Got the autumn blues, put on my walking shoes
The Column: 10.20.21
I love October and I hate to see it pass so quickly. My love and I ate dinner outdoors last Friday and it felt like the Last Time and as an old man I find Lasts rather painful. I rode the Amtrak into New York from Boston, with that delicious flight in Queens as the train descends toward the tunnel to Manhattan and we’re skimming the housetops like Clark Kent in pursuit of evil gangsters, and I thought, “When will I get to do this again?” and it pained me.
It pains me to see the wave of puritanism in the arts, arts organizations competing to see who can write the most militant mission statements declaring their dedication to Equality and Inclusivity and Anti-Elitism, which tells me clearly that the end is near. Art is elitist because some people are better singers than almost anyone else and some plays astonish and others only fill the time, and if equality is now the goal, then where do we go to experience the extraordinary? Art then becomes ideology, and for astonishment we must wait for the next blizzard or thunderstorm. A Manhattan thunderstorm is worth waiting for, but still.
We have a long haul ahead of us, people. Children dressed up as malevolent beings for Halloween: is this a good thing? I doubt it. November is a miserable month, with elections at which old people will outvote the young and timid school boards will be elected who’ll cut out any remaining art or music education and require history teachers to offer opposing points of view as to the legitimacy of the 2020 election. November ushers us into a season of colorlessness and Thanksgiving, an awkward day when people who don’t like each other anymore sit down and practice politeness, a day that reminds us why “turkey” is a synonym for Flop. Anything you do to turkey is an improvement: stuff it with jellybeans, pour brandy on it and light it on fire — better yet, put some cherry bombs in it and blow it up.
November is a hard month, and then comes the typhoon of commercial Christmas joy that makes the day itself such a letdown, after all the ecstatic families in Best Buy commercials you have to face your own grumpy brood. And then New Year’s Eve and the champagne doesn’t sparkle as it used to, and everyone’s older and the talk at the party is all about health insurance, and then a flood of football games, after which everyone feels concussed, then it’s January and February comes along, which is more or less like moving to Nebraska.
This is why we need to enjoy what little is left of this gorgeous month of October. The cure for the blues, as we all know, is to get outdoors and walk around and pay attention to the world. I prefer city scenes since I flunked biology and don’t know the names of trees or birds or rock formations, but I can read signs and sense the stories of people passing by. I walk along a busy street through the surge of pedestrianism and if a bus pulls up to a bus stop as I approach, I board it, no matter where it’s going, and it feels like destiny — everything I did today was perfectly timed so I’d be there when the bus stopped — and this makes everything magical when I get off — everything was meant to be seen by me — the street preacher shouting something from First Corinthians — the boys weaving around in skateboards — the string quartet playing Mozart on the corner by the coffeeshop — and a dog runs barking and a flock of pigeons rises up, the whooshing of wings.
And one day, unintentionally, simply because it was there, I walked up the steps into a library and a room of long tables with green study lamps and young people studying math and writing term papers on their laptops, no chatter, no video games, all business, the children of cabdrivers and cleaning ladies and the ladies at the nail salon. It was a sacred place, the children redeeming the loving sacrifices of the saints, climbing the steep slope to be lawyers and doctors, and in that room, I felt I’d come to the very heart of the city, what it’s all about. Look no further. The future is in this room, studying. There is hope, plenty of it.