Spring’s atonal symphony

To sit outside on a warm spring day, breeze swirling, sun sparkling, is a thing of momentous good fortune to be savored and cherished. Ah, springtime. It is beautiful, what with nature’s flowery plentitude, cloudless azure heavens and a frenzy of insects. (Ah, bugs.)

A medium-size translucent spider — a nasty arachnid, not an insect, let’s be clear — descended on me from the heights of the patio umbrella. I broke its silk safety line and, holding it by the shiny thread, released it on the deck to do its venomous butchery. 

Next, a frisky mosquito could not be shaken from my index finger, its blood-sucking proboscis neatly jabbed into my flesh. I removed it with a violent flick. It tumbled through the air, probably trailing my bodily fluids.

Then, despite the umbrella’s yawning roof, pollen-like detritus from a tree landed on my lap and in my hair. Not enough specialness? I soon started breaking a minor sweat and I felt kind of itchy.

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That is the ballad of spring for me, a symphony of notes glorious and galling, a sun-soaked wonderworld of short sleeves and short pants, tiny athletic socks and expensive sunglasses to avert instant blindness. Sunscreen is for chumps, but the coconutty perfume forever wafts in the light, distinctly welcome breeze. 

Ah, springtime. If you can’t tell yet I am one of three souls in the universe who is totally divorced from the purported pleasures of the season. (I have tallied my woes here previously. Patience, reader.) 

I’m like an albino who can’t be out in the naked sun, with pink eyes that scorch in the light. I’m like The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. I’m like Nosferatu: a sliver of sunlight will reduce me to a writhing pile of ash. 

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The sun kisses Nosferatu. He is not pleased.

I don’t do heat. Sweating is an international incident. Shorts render me a fashion calamity not even the “Queer Eye” guys can fix. (I used to be a strict “Never Shorts” guy. Read about us here.) Bugs are a basic annoyance, but pollen triggers sneezes 8.0 on the Richter scale. 

I appreciate the silken loveliness of verdant trees, crazy-quilt flowers, blue skies and those velvet breezes. But then one must contend with lawnmowers, street fairs, movies in the park, barbecues, pedal boats, lakes, life jackets. Enough.

And that’s just spring. Summer multiplies it ten-fold. It’s no longer a respectable symphony, it’s a full-bore, drug-fueled rave, with shirtless throngs tossing hair and sweat across a mass of herky-jerky bodies, electronic dance music throbbing, the western world teetering on collapse.

Not a thing to be done about it. I will, as usual, suck it up and scrape by. I’m a trooper like that — whiny, but a trooper. Twice already I’ve worn shorts with little tiny socks and I pulled through. The mythic ice cream-truck tools and tootles through the streets, children titter and play outside till 8 p.m., the public pool just opened its gates and I smell the carcinogenic bouquet of burning charcoal in the air.

It’s happening. Now. If you can prod me outdoors, I’m the guy huddled in the shade, shielded from the sun, far from the water, book in one hand, beer in the other, grinning and bearing it, with only the vaguest curl of a scowl on my lips. The symphony roars on.

Myriad miseries of the muggy months

As spring does its springy thing — budding flora, blaring sunshine, apocalyptic allergies, humping squirrels, the air lousy with tweetling birdies — I return to my annual choleric conclusion: spring sucks. 

It’s an old song I warble, a self-pitying plaint performed on banjo and harmonica. It’s almost T-shirt and shorts time, which makes me shudder the way I gladly do in the cherished chill of fall and winter. Spring, though well under way, is creeping ahead, producing mostly 60s yet dipping into the 50s when we’re extra lucky. 

Still, I’m steeling for the worst.

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Spring’s bonus gift: allergies. I’ve been blowing my nose in a single sustained honk since late March and my eyes won’t stop watering. I feel like I’m endlessly weeping. I am. I’m crying that summer is around the sweaty bend. (Oh, and: gesundheit.)

I prefer short cool days — dark at 6 p.m. — to long, hot days. Vampiric, nocturnal, certifiable — label me how you will. I just know it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.

Five more months of climatic distress, some of it dimly tolerable, some of it abominable. I welcome October like an old friend unseen in years, with backslaps and bear hugs, a pal who brings me a light jacket as a gift.

Yesterday I broke my second sweat of the season. Thrills were at a premium.

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This operatic whining is me blowing off steam about the coming steaminess and the attendant pool parties, barbecues, spring breakers, sun roofs, flip flops, humidity, bees and beaches. I’m fairly infantile about the whole thing, but really, I just don’t look good in shorts. Sneezing and sunburn — also not big on my to-do list.

