But the North Carolina summer is so malevolently awful that it feels personal. I can’t argue with hot though, because there is no combination of words I can say that will make it cooler and less humid.
And, standing outside, yelling, and shaking my fist at the sky just confirms suspicions that my neighbors have had about me all along.
So, I walk around all summer, every summer, disgruntled. Usually, my gruntle returns in early October about the time the State Fair comes to town. Then that big ole bag of grumpy departs like a hummingbird heading south for the winter.
I strive to stifle my summer-originated rage. But on especially gross days in which I am forced to spend extended time outside, my animosity bubbles to the surface, like a particularly noxious aquifer in the form of sarcastic, smart-alecky questions.
Some are purely rhetorical, some I know the answers to, and some are actual head-scratchers and are the result of honest, albeit cantankerous curiosity.
Do you know what’s unfair? Having gray hair, wrinkles, and acne all on the same head. It’s those infernal masks. Wearing one is a giant pain. It’s punishingly hot and moist under here. I am beyond sick of smelling and breathing my own breath. I’m always forgetting it and having to run back to the car. It makes my glasses fog up.
It’s one of the best ways, though, to protect yourself and others from transmission. But I keep seeing a puzzling phenomenon all over the place and even on the faces of TV reporters. So I have to ask; why even bother wearing that mask if you’re gonna leave your nose outside?
So, those murder hornets that were supposed to invade our shores and spread a swath of death and destruction everywhere they went. What happened to them?
I have a theory. They arrived in the US and saw the news and read a few papers. When they realized what a flaming hot mess 2020 is, they turned around and went back to Mars.
Why can’t I eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? It’s hot!
Singer Sam Smith, Jennifer Lopez, Drake, Madonna, et al, posting tone-deaf videos and photos from multi-multi-million dollar homes complaining about the boredom/anxiety of quarantining.
On behalf of all the people out here who aren’t riding around our private islands on a unicorn while wearing gold-plated underclothes; might you please shut the heck up?
There are actually folks who will gaze at you with a slightly manic look and state with a straight face, that they “love the heat”.
What is wrong with them?
Camping. Leaving one’s comfortable homes full of running water, electricity, and air conditioning for the charms of sleeping on the ground, eating food that’s either half-raw or burned to charcoal, and being feasted upon by any number of insects.
Why would anybody in their right mind do that on purpose?
Would somebody please explain to me why fried dough covered in a honey glaze is so much tastier than a carrot?
Throughout history, different body shapes are in or out of fashion. During the Italian Renaissance, the style was Rebuenesque; plump and ample. In the roaring 20s, it was desirable to be slim with straight hips and a boyish figure. Marilyn Monroe was the ideal in the 1950s with an hourglass figure.
So when are flat butts and big feet going to have a turn?
Finally, somebody, please tell me, I’ve gotta know—how hard is it to actually change a roll of toilet paper?
That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
There’s been a lot of pearl-clutching and panty twisting lately on the subject of free speech, and whether the concept is dead, dying, or on life support.
This guarantee was seen as so important, so foundational, it is the very first freedom promised by the US Constitution. It, along with freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the right to peacefully gather make up the first amendment of the US constitution. The founding fathers, fresh from colonialism, revolt, occupation, and war decided these rights should be made paramount. The very first of the bill of rights.
I know, Gentle Reader, that you are a scholar in the way of civics and have a full understanding of the right to free speech and how it applies to US citizens and implications thereof.
But sadly, not everyone does.
And even though the majority of us are under a stay at home order, unless you literally live under a rock, you will hear of or read of someone decrying the “assault” on free speech. They are convinced and try to convince you that unless we as a nation vote for a certain party, or watch a certain channel, or listen to a specific talking head, we are surely headed for calamity.
Much of the time, though, these Constitutional Cassandras have it all wrong.
If a CEO loses it on Twitter and uses those 280 characters to vent his hateful spleen and disparage women, or a has-been comedian tells a racist joke, or a sportscaster lectures followers according to the beliefs of his very judgy religion, they are gonna catch it.
They’re going to hear about it from everybody with a keyboard. They or their product might be boycotted by the offended. There’s a really good chance they’re going to be unemployed by dinnertime the next day.
But what they’re not going to be, is imprisoned by the government.
Because they didn’t break the law.
What about the blow-back from employers and the rest of the offended?
Those are the very legal consequences of private companies and the reaction of private citizens. And all of these are themselves a type of free speech.
Every person in this country can say the most offensive, hateful, and downright jerky thing they care to say—free of criminal repercussions. That, my friends, is how free speech works.
