The Weekly Essay

It’s Another Story.

A Post-Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Summer’s more than half over. That’s what I discovered when, for no reason I can explain, I suddenly stopped and asked myself, When exactly is midsummer? And myself replied, Why are you asking me? You’ve been asking yourself this question every summer, usually around this time, since you were eight, but now you’ve got the internet and you can just look up the answer. Although when you were a kid you could have asked an adult. Sure, some of them might not have known, and some would have thought it was funny to give you an answer like “The thirty-eighth of Cunegonde.” And don’t you feel stupid for not finding out you could ask questions like this at the reference desk in the library until your senior year of college so you spent a lot of time trying to find information on your own?

This is why I don’t talk to myself as much as I used to.

Even though I did wonder when exactly midsummer was when I was a kid most of the time I was too immersed in the joy of summer to stick with the question long enough to ever stop to ask anyone. Besides I didn’t want to waste time worrying about when summer would slip into its downhill slide. That time would come soon enough. I remember the summer morning when I was nine or ten and I woke up and heard neighbors shooting off fireworks. Fireworks were supposed to be for the fourth of July, I thought, so why were they having a breakfast snap, crackle, and pop that had nothing to do with cereal in their driveway? Then I went downstairs and saw the newspaper on the kitchen table and realized it was the third of July—the entire month of June was gone and I hadn’t even noticed. Also that was the previous day’s newspaper, although I’d walk around most of that day still thinking it was the third.

Also when I was a kid seasons seemed very arbitrary. Then I grew up and learned more about how the world worked and came to understand that seasons are completely arbitrary. When I was a kid summer started when school ended, and most of the time that was sometime in late May, but, according to the meteorological calendar, summer this year started June 1st, with midsummer falling on June 24th. Of course when I was a kid autumn didn’t start when school started, which was usually in late August. Summer vacation might be over but as long as the weather was warm and humid we were still in summer. Depending on the weather I wouldn’t think of it as autumn until sometime in early winter.

We’ve had a very mild, at times almost cold, summer this year, with it only just now starting to get really hot. I wear jeans and a hoodie in the house because I’m cold-blooded and we keep the air conditioning pretty well cranked up most of the time, but when I step out into the sunshine and still keep the hoodie on because it’s a bit cool that, to me, is just not summer. In fact it’s been so cool for most of June that one morning, when it should have been sweltering but was actually chilly, I yelled up at the sky, “You could turn down the air conditioning a little!” I knew it wouldn’t change anything, of course, and I even wondered why I was doing it, but I know better than to ask myself questions like that.

Oh Deer.

A deer wandered into our backyard. I’ve seen them in the front yard. One was even standing in the middle of the driveway one day when I came home. Before I could decide what to do–my options were waiting, honking the horn, or getting out and yelling at it, which I didn’t want to do because it had large antlers and those are scary when they’re on a deer and not mounted on a hunting lodge wall–it moved into the neighbor’s yard to feast on their tulips.

The deer in the backyard was an entirely different thing because our backyard is fenced and, with a few exceptions, like squirrels and chipmunks which can go through or over the fence, or the time I opened the backdoor and found a couple of raccoons on our patio which then slipped away over the fence into the night, or, more likely, into the neighbor’s garbage, the fence keeps out wildlife. I’ve seen deer in the wooded area behind the fence, and that seems the best place for them.

The weirdest thing about the deer in the backyard was how nonchalant it was. It didn’t have antlers–my wife reminded me it’s the wrong time of year for that, and it was probably young too. It must have jumped over the fence but by the time it came into my purview it was just casually strolling along. It stopped to munch on some dandelions then went over to the big tree that stood in the middle of the yard. To me there was still something really strange about it, about wildlife coming that close to the house. I know there are also possums, coyotes, and foxes in the neighborhood. There’s one house a few blocks away that has a really big yard, and in a corner by the road where there’s a culvert that’s overgrown with weeds we saw a family of foxes one day. The people who lived there put up a sign near the culvert that said “Slow–children at play” with a picture of a fox. A few blocks away in another direction there also used to be several acres of farmland that had been left to grow wild and it was a home for a lot of animals. Then it was all turned into a shopping center and the animals now move among our homes–the ones that survived, anyway.

There are still wild places, but suburban sprawl keeps on sprawling, pushing those places away, but the deer wandering across the backyard was a sign of nature pushing back.

