaining a foothold among us. What do we know, really, about the LIving Statues who seem drawn to our metropolitan areas, especially to those well-trafficked corridors called tourist traps? Only that they appear to be completely coated in paint of a particular hue, favor statue-like poses, and occasionally make modest movements—a flutter of a fan; a tilt of a wine goblet; a brandish of a broadsword—or even interact with us as if they are only one heroic deed away from becoming fully human. And the characters they portray range from puzzling to evocative: a purple bicyclist, his coat and scarves permanently billowing behind him; a silver coquette, with fan and parasol, out of a Jane Austen novel; a golden John and Yoko, genially toasting passersby in clockwork repetition; and a bronzy working stiff looking a day late and a dollar short, but grasping his dignity with both hands.


"You cannot alight from the rear two coaches as the station has a short platform."
—routine recorded announcement on Tube

Please do not allow your dogs to foul the amenity area.
—sign, Hampstead Heath

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Year Renewed

Suppose you had a really great library book that you could renew an unlimited number of times. No worry about depriving any other borrower. It happens that everyone has his/her own copy; in fact, it's customized for each reader. Also, it's kind of a book club book, a shared, interactive reading experience. Call it life, or if that's too vast, call it a year.

Of course, we know that a year is a circle—an orbit—not a book of 24 pages with a cliff-hanger ending on 12/31. And unlike a wall calendar, a circle is endless. Hop on, hop off. But it behooves us all (like race horses?) to have a starting point, so we know how much progress we've made. Hence birthdays. Hence January 1. Hence Rosh Hashana, March Fourth, and Turn Over a New Leaf Day, a holiday I just invented, on June the whenever.

As I say, you can renew any day you like and renew as often as you like. No card, no PIN necessary. But it helps to have a sense of concurrence from the planet, the one that's doing the dang circling, after all. Which is why a September New Year's day makes sense.

Not that I went to temple today. I stayed home, visiting the temple between my temples, as I told my friend Helen a bit glibly/defensively. But I had my moment. Sitting on the front porch this afternoon—a cloudy day, a bit cool for a change, in the sixties. The wind making restless surges in the trees across the street. And that old feeling that goes with September, of something stirring: change. Urgently. Told, tolled, by the crickets. Take note, take notes. Something definitely in the air. Momentous. As exciting, in a reverse way, as spring. Migrant warblers in confusing fall plumage coming back. Time lapse of plants shriveling, going to seed. A different motion, less tentative than spring's early changes. This is wiser, surer, the prep for sleep, night lights, chilly nights. A good time for a new year's beginning? Sure. A voyage into the the shortwave radio, the story around the campfire.

And like the vuvuzelas on 1/1 (though without the corroborating change of season), the September New Year comes with its own wind instrument. Are you ready? asks the shofar. Take note! There is something definitely in the air!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Earl the Pearl

So, what happened? Last week we were besieged by this heat wave. Then along comes this hurricane, Earl, bowling out of Africa. Rolls on up the eastern seaboard. Everyone freaking out because we seldom get a visit from a hurricane, even a glancing blow. Eeek! OMG, etc. And then it turns out to be harmless, no wind, spritz of rain, and of course people sneer: unimpressive!
booo! call that a hurricane?

But what did it do? Plenty! Sent that heat wave spinning like a ten-pin strike! Pulled in a cold front, a cool nighttime breeze ("good sleeping weather!"), and restored the normal status of September as the golden go-between, bringing summer to fall, ripening the apples, stepping up the pumpkins, sweet corn: 12 ears for two bucks. Beckoning the fall warblers hither and hopefully kettles of broad-winged hawks boiling over local peaks like Wachusett, Watatic, and Pack Monadnock. I say Earl, birdy Earl, set September right.

And this morning, past my open window, a little child was chanting, "Hello! Kindergarten! Hello! Kindergarten! Hello! Kindergarten!" September's theme song? Could be.

Not that there's anything wrong with "September Song," especially when it's played instrumentally in the style of Django Reinhardt by Dave Grisman and friends. (The lyrics are a little downbeat for September, I think. Sounds better uptempo, without the bittersweet words about playing the waiting game and days dwindling down to a precious few.)

Anyway, thanks to Earl, the weekend sparkled. Friday night's Red Sox game was rained out, and on Saturday, three providential Red Sox tickets for the make-up game materialized (with the help of friend Charlene) four rows behind the visitors' dugout! So what if the Sox lost? We were that close to Manny Ramirez and Ozzie Guillen! The sky was blue! The sausage was delicious! The beer was okay.

And on Monday, Labor Day, the Spinjam crowd came to Davis Square in Somerville at dusk, with liquid crystal poi and hoops and juggling pins and sexy acrobatics. And darned if they didn't notice old friend Matt sitting next to me on a bench and sent a pretty girl to coax him into grabbing a few juggling balls and lending his silhouette to the performance, which he did!