Another scenario: after eons of suffering oppression, suppression, and/or repression, a marginalized group and their supporters have had enough and protest.
They march. They chant. They carry signs, posters, and banners. They make lots of noise in order to get lots of attention, with the intent to change the status quo. They challenge authority and speak their truth to power—peacefully.
They are not anarchists, or thugs, or vandals. They are citizens exercising their right to freedom of speech. You might not agree with them, you might hate or fear them. But they are not mobs breaking the law by just speaking out.
Each one of us hears or reads opinions we don’t like every day. There are plenty of people with a website, microphone, or bully pulpit that I dearly wish would sit down and shut up, forever.
But despite how deluded or evil that I think they may be, they’re not breaking the law. So, I turn the channel, or the page, or my attention, away. That’s my right.
And the first amendment of the United States Constitution, one of the greatest documents in human history, gives them (and me) the right to sound as dumb as they (we) want.
Although the vast majority of raising The Kid has been fun, rewarding, and taught me about the unending nature of a human’s ability to love, there is one area of deep disappointment.
The Kid doesn’t like Trixie Belden books.
Trixie and her friends, the Bob-Whites, have adventures and solve mysteries in the Hudson Valley. Growing up in a military family that moved every three years or so, these kids were constant friends.
I so looked forward to sharing them. When The Kid was a toddler, I found the first sixteen at a used bookstore, bought them, and put them away until my child was ready.
I was so excited when it was time.
Yeah, huge bust. The Kid didn’t like them.
There are books we both love, but all those daydreams about passing Trixie books along and having breathless confabs discussing plot, characters, and settings went up in smoke.
But, recently, it’s happened.
It’s not those childhood faves, but a genre that’s captured us both.
They’re modern reinterpretations of the thriller. They are the fast-paced combination of mystery, adventure, and psychological studies. But the thing we love the most about them are the twists.
If the perpetrator is someone completely unexpected, or the entire story flips in the last chapter in an organic and believable way, we are all over that book like a pair of brand-new spandex yoga pants.
I discovered them and introduced them to my bookworm child.
They have been a godsend for The Kid, who is high risk and thus, self-quarantining. You can only have so many deep conversations with the dog before the dog starts talking back.
During these preposterous, unprecedented times, it’s imperative to have new stuff rattling around your brainbox—preferably new stuff that excites you and which you can share and discuss with others.
The Passengers, by John Marrs, is the novel that started it all.
It’s set in England, in the near future, when self-driving cars have become mandatory. Your five-year-old child or your ninety-year-old blind grandmother can travel both in safety and solitude.
Until eight cars are hacked and held hostage, taken under the malevolent control of a mysterious mastermind, and every second of their terror is live-streamed to the world. On almost every page is a revelation that will make your jaw drop.
The Kid finished it in one sitting, and we still talk about it.
So, I started making recommendations.
Another one we loved was, No Exit, by Taylor Adams. It’s the story of a group of travelers snowed in overnight at a mountain rest stop. But, one of them is a psychopath. It’s a cat and mouse game where they have no idea who the cat is, what he’s done, or what he’s capable of.
The Night Before, by Wendy Walker, is a race against time as a fragile woman goes on an internet date, and doesn’t return. Her sister works backward to find her, along the way discovering secrets about her husband and her own life.
Currently, it’s I’m very excited to be reading The Splendid and the Vile, not a thriller, but new nonfiction by the king of meticulously researched, eminently readable nonfiction; Erik Larson, author of Devil In The White City.
This one’s a year in the life of Winston Churchill and his inner circle beginning on the day he was named Prime Minister. During this time, the Nazis conducted the blitz on London, raining down an astronomical 30,000 bombs, and killing 40,000 citizens.
Now, like then, we all need diversion. So pick up a book and take a mental trip.
Bo is one of my oldest friends and my closest girlfriend.
But when I met her, and for the first couple of years, she and all of her five-foot-nothing self scared the absolute bejesus out of me.
She was a tornado in a brown tank suit when we met at a swimming pool in Elizabeth City the summer before tenth grade.
She cursed like a stevedore, smoked like a chimney, and hoo boy, her voice. Instead of a fifteen-year-old Catholic schoolgirl from NC, she sounded like a jaded whiskey and nicotine-soaked chanteuse from the forties. She should have been reclining on a piano in a bar in Harlem, belting out songs like “Stormy Weather” or “Good Morning Heartache”.
I tried to stay out of her way in school. But after a while, I discovered there was a huge heart under all that profanity and prickliness.
The funny thing was, all the while I was thinking she’d happily lunch on my spleen after setting my house on fire, she thought I was a stuck-up stiff (I think the phrase “Miss Priss” may have been used).