My minority status is solidified. I’ve met maybe three people who spurn spring and summer in favor of the brisk breezes and long shadows of fall. People don’t often understand outliers, and I in turn can’t fathom those who relish the hot months. Besides vacation time (yet who actually wants to vacate in the 90-degree swelter?), I see few pluses.

Obviously there’s no way around the seasonal shift, unless I scurry northward. So I sally forth, declaring with a dash of grit (and gritted teeth): Spring, summer — let’s get this thing over with.

Spring’s baffling, irritating volatility

Easter Sunday’s unambiguous spurt of spring — vigorous sunshine, 60 degrees, itsy Technicolor blossoms dimpling New York’s Central Park — now has the Monday doldrums. Snow — we got more snow. Some six inches. It’s April 2. What are we, Michigan, Montana, the Alps? 

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This …

Spring seems uncertain if she wants to touch down and nestle in. She’s circling, weighing her options. She is fickle and flighty and flirty:

Here’s some sun and a teasing 50 degrees, cloudless and dry, she says. Now here’s a spritz of rain, 30 degrees, sky gun-metal-gray and cloud-clogged. And here, ha ha, are bluffs of sticky snow. Deal. I’ll be getting my nails done.  

Winter’s a bitch. Spring may be bitchier, for now. The season’s schizophrenic whiplash hurtles like a clattering, climatic rollercoaster. And for many people, it’s no fun at all. 

Climate change is irrefutably jumbling normal seasonal patterns. The erratic weather impacts swaths of natural phenomena, from plant blossoms arriving at the wrong time to dangerous tidal levels to the destruction of lucrative crops.

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… or this? Spring’s maddening indecision.

It is 35 degrees as I write this.

It will be 65 degrees, with rain, on Wednesday.

Amidst all this I’m supposed to be ruffled. I am not. I don’t like that the 70s and 80s are impending. I don’t like that it gets dark at 8 p.m., and soon 9 p.m. I embrace the 40s and 50s. I relish an early dusk. (At times in the Arctic Circle, they don’t see the sun for weeks. Glorious.)

Yesterday’s taste of true spring, the one we’ll soon be stuck with, was like a warning shot telling me I’m in for months of bright, hot discomfort. For everyone else it was a harbinger of heaven, petal-strewn paradise, a fantasia for flip-flops. They can have it. Or at least when spring decides to figure herself out, cut the confusion, and finally land.

A scoop of nostalgia returns in its seasonal glory

Day-five of spring, it’s 50 degrees out and there it is (no, not already): the tinkly, telltale tune of the ice cream man and his ramshackle, rainbow-colored truck, plastered with cartoons and photos of the products he’s pulled up to peddle.

He’s making the rounds, up and down streets and avenues, Pied-Pipering children to chase his truck until he stops, the chugging engine idling in the middle of the road and kids, some on tippy-toes, pressing at the sliding glass window, jostling for a sweet treat.

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This is tradition in action. Didn’t we all have an ice cream man tooling around in a boxy little mail truck or van, delivering Drumsticks, Push Ups, Choco Tacos, Fudgsicles and snow cones? One assumes it all started with the folkloric Good Humor Man in the 1930s, but who really knows.

And who cares when sprinkles-dipped delectations await? (Even if they do average a swindler’s $3 to $4 each. In my day …) At the window today is a globe-shaped man with a ruddy face and hairy arms. He’s as nice as can be without being creepy.

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But back to that tootling, anodyne jingle we all know and loathe. That unmistakable melody that, in some grade schools, has become the innocent singalong “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” (Another popular truck song is Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” aka the theme to the classic film “The Sting.”)

Here’s where things get ugly. That song, the one our local confectionary vehicle and thousands nationwide blare as a Pavlovian call to calories, is actually a 100-year-old minstrel ditty that’s aggressively racist. I don’t want to plunge into that swamp here, but you can read all about its malignant history at NPR. It’s shocking; the story even comes with a reader caution.

So if lawn mowers aren’t quite buzzing yet — last week’s season-flouting snow is still busy melting — other sounds are filling the air, those of yelping children by turns asking for money from tall people and chirping orders for Bomb Pops, as well as some questionable earworms swirling out of megaphones atop Skittles-hued trucks and vans.

It’s a bi-seasonal symphony — just wait for the clamor come summer — that I’m a bit old to partake in. (The last thing I bought from an ice cream truck was a Diet Coke.) Still, the view from afar is fine. One delights in forbidden treats vicariously, observes the joy of mass satisfaction, and maybe takes a sweet nostalgic journey all the while.

Spring is here. Hello snow.