What I’m Saying…

Sometimes an idea or memory gets stuck in my head and, because there’s so much empty space, pings off every corner nonstop, and the only way I can get it out is to talk about it. Recently it’s been an expression I heard adults use when I was a kid: “like it’s goin’ out of style”. This was a simile used to say someone was doing something really energetically, which, if you’d asked me as a kid what it meant, that’s exactly how I would have defined it because I was a weird kid with much too formal diction. Anyway I’d hear an adult say something like, “Roger was eatin’ those crackers like it was goin’ out of style.” If that sounds bizarre, well, welcome to my world–I understood what they meant but there was still something really weird about the saying. Why would crackers, or eating them, go out of style? And if it was going out of style why would Roger want to eat a bunch of them? Was he eating up all the crackers before they got pulled from the shelves to make room for newer, more stylish crackers? It wasn’t just eating either. Raking leaves, washing the car, playing basketball–if someone was doing something really vigorously they were doing it “like it was goin’ out of style”.

At least “like it was goin’ out of style” was an expression I understood. An expression that completely baffled me was “going out of town”. As school wound down each year my friends would tell me their family was “going out of town”. What did that mean? We lived in the suburbs which, as far as I was concerned, was already out of town, since I thought of “town” as pavement and skyscrapers–what was, technically, downtown. My family went “on vacation”, which I understood because, even if we left town, we went to another town.

To get back to “like it was goin’ out of style” it occurred to me that I don’t hear that expression anymore, and haven’t heard it in a really long time. Like leisure suits and the nightmare-inducing live action shows of Sid and Marty Krofft it seems like it ended with the ’70’s. It should have gotten a final burst of use before disappearing but instead it seems to have faded away.

Unlike some of the relics of that era I think it’s an expression that needs a comeback so I’m going to start using it again. Every chance I get I’ll be using it really energetically, really vigorously. You know how I’ll be using it.

The Crown.

March 18, 978-Well, this is really exciting. Lots of people are gathered here for the coronation of the new king. He’s only twelve years old so this might be a little scary for him but everyone’s really in a happy mood and ready for the coronation of Aethelred The Unready. We’ve been waiting for, uh, about three hours, but I’m sure he’ll be out any minute now.

December 25, 1066-Wow, is this a big day for all of us, but I guess you could say it’s an especially big day for William, who’s about to be crowned king. I know he’s chuffed, as they say around here. Lucky for him he won that battle at Hastings, am I right? It would be terrible to lose when your last name is “The Conqueror”. And, even more exciting, it’s all happening on Christmas day. Doesn’t get any better than that. Hey, they’ve brought in some of those unicorns! Tapestry makers, are you getting this?

April 9, 1413-That was quite a coronation, wasn’t it? Pretty short, too. I guess our new king Henry V isn’t one for making speeches.

July 6, 1483-It’s a somber occasion, but, sad as that business with the princes is, I think we can all look forward to our new king serving the nation well and all of us moving forward together. I’m sure he’ll have a good reign, a proper burial, and no one in the future will ever have a bad word to say about Richard III.

October 30, 1485-Now that’s what I call a coronation! That was some serious pomp and circumstance there, wasn’t it? Such a huge celebration with feasting, dancing, speeches, music. I tell you, just from that alone there’s no chance we’ll ever have another Henry as well-known or widely talked about as our new King Henry VII.

February 20, 1547-He comes to the throne in sad and difficult circumstances but I think we can all look forward to a long and happy reign under Edward VI. There’s his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, and his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. I’m sure we won’t be hearing much from them with Edward taking charge. Wait, who’s that? Does the king have a twin brother? Never mind, it’s just some pauper.

November 17, 1558-Well, this is really something. Never mind that little nine-day kerfuffle we had back in July. Here’s wishing our new Queen Elizabeth the best of luck. Something tells me she won’t last long.

January 1, 1651-I don’t know about anybody else but I certainly feel restored! Charlie, Charlie, he’s our…anyway, pour me another quart of ale. I’m about to head out for the theater.

September 22, 1761-Whoo hoo, we’ve got colonies all over the place and the sun will never set on this empire, am I right, folks? Things are looking especially great on the other side of the pond—I’m sure it’s smooth sailing for all of us all under our wise and benevolent King George III. Let’s get crazy, everybody!

June 28, 1838-Now this is really something. It’s been a couple of centuries since we had a queen and now, here she is, Queen Victoria. She’s, you know, a little different. I hope she has a good reign but, you know, a lot of things are changing, with trains and other modern innovations. Who knows? I’d bet we see the end of the monarchy soon.