Eventually, we became real friends.
We were in art class together. Ma Romm was our teacher, and I don’t think that there was ever a better art class. Each student went their own way, with plenty of room for collaboration, and lots of freedom to create the things we were compelled to bring forth.
She always treated us like, if not adults, at least like college students. She trusted we were able to navigate the world and didn’t chain us to our easels.
One teacher-workday, we went out to school to work on a project we had going. Ma Romm asked us if we could take a quick trip to Greenville to either pick up or drop off something to their art department (hey, it was 38 years ago, I can’t even tell you what color underwear I’m wearing right now without peeking).
Well of course, we said of course. At the time, ECU had been ranked the #1 party school in the nation, and there was a bar/restaurant called The Crow’s Nest near the campus that I loved; it was the first place I ever ate clam strips, and the drinking age for beer at the time was 18. So…yeah.
We were psyched.
Remember, this was before GPS, during the era of paper maps that required an engineering degree just to re-fold.
It’s a lazy trip that should take no more than two hours along the rivers and sounds of Eastern NC.
Our road trip got turned around a couple times, but we made it in about two and a half hours. We did Ma Romm’s errand, feasted on seafood and Miller ponies at The Crow’s Nest, then headed home around 4:00 PM.
And drove some more.
I don’t know if it was the ponies, the paper map, or the folly of youth, but we got very lost. At one point we drove through Wake Forest, about 75 miles in the wrong direction.
We finally pulled into the school parking lot around 10:00 at night. A completely empty, darkened parking lot.
The long day had made us punchy. So punchy that upon arrival, the only thing we could do was sit in that car and laugh.
We went to Ma Romm’s house, pulled her out of her own dinner party to tell her we were home. I don’t think she ever believed our tale of a Marco Polo-like journey through the state.
I just finished mowing. Literally, I am still soaked with a combination of sweat and cold hose-water.
I just love it. Five years ago, my very first column was an ode to the joys of cutting the grass. It is enforced aloneness with myself. And am I the only one that has an almost constant commentary running through their head?
Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I think in complete sentences. When I cook, I have a cooking show up there. Put me in front of a camera and I’d forget how to make a PBJ. But in my kitchen, all by myself, I am as funny and knowledgeable as Alton Brown, as experienced and charming as Julia Child, and as bewitching and effortlessly chic as Nigella Lawson.
When I mow, I have odd little daydreams, think “great” thoughts, and write columns in my head.
In a meta twist that M. Night. Shyamalan didn’t see coming, the very column you are reading right now was conceived today while I was walking behind my trusty Honda lawnmower.
For years, I’ve been mowing the same path, listening to the same music on the same MP3 player. I’d know by where I was in the process when a certain song came on, whether I was slower than normal or rushing.
As most folks, I’m stuck at home in this weird limbo where I don’t know what day of the week it is, and so bored that I spend way too much time deciding on my outfit to run to the drive-thru at CVS.
But I still have some power; to mix things up, take a hard left, make it dangerous.
Today I not only changed the route I mowed, I changed the music. Instead of the same club mix of swing music, I listened to a big, eclectic collection of 80s music. Tunes from bands like Tears for Fears, Prince, and Squeeze.
Most people understand a second language much better than they speak it. I speak Spanish pretty well, I’d say I’m 35-40% fluent.
My comprehension, though, is really lacking. I tell people to think of me as a dim-witted child; please use very simple words and speak slowly.
It’s probably related brain-wise that I’m also really bad at understanding the words in music. I am the girl that sings, “Oh is it the tan you wear?” instead of what U2 actually sings, “Or is it the time of year?”.
But occasionally after hearing a song more than 10,000 or so times, I begin to understand the words. Not long ago I realized Rick James was talking about a groupie and S-E-X!
I’d like to know, what is up with ants this year? If you had an apartment downtown the square footage of these anthills, there’d be a waitlist and a boat-load of amenities.
I try to remember to spray beforehand. But when it’s dusty when I mow, it’s like I’m inhaling an ant graveyard.
And I can’t help but think about a Night Gallery episode where this jerky writer washed a spider down the sink and it came back the size of a pony. I’m kind of nervous that I’ll wake up one night and a six-foot-tall ant will be standing over me holding a cast iron frying pan in one hand and a jelly doughnut in the other.
Usually, when I come in after mowing, I drink an icy cold bottle of Fanta root beer. It’s such a treat, so cold, spicy, and aromatic it almost takes my breath away.
But today’s water. I’m making potato salad for dinner. So those root beer calories are already spent.