We’re getting socked in. It’s the second day of spring, officially, and snow is coming down at a canted angle, in flurries of tattered cotton, looking almost fake, like white confetti, not wispy crackles of ice that cling to eyelashes. It’s moving fast and dense, and those fluffy pale piles outside are growing into ominous bulging heaps. For those of us with snow shovels in their future, this flatly blows.

The forecasts are bing-boingy, all over the place, predicting everything from eight to 16 inches — hardly a snow-pocalypse, but resolutely a pain and undeniably an inconvenience. Schools are out. Roads are tricky and perilous. Housebound, there is nowhere to go.

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Yet it’s so pretty.

I’ve groused before: I’m not a fan of spring or summer. So I should be euphoric. But there’s this: I also don’t like snow. When I skied in my teens in California, of course I loved it. As a child hurling snowballs: same. Now, while I still find it aesthetically unassailable — it radiates an ethereal beauty — snow really comes down to an extravagant shambles marked by danger, wetness, slush and mush. And, you got it, shoveling.

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Then again …

It doesn’t snow all that much here. This isn’t Canada. Which makes us fairly wussy about the white stuff, a bit whiny and bleating. It’s all about proportion, and I think we’re handling today’s dumping with a dash of composure, a smidge of sangfroid. (Wait till the shovels come out. Grown men will weep.)

This mass deposit from the heavens should be mostly melted away by, oh, Sunday or Monday. But wait. I just now peeked at the forecast. It shows cartoon snowflakes falling tomorrow — snowflakes, so wondrous and horrible, flittering down on the land, sitting pretty, and oh so monstrously.

The unexpected pitter-patter of rain on a snoozy Saturday

Today I walked two miles, to the cafe and back, and on the return journey the skies broke and a steady rain began to fall. Not wearing proper gear, I was lucky enough to have a plastic shopping bag in my backpack, which I hurriedly spread over my head like a hapless vagabond, rain gathering on top of it, overflowing and dripping down my nose.

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This guy’s a pro.

This lasted about 15 minutes, the remainder of my walk. Cars passed. Drivers surely sniggered at the sight. I paid no attention. I was annoyed but contained my annoyance by dint of the bag actually doing its job, for the most part keeping my head dry. My sneakers didn’t fair so well, but they’ll live. No water got inside my shoes, despite a hearty split along the seam of one of them, another bit of luck.

Later, the dog was taken out to do his business in the rain. He came back damp, not soaked, and he smelled like a pile of dirty wet towels. He started to flail about on my bed, limbs flying, nose snorting, but I stopped him in mid-tumble because he was, frankly, disgusting. No amount of rain is going to supplant a good bath. He’s currently air-drying with a little frown on his face. He smells like tacos.

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Wishful thinking.

Rain is a pain. I’m not a giant fan because, well, it’s just a bunch of inconvenient water dropping on you. On my travels I pray for no rain, and I have been exceedingly fortunate that I’ve almost never required an umbrella on the road. When I do need one, I really hate it. I’m the guy whose umbrella turns inside-out in a gust, fuming.

Hours later it’s still trickling outside and the neighbor’s aluminum gutters are making a determined percussive patter. Tomorrow promises more of the same. We need the water. So much of the world does. So I don’t make a point of cursing the heavens. “Do not be angry with the rain,” said Nabokov. “It simply does not know how to fall upwards.”

Visual antidotes to winter’s vicious freeze

With my love of cold weather, my fervent devotion to fall and winter, to thick jackets, chapped lips and goosebumps, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am part polar bear, part moose.

I relish the big chill. I rather enjoyed the “bomb cyclone” that recently tormented the entire East Coast. Undoubtedly, the swirling mega gusts and ravaging ice storms truly unsettled. I’m actually no fan of voluminous snowfall. Slush, mush, argh. But give me some solid 30s and 40s F and I get to bundle up, thrill with the chill and, this is critical, not sweat.

Yet things are warming up, and this week the New York area will enjoy an inhumanely balmy 60 degrees — a wee too warm, but my survivalist instincts will kick in.

It is said winter lovers are a rare breed, anomalous, daft. I ask: Why don’t more people hate summer? Baffling. I loathe the warm months. It’s a me thing. Shorts and I are on rancorous terms.

I’ve traveled wide and far in positively scorching, humid, sweat-sodden climes and I thought this quintet of watery photos from said journeys might warm up the cold-adverse reader, reminding you of the great thaw to come, soon. All too soon. Splash.

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Boy leaping into river in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
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Vietnamese kid after his plunge.
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Girl splashing in fire hydrant, summer, Brooklyn, NY.
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Boys in Istanbul, Turkey.
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Those Turkish boys, loving it.