January 20, 1936-It’s not, strictly speaking, official yet, but I’m sure we can look forward to a long, uneventful reign under our new King Edward VIII.

June 2, 1953-I don’t know about anyone else but I’m pretty chuffed, as they say around here, to have another Queen Elizabeth on the throne. Her reign should be pretty quiet. I mean, who pays much attention to the monarchy these days?

Source: The Mighty Nerd

Let Summer Commence.

The student have graduated and left for the summer, marking the end of another year. Most college and university graduations happen sooner than high school so the ceremonies always take me by surprise. Growing up I thought of the end of school coinciding with the beginning of summer, which always meant mid to late May, although I had cousins in New England who weren’t released until June. I thought it was because the snow would shut down their schools so regularly, but that wasn’t the case. New Englanders, after all, are used to dealing with snow. In my cousins’ case it was just that their fall classes didn’t start until after Labor Day, whereas here they started in August, maybe because most schools had more reliable air conditioning than some homes.

Then there was the year I was in seventh grade and we had so much snow it shut down the whole city for weeks—Nashville, of course, not being used to dealing with snow. The school I went to for seventh and eighth grade was close enough that I could walk to it, and frequently walked home, but the snow meant the kids who relied on busing couldn’t make it in, so they just shut down everything.

The freeze lasted so long that the school board, which normally just tacked extra days onto the school year to make up for whatever we’d missed, decided that instead we should make up the loss by spending an extra half hour at school each day for about three weeks at the end of the spring semester. So we sat around doing nothing, but at least it meant our summer break wouldn’t be postponed.

College graduations, of course, are different, which may be why they come sooner. For most students they don’t just mean the end of school; they’re the beginning of adulthood. It’s a very different transition from all the ones that came before.

Congratulations, classes of 2023, wherever you may be graduating from, and good luck.

Here’s The Kicker.

There’s now a soccer league, or, as the rest of the world calls it, football, in Japan for players who are over eighty. This is such a brilliant idea, although I think it’s diminished slightly by the fact that most of the octogenarian players are former professionals who’ve been out of the game for a few decades. It’s great that they’re still around and still able to get out on the pitch but I feel like players who’ve had glory days should, especially by the time they’ve passed threescore and twenty, step aside and let non-pros have a chance at making a goal or two. Maybe there are some players who’ve reached that age who were never that great at soccer in their youth but feel they have a better chance at competing against peers who haven’t had a couple of hip replacements. Maybe there are players who didn’t really have an interest in soccer when they were young but got pushed out onto the field by their parents and played miserably, without even really knowing what they were doing, would like another chance at the game late in life, having developed an appreciation for it in the intervening decades.

Yes, I am talking about myself, even though I’ve still got a few intervening decades before I reach my eighties. I didn’t really want to play soccer, but my parents told me to at least try it. So in the fall of third grade, after I went home from school each day, I’d go to another school for an hour or so of soccer practice. Then on Saturday mornings, instead of sleeping late and watching cartoons, I’d get up early and go run around a field for a couple of hours, which wasn’t that much fun in shorts, and in my case it was mostly just standing around because I didn’t have much idea what was going on. I have a vague idea that our team wasn’t very good and that we lost most of our games, but because I didn’t really know what was going on I was just waiting for the final whistle when we’d shake hands with the opposing team and then we’d all get hot chocolate.

By the third year I actually got a little better, but it was also my last year, and I was still easily distracted. The games started later so I was more alert on the field but we’d also moved to a different field that was next to a wooded area that looked swampy. Whenever there was any downtime—when we weren’t practicing kicking goals or doing laps around the field—I’d look longingly at the swamp and think I’d much rather be exploring it. But at least some of the time I was actually engaged in the game, even if I still hadn’t entirely figured out what was going on.

One Saturday morning, before a game was about to start, I was standing off to the side. A few guys on my team were kicking a ball around. I tried to get involved but they were top players and, while I don’t think they told me to go away, they weren’t interested in me joining them either. So I shrugged and walked away.

At that point a really old man—I think he was someone’s grandfather, or maybe great grandfather, who was an occasional presence at games—walked over to me and just started yelling at me. He told me I needed to pay attention, be aggressive, get out there and work or I’d never be any good as a player. He told me I was useless, that what I was doing was terrible, that it was important to focus, give it my all, and work for the team.

Even in sixth grade this kind of dressing down, especially by an adult, should have sent me off sobbing to hide in the backseat of my parents’ car, but it was so weird that this complete stranger focused on me I was certain he had me confused with somebody else. I knew I wasn’t much of a player but I also knew I really didn’t care enough for this warped version of a pep talk from a guy who, judging by the thickness of his glasses and the cloudiness of his eyes, could have easily been talking to one of the goalposts, to affect me.

