Trick or Heat

There’s Halloween candy on the shelves at the supermarket. It’s July 28.

Seriously, there it is, right next to the plastic sand buckets and back-to-school supplies. This is the section of the store where the seasons overlap, where you have the summer things rubbing up against the fall things. It used to make its appearance in August, but here it is muggy July and they want us to think about a late October night when people are dressed like vampires. I’d love to start thinking about cold fall nights (and days), but it’s still summer, so it’s all just a big tease.

There’s an even funnier shelf in October, when you see Halloween candy, school supplies, and Christmas decorations all together. If you had just woken up from a coma in the aisle you wouldn’t know what month it is.

Doesn’t it seem like everything is sped up these days? I’ve been seeing back-to-school commercials since July 4. Sorry kids, summer’s over!  Put down those ice cream cones and get ready for math!

David Brooks and The Case of the Confusing Sandwich

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

– David Brooks, The New York Times, July 11, 2017

I don’t have a college degree, and I’ll never forget the time I went to a sandwich shop in my neighborhood and didn’t know any of the words and I completely freaked out. I started eating the mustard packets and punching people. Why did they give these meats and cheeses such confusing names?

I’ve always liked David Brooks. Even when I don’t agree with him I’ve found him to be a good writer and a smart and thoughtful person. And his latest column isn’t terrible – he makes some good points – but how can a thoughtful person write a paragraph like the one above?

If this friend exists – the paragraph has a whiff of “I was talking to a cab driver….” about it, but I’ll believe him – it’s a weird scenario. People – even mediocre ones that don’t have college degrees! – can usually figure out what cold cuts are, especially if they’re standing in a sandwich shop. And if they can’t, would they really ask Brooks to take them someplace else, like a Mexican place, which, apparently, is where people with “only” high school degrees eat (even though Spanish is probably used on the menu)?

(Also, what the hell is a “high school degree?”)

The line that sticks out to me is “Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop.” Insensitively? What an odd line, showing that Brooks’s default position seems to be elitist, where he separates his friends into people who can “handle” fancy sandwich places and friends he should only take to other types of places. And if this friend was so confused by sandwich meats (there’s no quote from her just confused head-nodding), why would Brooks get her out of there like she was being hounded by the paparazzi, rushing her off to safety (a Mexican restaurant)? Couldn’t Brooks have just explained to her what they are? Couldn’t she ask the person behind the counter?

Recently I took David Brooks to lunch. Insensitively, I led him into a Pizza Hut. Suddenly I saw his face freeze up and his glasses fog as he was confronted with pizzas named “Supreme” and words like “mozzarella” and “pepperoni.” I quickly asked him if he wanted to go some place else and he nodded yes so we went to Le Bernardin and ate some organic kale.

Here, now

On an airless July night:

A Honeywell fan two feet away. A MacBook and pen and paper on the coffee table, next to two boxes of tissues because allergies have attacked me this summer. A Boston magazine and a page ripped from The Boston Globe Magazine. A novel by Megan Abbott and a biography of E.B. White, the Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 1 set (Murder, My Sweet in the DVD player), and an empty Popsicle wrapper. The sound of my neighbor coming up the front steps. Remembering that I have to send out thank you notes, jotting down a reminder to reschedule that doctor’s appointment, and the realization that sometimes, when I look up at the sky, I think of my childhood.