This morning I walked out of our building into the heat, which was oppressively sticky, like walking into a fat man’s sweaty armpit. The air was so wet, it formed a dead gray mist that clung to everything like thick, wet cobwebs. I was catching up on old podcasts and started off with the news from Lake Woebegon from July 2 this year, which starts off like so:
It’s been hot out there this last week. It’s been humid too, so that you wake up in the morning and there’s a mist out over the meadows, a beautiful mist. And the sun was shining through it, which, if you had a camera, you could take a picture of it, and they might print it on one of those inspirational calendars with inspirational sayings from famous writers.
The mist here only hung over the Popeye’s fried chicken sign and the grease-strewn parking lot behind the restaurant. Not so inspirational. And then Garrison Keillor went on, a bit later, about a woman named Gladys, who bears a striking resemblance to my surrogate grandmother.
Back when I was in college, I had a buddy who was in school at the Art Center, becoming a film director. He rented a room from a woman who adopted all of his friends as part of her family. She’s the one who taught us about toddy coffee and would invite us over to decorate her Christmas tree, during which time she would get us all looped on sherry, which she was mostly immune to because she would have a glass or two or ten every night. Her name was Gladys.
As we talked about our common interests–music, theater, art–she told me that she and her husband, when they were younger and scraping by, spent all of their savings on art: going to plays, the symphony, the opera, art galleries, and so on. They both felt that art was so important that they would spend whatever it took to experience it. In that, and so many other ways, Gladys was a kindred spirit. In a certain sense, I feel as though Keillor channeled a part of her spirit in his story about Gladys in Lake Woebegon:
You just feel this longing on the day of a full moon, even in a quiet little town like Lake Woebegon. Gladys feels this every Saturday. Eighty-five years old, she sits by her radio, and she drinks a glass of sherry, and she listens to the opera on the radio. And she feels this longing when she hears the soprano and the tenor singing their duet of doomed love, all the more passionate for the fact that it is so brief and so fragile. And she wants that love for herself, though she is 85, and even though she knows that the soprano will soon drink the glass of poisoned wine, and the tenor will drink the rest of it, and they will die in each other’s arms. Nonetheless, doomed love is better than no love at all. So, Gladys thinks, on a Saturday, drinking a little sherry in Lake Woebegon, she gets all perspiry and weepy. She locks the door, lest anyone should come in and find her there.
The Gladys I knew was not so melancholy as that when I saw her. She was always full of life, especially when she was with “her boys,” as she called the gang of us who collected around my buddy and who would fill her house with the scraps and detritus of art projects and, in the winter, Christmas cheer and drunkenness. But she did love her sherry, and her opera, which my iPod must have sensed because the first song that it shuffled up to play after the news from Lake Woebegon was ” Mimì è tanto malata!” from La Boheme, which begins
Mimì is so sick!
Every day she gets worse.
The poor little thing
Even though this is Puccini, it put me in the mind of the story of Verdi Cries, which we all know that I’m more than slightly in love with. It made me think how nice it would be to wake to wireless Verdi cries rather than the heat that makes this town feel like the inside of a marathoner’s shoe. And tonight, we’ve still got the heat and something else–something that makes me pine for the bittersweet strains of doomed lovers–a cacophony of jackhammers. Yes, at 10 p.m., we’ve got a regular chorus of jackhammers resonating up the face of our building and into our ears because a water main burst in the middle of the street directly in front of our building. No, nobody has any idea when they will be done.
That also means, of course, that we’re without water. Running water, that is, since our building’s treasurer was kind enough to give Mama advance warning, which allowed us time to fill several bottles, pitchers, and pans before the taps went dry. But just like they say about making lemonade when god gives you lemons–I say, when god makes you go dry, drop two olives in and make a dry martini. Or three.
That, plus being several floors above street level, will help me sleep through anything. Fortunately for 3B a bottle of warm milk was enough to knock him out, plus our central air is so loud–normally a cause for my complaints that I feel like we live in the Ames Research Center–that I don’t think he even needs the olives to sleep through the noise. Or the gin. Mmm. With that little skiff of ice on the surface. So cold. So refreshing.
Salute e buona notte.