It also helped that someone from my team, a tall, redhaired kid named Chuck who, like me, was a low-ranking player but still better than I was, came over and said, “Hey, Chris, come kick the ball around with us!” He was with a group that wasn’t that good but was just killing time before the game started, but that didn’t matter. Just like that I was released from the baleful rantings of a complete stranger and welcomed into a group that I’d never really felt I was part of.

Those two moments—one bizarre and, in retrospect, really awful, and one really great and uplifting—are my most vivid memories of childhood soccer.

I wouldn’t mind reliving that second moment. As for the first, I think that old guy needed a team of his own. Whatever the source of his bitterness was he didn’t need to be directing it at a random twelve-year old on a chilly spring morning. Soccer is, to most of the world, the beautiful game, because it’s open to everyone.

Nothing To Sneeze At.

In the past allergy season didn’t bother me. I feel guilty for saying that and perhaps I should clarify that I felt bad for my friends who coughed and had runny eyes and noses, even though it gave me the opportunity to call them up sometimes and ask if their nose was running so I could say “Well, you better go catch it!” and then I’d hang up as if they didn’t know it was me. And now I’m paying for that, although if there’s allergy karma it’s doing the equivalent of giving me the finger as it drives by. I wake up with a stuffed up nose and I have a few bouts of coughing through the day, all of which I’m pretty sure is because I’m allergic to something in the air right now.

Allergies are a weird thing anyway. I’m not treating them lightly because when I look at labels on various foods and see warnings about nuts, peanuts, or eggs it’s a somber reminder that for me they’re innocuous ingredients but for some people they can literally be deadly. One of my wife’s friends has trouble with food that’s been cooked near shrimp. A shot of epinephrine can prevent anaphylactic shock but imagine having to keep one handy all the time in case of accidental exposure to something most people take for granted. And all because some people have immune systems that overreact to something in the environment that should be harmless.

I’m not putting down the immune system. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s just that sometimes I think we should be able to communicate with our body, tell it to calm down when it’s fired up about something it should just let go. I have regular checkups with my doctor. Why can’t my major bodily systems arrange to have regular checkups with me?

“All right, digestive system, take a seat. First of all I want to thank you for all the wonderful work you’ve been doing. I also want to apologize. I know I should have been sending you a lot more fiber. I’m going to work on sending you a lot more bananas and cabbage, though not at the same time, and a lot less pizza and coffee. Thanks, and keep up the good work. Take some of that pink stuff on your way out, and could you send in the circulatory system next?”

It would be so easy, and I bet some of the underappreciated organs, like the pancreas, would appreciate the individual note of congratulations. Around allergy season, though, might not be the best time to meet with the immune system.

“Immy, you know you’re very special to me. You’ve always been close to my heart. And everything else, really, which is what makes you so vital. I appreciate everything you do, really. That stomach flu that moved in downstairs? I’m so glad you stepped up to take care of it. But we need to talk.”

At this point I would bring up pictures of pollen, pet dander, and, I don’t know, dust mites, maybe, and say, “These are not your enemies. Look, they’re just passing through. The respiratory system has them covered. Literally. With mucus. You don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. Capisce? Have some chicken soup on the way out.”

I know it can never be that easy. If it were a whole spectrum of immune system conditions, not to mention other systemic issues, could be wiped out, or at least dealt with a lot more easily. And I wouldn’t spend so much time trying to catch my nose.

In Space No One Can Hear You Sneeze.

It’s the season when every young person’s fancy turns lightly to thoughts of sneezing, coughing, and congestion, which means it’s time for a pop quiz: Allergy Medication or Star Wars alien?

  1. Chagrian
  2. Muftak
  3. Lotemax
  4. Arcona
  5. Prednisolone
  6. Flovent
  7. Quarren
  8. Qnasl
  9. Amanin
  10. Zetonna
  11. Snivvian
  12. Aqualish
  13. Rhinocort
  14. Zaditor
  15. Xyzal
  16. Gungan
  17. Nausicaan
  18. Ithorian
  19. Gamorrean
  20. Astelin
  21. Claridryl
  22. Sullustan
  23. Pazeo
  24. Grogu
  25. Nasonex

Source: Wikipedia

Answer Key (tip: you can copy the image, paste it into Paint or a similar program, and reverse it)

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