There are those who view summer in New York City as the most unbearable of times, and can hardly wait scurry out of town for the milder climes of the Hamptons or Fire Island or New England.
I am not one of them. Summer in the city is "pretty much like heaven on earth," I said to Aaron as we strolled along the Hudson late last night. We reminisced about the time almost exactly a year ago we'd been walking in the same spot only to get caught in a torrential thunderstorm, the soaking we received having been entirely worth it, however, in exchange for the hour-long lightning display we'd witnessed in advance of the storm sweeping in from Jersey.
Since "a chance" of thunderstorms had been predicted for last night, we were hopeful that the spectacle would be repeated, especially since this time I'd brought an umbrella, but this time the storms passed us by and the air hung over us with the cloying thickness of mid- to late-summer, i.e., warm and moist as bathwater, making walking seem more like swimming, and lounging more like soaking. It was absolutely splendid, which is why I couldn't resist pointing out that summer's end was rapidly heaving into sight.
"Oh, you told me that way back at the beginning of July," said Aaron, "and when we had that cool spell I almost believed you." He went on to remind me that we'd then gone into a week where the temperature had climbed into the 90s every day, and that it hadn't got a whole lot cooler since then.
"I know we've still got all of August, and sometimes that's when the hottest days of the year are. But statistically we're already past the hottest part of the summer, the days are getting shorter, and everyone knows that the second half of anything good goes by way faster than the first half." Well, that's not a verbatim account of what I said, or anything close to one, to be honest, but it conveys the general sense of it. Maybe it's just my particular type of personality that starts worrying about the coming winter on the first day of summer, but I suspect there's a little bit of that craziness in all of us.
I've got a project I'm working on, if the definition of "working on" can be stretched to include "constantly procrastinating," and it's got a couple of deadlines staring me in the face. It involves editing a memoir/autobiography of a friend I know from when I lived in London. The first deadline is coming up in less than three weeks: it's when I'll next be in London and when I promised to have a first draft of my edit done for him. He'll understand if I can't keep that promise, but my second deadline is a little more inflexible: he's 80 years old and not in the best of health. I want to put a finished manuscript in his hands while he's still alive and able to read it and possibly find a publisher for it.
It's going to require some rather intensive work on my part to get this done in the next couple weeks, work which will require me being indoors much of the time when I might much prefer to be on my bike or at the beach, but considering that I've had the original draft in my possession for eight months now, including all last winter, I can't feel too sorry for myself. But it does prompt me to reflect on the passage of time, and the way it speeds up once the end of anything is in view.
I could be talking about summer, a love affair, or life itself; one of the first times this feeling really hit home with me was during the World Cup - I think it was 2002 - when there was a stretch of really good games, England were still in the hunt, and everyone - well, everyone except sourpusses, misanthropes and Americans - was practically giddy with excitement. As one match ended, and with another one due to start in a matter of minutes, I enthused to no one in particular, "This is the best World Cup ever. I wish it never had to end!"
Of course it did, and long before the end, even before England were ignominiously eliminated, the games had thinned out from their initial furious pace, and already I was looking ahead to 2006 and 2010, and that's when it hit me: when I measured out my life in quadrennial dollops of football fever, there wasn't nearly as much left of it as I might have liked. I started counting how many more World Cups I could reasonably expect to see: even if I lived to be 100, there'd be only 11 more, and since that time one of those has already come and gone.
It's like that with summers, too, and years, for that matter. They go by so much faster now, and if experience is any indicator, they're not about to slow down. Am I being morbid, or merely realistic, to recognize that I'm now reaching an age where it's no longer considered unusual if I or one of my contemporaries falls over dead. Granted, I'm probably in the best health of my life, and if I take sufficient care of myself, chances are that will continue for some time. Till I'm 70, perhaps, or even 80 or 90? Given my family history, I could easily live that long or longer, but not only do those ages no longer seem so far away - especially considering that the last 10, 20 or 30 years seem to have passed in the blink of an eye - but I also have to consider that simply being alive is hardly the be-all or end-all of existence.
How much longer, for example, will I able to hop on my bike and ride across the Williamsburg Bridge to Manhattan? Or run laps around the track in McCarren Park? Throw myself into the pit at a punk rock show? So far I have no trouble doing any of these things, but there are many people my age who would struggle just with getting up the stairs to my third floor walkup. The fact that I've defied the odds so far does nothing to contradict the reality that I won't be able to do so indefinitely. Bodies wear out, lives run out, and I have no reason to think anyone's going to make an exception in my case.
Looking at things that way, shouldn't I be in a much bigger hurry than I am? Shouldn't I be practically maniacal about putting every minute of time I still have to some productive and/or pleasurable use? Logic would seem to say so, yet I squander at least as much time as ever on lolling about, watching TV reruns, reading (or participating in) mindless message board squabbles, or simply staring off into space and feeling sorry for myself. It reminds me of when I was a kid in school, and spent all year looking forward to summer vacation. That first day of freedom was one of the most awesome sensations I've ever known: what seemed like an eternity stretching in front of me in which I could do practically anything and everything I could dream of. Then, just like that, it was August, there was a slight nip in the air, and the newspapers were full of those hated back to school ads. Those last couple weeks took on an almost desperate quality as my friends and I grasped frantically at the dwindling joys of the season and bemoaned all the time we'd wasted and the opportunities we'd let pass us by.
Then suddenly it was over, we were back into our school clothes, sitting up straight in those cramped wooden chairs and not even wanting to look at the clock or calendar because another summer might as well have been another lifetime away. But at least in those days, we had another lifetime - quite a few of them, in fact - to look forward to. One of these years, sooner rather than later for some of us, we won't.