Our Doomed Love Affair with Summer
PJ O'Rourke bids summer goodbye and good riddance, after fantasies of freedom and sweaty self-improvement die hard under a steady barrage of gin and tonics.
Summer, you bitch, you’re leaving me again. You lethargic, unfocused, unstable, lazy, hazy, crazy time of year. Why do I always take you back?
Because you’re hot. It’s that simple. Hot, and a little kinky. Look at Edouard Manet’s painting of you, Le dejeuner sur l’herbe. What’s going on there?
Summer, you’re a universal object of desire. And when we examine the lives of other universal objects of desire – movie stars, supermodels, JFK – we see the same patterns of inconstancy and moral turpitude and, often, a Grim Fall.
Everyone wants you, Summer. I guess that messes with your mind. If you have a mind. Journalists call you “The Silly Season.” Publishers print stacks of rubbish – “Beach Reading” – for your sake. And the fashion industry dresses you in clothes that reveal little sense, less taste, and too much flesh.
Yet what bliss it is to have the warmth of Summer’s celebrity attention turn toward a lowly, undistinguished, ill-favored member of the vulgar masses: me.
What a delightful surprise to feel Summer’s soft caresses. What astonishment that such beauty urges me into bed for a nightlong sweaty roll in tangled sheets.
If only Summer weren’t doing the same thing with everybody else whose A/C is on the blink.
Our infatuation with Summer begins early. We already have a crush, of course, on Christmastime. But Santa hangs out in malls and on street corners ringing bells. Sitting on his lap is strange and a little icky. Our childish intuition tells us there’s something inappropriate about our relationship with Santa.
Christmas morning brings joy. But it’s just a morning. Or, to be precise, one hour of one morning to be followed by 15 more hours of the turkey being over-cooked while the church choir sings every carol known to humanity, family dinner with desiccated relatives and desiccated fowl, aunts bringing presents of socks and underwear, general crabbiness and exhaustion, broken toys, and mince pie indigestion.
No, the happiest day on childhood’s calendar – and it’s a whole day – is when Summer lets us out of school. This is pleasure divine and pure, untainted by greed, pride in new possessions, selfish reluctance to share, writing untruthful thank-you notes for underwear, or any of the other Deadly Sins.
If we’d been wise, we’d have been more suspicious of Summer. Amazing how quickly a kid’s perfect Summer freedom is transformed into an awful scheduled frenzy of lessons in swimming, tennis, chess, music, fooling around with computers, and every other form of recreational activity that’s supposed to be fun. The point of the lessons being to take the fun out of it.
Then there is the horror of the family vacation, unnecessary to describe – except to note this harrowing expedition has suffered from holiday elephantiasis. What was once a brief stay in a crowded and uncomfortable cottage at the lake, where it rained, has swollen alarmingly into multiple brief stays in crowded and uncomfortable Kuala Lumpur, Phnom Pen, Kathmandu, and Phuket, where it rained.
It was during our teenage years when we truly enjoyed Summer’s enticements. Or when we think we did. Summer induces selective recall. We remember the first beers. We forget the first vomitings. We remember the first sex. We forget the tears it ended in and the six weeks of worried waiting on a bastard. We remember the first car. The first car wreck that followed is a funny story about our teenage years that we truly enjoy telling.
By our middle twenties we were smitten even worse by Summer. Never mind that most of us spent our middle twenties working ourselves witless in low-pay jobs, living in sweltering walk-ups with a plethora of roommates, and without enough wherewithal for even a Summer Share in outer Queens. Summer could have cared less about us in those days.
But that just made Summer more enticing, an unobtainable Beau Ideal. With Summer out of reach our infatuation grew. We were willing to brave the wrath of the Capulets and climb the wall to the balcony to catch Summer’s attention. Or, anyway, we were willing to brave the wrath of the building superintendent and climb the roof stairs to Tar Beach.
Over the years we would become yet more besotted. By the time we were fully adult and weighed with the cares of domestic and professional responsibility Summer had become the Beatrice to our Dantes. Summer got us through our yearly Hell and Purgatory and led us to Heaven in June.
Summer is our Muse. But it must be understood that, despite Summer’s powerful stirring of our hopes and dreams, Summer is a muse of the second rank -- a Thalia, Terpsichore, or Calliope for regular folks, a sub-genius muse.
Real geniuses don’t pay attention to the weather. They’re too busy being geniuses. Note military genius Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Russia just in time for snow.
However, for ordinary people, summer is our inspiration. This year I was inspired by Summer to lose that extra 15 pounds around the middle. I was going to plant a real garden, rototill a quarter acre and grow Heritage tomatoes, healthy organic peas and beans, roughage, succotash, you name it. I was going to thatch the lawn, and I don’t even know what that means, plus fertilize and weed it and mow it so well that the children could find the swing set. I was going to break 100 on the golf course and clean out the garage.
But when Summer comes around what I really do is spend a lot of time on the patio having cocktails.
I’m beginning to think Summer has a drinking problem. And I wonder if Summer doesn’t sometimes spike the G&Ts with roofies. I mentioned that Summer can cause memory loss. I don’t remember, in the past, Summer having so many tempestuous fits – thunderstorm tantrums, tornados of rage, sobbing floods, depressive droughts, and hot flashes.
Then there’s Summer’s constant prickliness, like grabbing nettles. The nettles are two feet high in my lawn. And Summer’s needling. It’s not like a thousand mosquito bites. It is a thousand mosquito bites. And Summer’s waspishness. Five nests are under the porch eves. Plus summer never shuts up. Warble, warble, warble before dawn. Buzz, buzz, buzz all day. And Summer’s snoring frog croaks at night.
Why do I put up with this? Why am I living this way? It’s time for “conscious uncoupling.” However, it’s hard to serve the divorce papers. Summer is gone – off in South America or Australia somewhere.
But let me tell you this, Summer. Next time you return, begging for my love, forget it. You’re going to find me partnered and settled down with some other season. I may woo frivolous young Spring. I’ll shack up with ugly Old Man Winter if no one else will have me. Or, better, I’ll get married to mellow, fruitful Autumn.
Next Memorial Day I’ll be raking leaves. (Easy work in May.) And carving jack-o-lanterns. (I’ll keep some in the fridge until then. They should be nice and mushy and easy to cut into shape.) And I’ll be rooting for the Patriots, always winners at that point in their schedule when the best seats in Gillette Stadium are free even if I do have to bring my own hotdogs and beer.
Summer, I will not be fooled one more time by your cheap, glittering charms.