Summer’s sweet cessation

When last I checked, the world was in tatters. But that’s a trifle for another day. Thing is, I have a wicked splinter in my finger and a bodacious pimple on my forehead that’s a little too Cyclopsian for shrugging off. Then there’s the boy dog, whose sphincter-sniffing flirtation with the girl cat might soon require rings, roses and rice. We remain calm. 

Summer subsides and the late-August slash Labor Day doldrums set in like a hard crust over the celebratory season. Things are dying down. Things are dying. I for one had no idea that Denise Nickerson, who played ravenous gum-chomper Violet Beauregarde in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” died in July at age 62. She and Gene Wilder — gone. Let’s hope Charlie doesn’t kick the bucket. 

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Speaking of blueberries — recall Violet inflates into a gigantic blueberry and must be rolled away by Oompa Loompas — that finger-staining fruit is my single breakfast comestible each day. I gobble them by the handful, a disgusting image but we’re all adults. They’re a summer fruit and so make a timely cameo in this post, which is sort of about the end of summer, the now, but we’ll see where it takes us. Already I’m rather lost.

It was a short summer, merciful, not too warm, and it moved with benign velocity. So glad it’s shuttering, as I look forward to crisp breezes, light coats, brisk walks without drenching humidity, Oscar-caliber movies, my Tokyo sojourn, obscenely short days — it’s 8 p.m. now and almost pitch-dark — and my usual litany of fall and winter joys.

At the cineplex, I dodged the onslaught of summer sequels and superheroes — brain-beating blunderbusses — for “artier” fare like Tarantino’s sophomoric garble “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” a shambolic misfire, and the cathartic Australian horror-thriller “The Nightingale,” a savage, soulful gut-punch of vengeance and violence. For early-summer froth, the delirious comic excess of “Booksmart” can’t be forgotten. Fall brings promise: Joaquin Phoenix as “Joker,” “Little Women” and Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”

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“Destroy All Monsters”

Movie mad, I always watch films from the country I’m going to visit next. So, Japan. I re-watched the 1954 version of the original “Godzilla,” which is startlingly melancholic. (The monster dies a slow, sinking death. Oh: spoiler.) In 1968’s full-color “Destroy All Monsters,” a menagerie of kaiju creatures, from Godzilla and Mothra to Gorosaurus and Rodan, unleash murderous mayhem on the world’s largest cities. Aliens are somehow involved. Silly — and spectacular. (Lest it seems I’m just watching monster movies, I’ve also re-watched Ozu’s “Floating Weeds,” Oshima’s “In the Realm of the Senses,” Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress” and Suzuki’s “Branded to Kill” and “Tokyo Drifter.”) 

As I cut short my late-summer reading of Haruki Murakami’s timid, ultra-bland novel of youthful romance “Norwegian Wood” I picked up Toni Morrison’s “Sula,” which has more literary panache in its first 20 pages than Murakami’s snoozer has in 150.  

51pY6F589HL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAutumn looms and I have a pair of fall novels picked out: “Doxology” by Nell Zink and “The Topeka School” by virtuosic young writer Ben Lerner, whose “10:04” and “Leaving the Atocha Station” are rhapsodic in their essayistic intelligence and gliding beauty. “10:04” is one of my favorite novels of the past 10 years. I’ve read it twice. So far. 

I admit I struggled with Zink’s acclaimed 2014 fiction debut “The Wallcreeper.” We didn’t jibe. The new book has been called her best and most ambitious, “a ragged chunk of ecstatic cerebral-satirical intellection … bliss.” I am all over that.

But first, after Morrison’s promising “Sula,” it’s back to Japan and Banana Yoshimoto’s international cult hit “Kitchen,” a bittersweet novel whose “whimsy” and “simplicity” are frequently hailed as virtues, making me wary. Those words could be code for “precious.”

Now that I’ve mentioned Japan three hundred times, it might be a good place to state why I’m really exalting summer’s end — my October-November trip to Tokyo and Kyoto. Which, lucky you, you can read more about as plans unfold.

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Tokyo

Yet so much is great about fall, not just a fleeting vacation. Autumn is coming fast — the calendar says Sept. 23, but we all know it starts on Labor Day — sucking summer back into the gooey abyss from whence it came. Japan, new books, new movies, new weather — all good and well. But fact is, fall is its own prize. It’s all fine, shimmery sublimity.

Summer slurps

Beating a thoroughly decomposed horse, allow me to gripe again: I really dislike summer. My reasons are a predictable plethora of plaints, especially if you’ve spent anytime around these pages: the heat; the humidity; the endless days; the enforced outdoorsy-ness; excruciating patio brunches; hot, crowded vacations; shorts and flip-flops; talk therapists fleeing most of August. The only grace note is air-conditioning. Set on blast and let me be. With a good book and a savory cocktail.