So Labor Day was what you like it to be, a day to put your ear to the shell and hear the ocean, a slightly foreign day, Italian maybe, with a gelato for the stroll home and, okay, "September Song" sung in Italian:

Oh, è un lungo, lungo tempo da maggio a dicembre
Ma i giorni crescere breve quando si raggiunge settembre...

Thursday, September 2, 2010


A rare trip into Boston today to see my dentist. First chance since I've been back to compare the T with the Tube, the 77 Harvard bus with the 24 red double-decker to Hampstead.

As far as the transportation goes, are you kidding me? In this corner we have the well-lit, cozy London Underground with clear maps everywhere and pleasant-voiced announcers giving detailed route information and a courteous, ubiquitous, "Mind the Gap!" Okay, so maybe the Jubilee Line is unavailable on the weekends and there are spontaneous guerilla closures due to a fire on the track or some other problem, but this is the Bakerloo Line to Elephant and Castle! The Piccadilly Line to Cockfosters! And stops in between like Tooting Bec, Canary Wharf, London Bridge, and Pudding Mill Lane.

And the red double-decker? Okay, maybe they don't have conductors coming upstairs anymore to collect your sixpence with a "Ta," like they used to forty years ago. But they're still the coolest and cheapest way to see London, even with this new fare thing called the Oyster Card that I kept almost losing.

And in this corner, across the Pond, we have a lot of fantastic, animated people who have no problem letting everyone else know exactly who they are, what they're thinking, and how they're feeling. Most unlike your staid, mum, though stylish, British passenger.

Take my trip into Boston. Caught the 77. Immediately spellbound by a young couple in their 20s. She, a skinny brunette--I mean, pipecleaner arms--in a striped jersey, and a toothy grin that takes up half her face. He, a bearded dude with a Red Sox yarmulke. I swear I'm seeing Olive Oyl and Popeye as a young Jew before he went to sea. He even repeats muttered sentences over and over in an OCD way. Then he leans forward and kisses Olive on top of the head. "Sneaky!" she says, craning around. He kisses her again on the cheek. He lightly bites her upper arm. "Ick!" she clucks. He does it again. "Eww!" I love these two. They're like puppies. I don't want them to get off. But they do.

Then on the Green Line, heading into Park Street, a classic family scene. Mom, Dad, two kids, about 4 (girl) and 5 (boy). Or maybe they're twins. Boy's more connected to Dad, but Dad explains that he's got to carry girl, who's sleeping. Actually, she's awake. Sleepy, maybe. Boy has to take Mommy's hand. Boy refuses. Mommy leans in. Face peeled in fury. "Then I'll just have to leave you on the train!" she hisses. Boy seems indifferent. Maybe he's heard this threat too many times. Train is pulling in. Dad lifts girl. Boy seems calmly defiant. Dad or no one. Mom thrusts out her arm. At last possible moment boy takes her hand, as if tiring of the game. Off they go.

Finally, on the 79 bus from Alewife, a gabby pair gets on, not a couple but friends. Guy has close-cropped red hair, sounds gay. The main topic seems to be his hairdresser at a salon called "Great Lengths."(great name). There's Laurie—"Laurie's nice" —and Meryl—"nice girl." But they go off-topic, too, to talk about sketchy people ("people who you don't like") and moody people ("leave the moody ones alone") and dead people ("they're in a better place") and other people ("people like me"). And then there's strange people like me, scribbling notes in my notebook like Henry Higgins, not to locate people by their accents. More to locate a country by its people. Toto, I don't think we're in Tufnel Park anymore.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Back to Reality Sale!


Remember September? As seen from June? A distant land where all promises will be fulfilled, by dint of new resolve and a reservoir of resources: blank notebooks, gel pens, new shoes, number 2 pencils, and cool weather.

It's here. And I'm not ready, and it's still hot and sluggish and summery, like yesterday, like August. The leaves are firmly attached to the trees.

Doesn't matter. It's September. Yellow as a yellowjacket, a school bus, a Fort Ticonderoga pencil, a sunflower, a xanthophyllic maple leaf .

We pin our hopes on September. It's a corkboard of goals and promises affixed with pushpins and brass tacks, the ones you get down to, finally, at long last, let's do this thing.

Maybe. May bee. Bumble bee, busy as a: See Busy as a bee. See cartoon of bee flying around with backpack full of books, drawn on sheet of three-hole filler paper as teacher calls your name for the second time. See time drawn and quartered, hear echoing slam of locker followed by faint zip of combination lock followed by serious hall bell telling you to get to your next class. Which you do, but the students in their desks are all flying out the open window, one by one, like paratroopers, including you, into the summer day outside, because September is a summer month, a harvest month, the last refuge of baseball, and below you lie the yellow fields with the threshers moving, a Van Gogh painting. He's up ahead in the lead desk with an easel. You're too shy to ask him what he thinks of your bee cartoon. Besides, he only speaks Dutch. What is September in Dutch?
It's September.