“Beware the ides of March” is a quote from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, a warning regarding the emperor’s impending assassination. For a time, the dusty old quote enjoyed a new life as a reference to income taxes in America, which used to be due March 15 rather than that same day in April. Ides meant (in Imperial Rome, anyway) the 15th of some months and the 13th of others. More generally, it has come to mean the middle of something. I’ve heard “the ides of adolescence,” and “the ides of this fiscal quarter.” It’s not a word that comes in handy much.
I am never living in the precise neighborhood on the calendar as readers may be. That’s in terms of “lead time” between submission and publication but also an acknowledgment of my frequent musings on the past these days, a function of age and — I think — the insane clown face of mortality bounding into my field of vision several times in recent years, like a jack-in-the-box needy of attention and confident in getting it.
In keeping with a recent theme I’ve drummed up — I think I called it “weather as nostalgic expectorant” (Huh?) — I’ve been noticing how much of our later life patterns were established by the conventional school year. This leads to much commenting on the obvious, such as why we associate Friday and weekends and summer with freedom and license but also behaviors like not having that extra drink on a Wednesday night because it is a school night, even though we’re long since out of school, work at home on the computer, and set our own hours. It may account for things like why I always try to work near a window. I remember being told in both grade school and high school, “You won’t find the answer out there, Mr. Brizzolara.” And so I subliminally included looking out the window as illicit, a kind of freedom, coloring outside the lines.
Today’s nearly feral sunlight combined with temperatures around 50 degrees (which eruptions of wind drop 20 degrees lower) seem to tug at memory’s shirt tail and whisper, “Spring, 1966, Mr. Grey’s English 201.” This, followed by an image of oak trees, maples, cedars — whatever they were — bowing like Japanese businessmen along Ashland Avenue in a northwestern suburb of Chicago, in February or March of memory’s version of 1966, when I was 15 years old.
I think I’ll start capitalizing Memory’s name, as he is becoming more of a character unto himself, intruding more and more into my life and not at convenient times. Also, Memory has a distinctively different view of things than both objective history (whatever that is) and what I’ve always thought of as “myself.” Today, a blustery day if ever there was one, Memory has presented me with recollections of Mr. Grey’s English class and his mentorship, when he steered me toward working on the high school paper (can’t even remember its name) and taking me and a couple of other kids to a high school journalism convention somewhere in central Illinois.
That was the spring of Balzac (Eugenie Grandet), maddeningly dull, I thought at the time, but offset by Grey’s recommendation of A High Wind in Jamaica, by Richard Hughes (Pirates! Loved it!), and Melville’s Billy Budd, both about the nature of innocence and its loss. I had already read Lord of the Flies and The Catcher in the Rye several times by then, and my term paper on “Loss of Innocence” was a hit with Grey. He also told me it was okay not to think Thomas Wolfe was as wonderful as I’d been instructed to believe by a previous teacher, and he will never know how much he relieved me when I told him I thought Thomas Hardy was boring and he said, “I think so, too.”
A lifelong love was ready to be kick-started. In place: my father’s profession and passion, a childhood of the Hardy Boys, Sherlock Holmes, H.G. Wells, and Jules Verne, and other less illustrious perpetrators of Ace science-fiction paperbacks. I was ripe, and if it had not been for Mr. Grey, the occupation I so enjoy (mostly) may have gone the way of my brief fascination with and inchoate ambition to become...a cop.
Often I associate spring with rock music, but when I revisited that suburb 20 years ago, I asked a friend what ever happened to Mr. Grey. “I think he was fired,” I was told. “He was a homo, you know.”
“To most of us, that just meant a guy who had to be in by ten o’clock and wore white socks. Are you sure he was fired?”
“No. I hope I’m wrong.”
Memory and I hope so as well.