That last detail is key. Because I do admit the crappy months bring with them delicious, refreshing libations, potions with fruit and cucumber floating in them like inflatable pool toys and concoctions fragrant with aromatics and flowers and other sensory complexions. Creativity is paramount. A friend even jabs fresh cinnamon sticks in her gin and tonics. Go nuts, lady.

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Americano

It’s the months (and there’s only 1 ½ left!) for bracing dry rosés; reliable, amicable gin and tonics; lip-smacky Aperol spritzes, that tingly, honeyed mix of Prosecco, Aperol and orange; and the Americano, that lightly bitter blend of Campari, sweet vermouth, seltzer and orange slice. I’m no fan of Campari or bitters — the Negroni is my nemesis — but the Americano goes down smooth, mostly.

My other picks for summer sipping are choice. In particular is the Hendrick’s Gin small batch, limited edition Midsummer Solstice, a “new flirtatiously floral incarnation” of the superlative Hendrick’s, perhaps my best gin, a near-orgasmic elixir. It’s downright poignant.

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This gin is exceptional, crisp, sharp but silky, sophisticated, as fragrant as a botanical garden. A must: Use quality tonic with it, something like Fever Tree aromatic tonic water or Q Spectacular tonic. Anything less is polluting top-shelf gin, like pouring Sunny Delight in your Dom Pérignon. And don’t forget a citrus or cucumber slice. Some juniper berries. Why not a rose petal? A banquet is being made, not just a drink.

Thing is, Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice is going away soon — it’s a limited edition, available only for the hot season. So stock up; it’s worth it. Meanwhile, a year-round ultra-zesty gin is Brockmans, an English drink so strong with berries that my brother disses it, saying it tastes like strawberry shortcake. I don’t know what the hell he’s going on about.

It is fruity, definitely. I taste grapes. But Brockmans says its botanicals are “a refreshing influence of citrus and aromatic wild berries.” It is irrationally flavorful.

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Some ad copy, with apologies: “Bulgarian coriander provides an aromatic, gingery orange top note. This blends perfectly with the soft and rounded harmonies of blueberries and blackberries, supported by the bottom note of Tuscan juniper berries. Dry, bittersweet Valencian orange peel elongates the deeper tones and gives an intensely smooth finish.” (If a mixologist named Axl didn’t write that then a poet of the produce department did.)

That’s complexity, and it tastes like it. A naughty twerk on the tongue, a tingly boogie down the throat. I love this gin. No added fruit — or tonic — required. Neat or on the rocks. A nip of nirvana.

On a fizzier, less poetic note, I’m trying out White Claw Hard Seltzer, a burpy canned beverage that tastes like high-end soda water but with the subtle kick of a domestic beer. Low-budget, low-buzz bliss.

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It goes down exactly like seltzer water with a zip of fruit tang — raspberry and black cherry; lime and ruby grapefruit. A 12-oz. can boasts 100 calories, 2g carbs and 5% alc/vol. A 12-pack runs about $14. Those figures intoxicate me.

Like the other mentioned hooch, the seltzer pings a little dent in the summertime blues. Those back-to-school TV ads are welcome, as are the fall movie trailers, like the one for Scorsese’s rousing “The Irishman.” (De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, Keitel — I’m about to have an aneurysm.) A quality quaff is practically a seasonal panacea.

About six weeks till summer skedaddles. Hit the AC and pour me a tall G&T. I can do this.

Of mouse and man

It’s hot outside, I’m hot, the dog is hot, the backyard plants are hot, and that reminds me, I need to water them. But not until it cools down, around dusk, say. Then that luxuriant jungle of exotic flora will get a soaking and gratitude will beam from the firmament.

A heat wave they’re calling this. It’s only 93 degrees right now but, coupled with sopping humidity, it feels like cruel triple digits. Within a minute of stepping below the blazing skies and into the muggy soup you break a sweat, rivulets down the cheeks, puddles in the small of your back. It’s disgusting. Right, this isn’t New Delhi or Bangkok, but still. Anyone who says they like this weather is either a liar or a twit or both.

Speaking of delightfulness, I recently destroyed a mouse. I did not want to, but my conscience got the better of me. So I held it by its gummy-worm tail and dunked it in the toilet and held it there until it drowned. It took fewer than two minutes, if that. Still, it made me kind of sick.

Why such horror? Thank the accursed cat, the tubby charcoal-gray tom with the white Hitler mustache. There he was, playing with a squirming, grievously wounded mouse, brown with a pink belly, in the dining room. It was the natural world in action, a realm Woody Allen, noting the pitiless animal food chain, dubbed “an enormous restaurant.”

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One might applaud the cat for capturing and maiming a crafty little house mouse, a ravaging rodent. I’m not giving ovations. I’m known for protecting and pampering animals, a latter-day St. Francis sans the amazing tunic, sneaking the dog table scraps and keeping sweet, smart rats as long-term pets. I rescued a baby squirrel from the maw of a snarling cur and a mauled bird from a godless outdoor cat (the bird didn’t make it).

