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Nature’s Way

One of the silver linings of summer ending (my favorite season by far for the refreshing 100-degree days) is that it’s time for the crew that mows our lawn to call it quits until next spring. Come to think of it, there are no other benefits: Indian Summer is always welcome, but a tease and really a harbinger of dwindling daylight and praying that the boiler works. There’re no major elections this November—despite what the media tells you—and I’d guess that a year from now not many people will be looking forward to the presidential raffle, no matter who’s running. (Unless, as I’ve said since last December, the DNC wises up and cajoles Michelle Obama to replace Biden, a definite Reagan-like landslide. Not my choice—I’d prefer Glenn Youngkin as another last-minute entry—simply an observation.)

At one time I awaited with anticipation for the fresh crop of McIntosh apples (so ubiquitous on Long Island that our high school cafeteria featured them in a vending machine) but seasonal produce is now as quaint as cash registers that dinged and only accepted cash. At my age Thanksgiving and Christmas (and I don’t at all care that Halloween and XMAS sales are already in progress; that surprised me in 1977 but no longer) are still occasions to enjoy the family and dressed-up tree, but the rapidity of their arrival each year does invite melancholy for all those who’ve departed, although I don’t get maudlin about it.

Retreating a touch, my friend Jennifer and I were talking about lawn mowing recently and I was surprised that she released her workers—they cut corners—and undertakes the task herself. And her yard is big! I had my fill of cutting grass every week as a teen, starting with our cookie-cutter lawn in Huntington and then three regular customers, one of whom, Calmy Weiss (in the mid-1960s it was no surprise that unkind neighborhood kids derisively called this accomplished man “Commie”), who paid very well but kept a close eye on me. (Rose Weiss and my mom had a pretty cool ritual going back then: they’d trade magazines, and as the courier, Rose, who was a doll, always gave me a shiny dime; could be wrong but I think she had a roll of dimes from the bank, so they’d look new.) There is—beg my pardon—a Zen-like trance you fall into when mowing the lawn, at least five minutes in. The Weiss’ yard was tough: they had beautiful rose bushes and I had to be careful around them, but otherwise the backyard was a square and I’d occupy my mind by either harmonizing with Aretha and the Byrds or reciting, in my head, all the U.S. presidents, but backwards. Keeping that mind sharp as Jim Bowie’s knife at 15!

Anyway, that chore’s behind me now: we can afford the reasonable rates of the guys who service most of the neighborhood, and my wife won’t allow me to undertake such work in the heat, fearing for my ticker, even though I’m still thin and have had—may the fortune teller who told me at Coney Island as a kid that I’d live a long life; anything for a quarter—no indications of, as is now said, a cardio “event.” I’m wild like a scabby alley cat for clichés at the moment, so I’ll repeat, You’re Only As Good As Your Next Diagnosis.

As for shoveling snow—another cash-maker for me as a kid—See You Later. In the picture above, Dad captured my three-year old brother Jeff at their Scotch Plains home, after a late-December blizzard blanketed the region. The last time I took shovel to ground was in 2003, at 48, and with my very last lift-and-chuck of really wet and heavy snow, my back gave out. I yelled, and had to be helped inside, guided into the shower by my wife. The kids were upset; Nicky and Melissa started out for a matinee at the Charles but sweet softie Nick insisted they return home. Booker, on the other hand, feigned annoyance and gave me the cold shoulder during the first half of It’s A Wonderful Life. He didn’t like disruption—who does?—but soon enough was talking five miles a minute.

Look at the clues to figure out what year it is: Langer’s Deli opens in Los Angeles; Fernwood Park race riot in Chicago; the World Series is broadcast on TV for the first time; A Streetcar Named Desire opens on Broadway; the Red Scare begins in Hollywood with the persecution of the "Hollywood Ten;" Camille Paglia is born and Bugsy Siegel dies; the Doomsday Clock is introduced; Meet the Press (at one time a great talk show) debuts on NBC; David Bowie is born and Aleister Crowley dies; Count Basie’s “Open the Door, Richard” is #28 on Billboard’s Top 100 (a list with far too much Perry Como) and Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus is published.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023


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