This is my least favorite time of year for many reasons that essentially boil down to the irrational. The clearest statement of the reasoning behind this is that this season is too hot. I have run Hemingway's quote (from a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald) pretty much into the ground every year here. It's the one about not feeling death in the air "like you do in the autumn when the boys really get their pens moving." It surprises me, in a way, that Hemingway is not enjoying more of a resurgence in popularity right now; the air is so rife with not just summer and stagnation -- at least not yet -- but with bullshit, especially of the cracker- box literary style of chestnuts that have been gathering momentum in recent years, ever since the misquotation from Winston Groom's Forrest Gump ("Life is like a box of chocolates" etc.). In reality, the line was, "Being an idiot ain't no box of chocolates." But if Hollywood is given a choice between Penny Marshall (its own sort of Forrest Gump) and some literary cracker quietly producing first-rate work like Gone the Sun (familiar? thought not), Better Times Than These, 1942: The Year that Tried Men's Souls, or Conversations with the Enemy, Hollywood will take the chocolate-covered Horatio Alger any time. If being an idiot is no box of chocolates, it is not box office either.
Snobbery? I guess. But this is from a guy -- a gum-snapping Chicago rock muzicker -- whose first novel was a literary imitation, not a parody (but a couple of laughs, though the climactic pages were compared by the Union-Tribune to an A-Team script); it was written by an art-college dropout turned bartender/ sci-fi writer/rock musician and critic. Not the lowest being on the food chain, but hardly Henry James in a Tom Wolfe suit decrying how things could be done so much better in or around my neighborhood. It does give me pause to wonder how close to typical I might be for my age group in wondering whether the world is dumbing down, or am I just becoming the crotchety old guy on the front porch, toothlessly shooing kids away with hoarse commands to "Get offa my property!"
At any rate, that's the guy I turn into this time of year, and I often stay that way until October, more or less. For example, today. The only thing I approve of, even vaguely, about today is that it is overcast. To me it is a welcome touch of reality in a town that has a name for days of this type; that is, of course, either May Gray or June Gloom. The rest of the world just makes do with calling it New Jersey or Belgium or something.
It seems my lousy mood has gathered momentum since I started this column. That's unusual, really. I like writing this column and it often resurrects me from any existential morass I may have tripped into. This time it seems an occasion to take on any number of subjects, one at a time, as if haranguing the kneecaps of passers-by. The armless, legless knight in Monty Python's Holy Grail comes to mind ("Come back here! I'll bite your kneecaps off!" or whatever he's yelling).
And another thing. How come everyone overseas for the past three years or so has been "on the ground?" Like, "Spokesperson Al Jazid from Jaz Alhid reports that his men on the ground have been in place since..." Or "Representatives on the ground report that..." Or "Stone Rocksmith of CNN on the ground since May of..." This seems to imply a huge number of Magritte-like characters suspended in mid-air above troubled hotspots, and I, for one, can't help picturing their bowler hats and umbrellas as they defy gravity above the shattered domes of Baghdad or Kabul.
I'll tell you what really gets me. It's those kids who get on the #7 bus at San Diego High School about 2:30 or 3:00. It's, like, "The obscenity meter has just kicked on. Whoever reaches the highest number of maximally objectionable, even vaguely English words will be tricked out with the gaudiest bling our experts can contrive and will be immortalized forever in the baseboard plaque of the urinal at the Greyhound bus terminal on Broadway."
And then all those middle-aged, Spanish-speaking women coming home from work (seems earlier every day, if you ask me) on, say, the #30 or #34 bus, who rattle off, at incredible rates, rapid-fire español intended to disguise their comments on my once matinee-idol good-looks now gone to seed and how my corset is so visible it's pathetic these days and why don't I just stop dying my mustache as it's so cheap it's now becoming some sort of purple, which it isn't, and who are they, anyway, with their eyelashes that look pruned from toilet brushes and...
Ah, there's the lousy word count on the column. Want more of this? Don't worry, there's plenty!