And so I snatched the writhing, oddly bloodless mouse from the cat’s paws, carrying the creature by its silken tail. I wanted to save it, take it outside and let it scamper to freedom.

It scampered, but sideways, in a corkscrewy dance, clearly in pain and despair. It got away, crippled, ruined. I went back inside, crestfallen, wishing I had put it out of its misery. I figured it’d be out there, suffering a slow death for hours, maybe days.

Hours passed before it struck me to go and look for the mouse in the summer blaze. I promptly found it. It was motionless, hopefully dead. But when I touched it, it spun again in corkscrews, its whole body knotting in pain. This would not do. I pinched it by the tail, took it to the bathroom and snuffed what was left of its tiny life.

It was fast, but horrible. I held it moments longer than necessary to make sure the poor animal was out, gone. Then I carried the still, matted body back to the yard and set it behind the shrubs and covered it in mulch. I only wish I had done that five hours earlier.

These things aren’t simple. Even a mercy killing is troubling, against my nature. Pesky vermin — big deal, you say. Big deal, you bet.

Yet there’s no moral here. I don’t like what I did. Not one bit. But I’d do it again. In a heartbeat.

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.

Summer’s almost gone.Yes!

“Throughout August, with almost sadistic joy, I watch summer slowly die.” — musician-poet Henry Rollins

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Today, in the first week of August, my niece was rattling off why fall is her favorite season and she slipped into this refrain:

“No bugs! No bugs! No bugs!”

I almost applauded. Fall is my favorite season, too (winter’s a close second, or maybe they’re tied). I can’t do summer. I don’t do summer. August is the cruelest month — it spews volcanic heat, it seems to last an eternity — but when it arrives I count the days of summer’s final steamy breaths. September is around the bend. It won’t be long till I can slip on a jacket. The anticipation’s killing me.

In summer the heat’s too murderous, the days are too long and the pants too short. We know this. But some of us actually like this. Everyone chirps about how nice it is outside at a torrid 88 degrees. They start eating outdoors, drinking beer in blazing sunlight. I’m vampiric. There are outdoorsy people, then there’s me. I’m indoorsy. “Sun and fun” don’t compute. (One word: barbecues.) Like a possum, I’m a nocturnal creature. I crave the dark. Now, where’s the AC?

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Not a good look.

No one likes humidity, but that’s one of the joyous gifts of summertime. I have pretty curly hair that swells and swirls in the humid soup, until it shares attributes with the protagonist in “Eraserhead.” Humidity is the devil’s flatulence.

I’d rather shiver than sweat. I lived for years in Texas, where summer lasts 10 months out of the year and sweating is a way of life. It’s one of those places where when you sit outside at a bar you get soaked by misters. Sweat and mist. Bring a towel, slicker and umbrella.

I travel a lot but never during the summer — the rigged prices, the crowds, the heat exacerbated by global warming. (Those scourging heat waves in, of all places, London and Paris are a scandal.) Tropical “paradises” are off the table, though I hold dear my spring and fall trips to Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong and India, epicenters of perspiration. I was positively soaked-through the whole time during all of them. From India I flew to Nepal just to cool off near the Himalayas and breathe relatively fresher mountain air. In Thailand, I got sun poisoning. That’s a long, humiliating story, featuring one beach, eight hours and zero sunscreen. (The upshot: I could barely move my swollen legs and I had to drink two gallons of water a day.)

UnknownI thrive on fall and winter’s cooler temperatures and shorter light cycle. Long sleeves and jeans happily return. Kids go back to school. Arts seasons commence and prestige pictures fill movie screens. (The monstrous snowfall, you say? I can’t hear you.)

What about blameless spring, with its temperate climes and floral efflorescence? Careful, spring can get you too. That’s why it’s my second least favorite season, with all of its pesky augurs of summer: rising temperatures, plants and pollen, picnics, longer days, and, of course, those bugs, bugs, bugs.

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Coming soon.

When summer goes skedaddle, these things go with it: outdoor music festivals, flip-flops, exposed hairy legs, beach outings, tank-tops, camping, sunburn, restaurant patios, body odor, baseball, “The Emoji Movie,” hidden tattoos, small-town parades, parasails, Toyota Summer Sales Events, rattling, weeping window ACs, people named Jasmine and Tyler.

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Halloween in Sevilla.

Summer’s dragon’s fire will soon be extinguished by the crisp gusts of autumn. Turning leaves, shorter days, harvest moons, soup, fall TV, Halloween. Halloween is a big one. It’s way up there on my niece’s list of fall glories. (Since I travel so much in autumn, I’ve done Halloween in London, Paris, Beirut, Ho Chi Minh City, Kathmandu and Sevilla. Each city bumbles the American holiday. For now, it’s strictly amateur hour.)

And yet there are six calendar weeks left of the warm stuff, so maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. But I don’t think so. August is the last hurrah, the season’s dying gasp, and it’s here and, with sunglasses tucked away, we are ticking off the days, closely, carefully, ecstatically.