by Harvey Jacobs
When the leaves begin to fall, as summer rushes backward into the past, before the sudden burst of winter energy sends us off in new directions, there comes a time for
random musings. Under gray skies, buffeted by suddenly chilling winds, the mind
drifts like a rudderless sailboat, heading toward unexpected shores.
Seemingly unconnected fragments of perception blow like leaves in slow descent
toward earth. With unhurried minds we wait, hoping that snippets of observation, the detritus of a lazier season, will come together in sensible continuity.
Here are some examples of the puzzlements that still tease my addled brain beginning with the memory of a crowded summer in Sag Harbor.
Between owners, renters, guests and day trippers carried into town on lumbering coaches, it seemed that the sidewalks were often crowded to bursting while pedestrians trying to cross Main Street dodged a clogging flow of cars and trucks searching for a place to park. There was an abundance of the life-form known as horn blowers in town venting their automotive frustration—blah, blah, blah—aware that delay might cost an original copy of the Declaration of Independence at some yard sale, the fattest peach at a roadside market, a patch of sandy beach…something, somewhere forever lost. The immense interest in Sag Harbor stirred by the media translated into jammed restaurants and inflated prices for motel rooms, bed-and-breakfasts, any warm, well-lighted place.
Even with a sullen economic climate, the town held its own.
Of all this immigration, one of the most curious aspects was the number of children visiting. There were multitudes of tots of all sizes and shapes running in all directions, off-leash and lethal as missiles. Kids, yes, and dogs. A huge infusion of dogs, sniffing the pleasures of Our Town and one another.
Navigating the walks was a lively, if perilous exercise further complicated by an incredible number of oversized carriages holding incredible amounts of moppets. It was as if single birth was an obsolete concept these days, that there has been a quantum leap in basic reproduction. Did Gerber merge with Hummer to produce these huge and deadly conveyances? Powered by eight-cylinder parents they rolled merrily along, destroying any obstacle blocking their way. Sometimes the contents of those doom machines were yanked from their seats and placed on either the rocking horse or the fire engine outside the Five & Ten. Sirens wailed along with the rousing William Tell Overture. What an auditory joy on a balmy summer day.
There weren’t too many of those balmy days; it was a rainy, cold spring and a soaked July. By August, those ninety degree days were actually a welcome change. The sun brought along some feeling of optimism and none too soon.
The usual buoyancy of summer was tempered by a lingering sense of dread. There were heavy worries about little things like the survival of the planet faced with the ravages of climate change, or, if the world proved too impatient to wait for the North Pole ice to melt, we had the threat of nuclear weapons to consider. If not nukes, the implosion of globalization, the decline of the dollar, the gathering storm of a swine flu pandemic, and, oh, two raging wars to occupy our attention.
There was a definite sense of impending apocalypse hovering over the horizon. Chaos and conflict dominated the popular culture, films, to television. And along with visions of horror there was the rise of superstition. Depressing TV News was followed by shows like The Medium, Ghost Whisperer, Lost, etc. affirming the lurking menace and occasional redemption offered by the supernatural.
Good and evil wrestled on the digital video flying carpet that flew through our open windows. “Reality Shows” championed merciless competition. So-called “Family Comedy” replaced wit with anger, featuring smart-mouthed tweenagers who wise- cracked at befuddled parents. The prime ingredient in what was called “Kid Time” i.e. the hour before “Prime Time,” formerly presenting stories of characters robed in ersatz innocence, became robotic sex. Sex as a clash, casual as bumping a stranger with a backpack on a high school staircase, chimp-sex with nothing to do with anything resembling a human relationship.
Still, for all the doom and gloom, the graceful curve of sails, the sleek promise of yachts along Bay Street, the remembrance of summers past and hope for the future triumphed somehow over desperation. We got through the summer doldrums.
Now, in the autumn of the year, waiting for the energy jolt that will carry us into spring, we’re poised to follow the Hansel and Gretel trail of holidays, through snowdrifts and dour headlines, taking a moment to balance slivers of contradiction: the beauty of flowers against and the beast of hard times, so that it all seems to make sense.
And on we go, doing the best we can to get from here to there.
Harvey Jacobs’ latest novel, Side Effects, tells the story of Simon Apple whose life is spent dodging the side effects caused by the kind of miracle drugs we see advertised on our TV screens (between commercials for political candidates.)