High Summer, Late July
In Brooklyn, the weeds along Atlantic Avenue reached my shoulder, and the city stank, but kind of sweet, under an orange and pink sunset. Sprinklers were on all day at the tiny pocket park, and I sat there, in the mist, smoking a cigarette, drinking my fifth iced coffee. The air was thick and still. I walked to the corner deli with outside tables, in the shade of a linden tree on Henry Street. Or, I talked to Alice, who was 80 at the time, and said turn on your AC, but she didn’t and died. Another year, I walked down to the East River, and swam in a floating swimming pool, on a barge, the skyline of Manhattan writ large in the yellow sky.
I lived alone in Boston during a heat wave, same time of year, late July, high summer. The room I rented in Arlington didn’t have AC. I was in a graduate writing program at Harvard. In the morning, if I didn’t have class, I’d keep the blinds closed all day long. I had a small pink fan which sat next to my typewriter. I was writing a play called Amazon Love Song— inspired by my father who’d lived and worked on that river for almost 20 years. It was my version of Oedipus. The professor hated my work and openly mocked me in class. But I didn’t care. He was so vehement, it was funny, and I also knew he wanted to screw me. Ironically, years later, in NYC, when my work was more famous than his, we were friends.
In Key West, during a heat wave, I melted on Duval Street, but still drank five shots of espresso, Cuban style. I was there with my husband and our gay friend, Danny. We’d just been fired from our jobs running a musical theater in the penthouse of a hotel on A1A in Ft. Lauderdale. Our last production, Side by Side by Sondheim, was a hit, but the producer ran out of money. So we drove to Key West, and rented a bungalow with a private swimming pool. This is where we retreated during the afternoon to drink pina coladas, and get a blinding headache from the sun and the weed. We’d go out again at night. We eschewed Sloppy Joe’s, Hemingway’s haunt, and instead favored a rundown strip club, without air conditioning. The girls danced naked in flip flops and sunglasses. We drank whiskey.
Back at home, we lived by the New River, and we were robbed during a rainstorm. It rained so hard, the burglar stepped outside to wring out his T-Shirt, and that’s how he was caught. A neighbor saw him. But the cockroaches didn’t care; they still scurried across the linoleum in the kitchen. If you lived in Florida, you learned to accept them. You learned they were stronger than you, especially during a heat wave. We escaped to the beach, the ocean still churning with white caps, the waves slapping onto the shore. The sweet stench of rotting hermit crabs, seaweed and salt. Then we drove to a raw bar, and with our last twenty dollars ordered margaritas and fresh oysters.
Everything is green, too green. Even Demeter is dying. Here in Westchester, 20 years after the marriage ended, there’s a heat wave, and thunderheads in the still, blue sky. There’s a different kind of stink, not like the city, but still sweet. Things rot in this heat. Only yesterday, I finally took out the garbage, it was starting to ferment. This is the apotheosis of high summer. It is that space, where the wheel of the seasons is on the brink of shifting again. You can stand the heat, because the smell of things rotting is also the first sign of re-growth. Wallace Stevens wasn’t wrong, because the quiet death of all green things, in high summer, late July, is sweet.
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