Reimagining American Community

Hammock-in-a-garden-006If a book is to be read over the summer, like a course-meal, why can’t an essay be a cold drink, to enjoy on the porch for a moment (perchance, with a cigarillo)?

And there arrived in the summer months an ideal day, prompting this meager chorus, whatever my fingers could organize. So take this glass and hold it secure. The condensation makes it slippery. Stir the lemon-balm leaves. Watch the strawberry seeds fall to the bottom. Enjoy this recently squeezed summer soiree:

Imagine a cabin that faces a green stretch. Beyond the grass stands a line of trees, along with a fence. On the other side magnificent horses gallop. This cabin is make of brick, is small – like you think that a cabin should be – and has a porch. Between two pillars of the porch hangs a hammock. Opening the front door of the cabin, you would behold the very title of The Wood Brothers, “Blue and Green.” It is Tennessee. It is five in the afternoon. Colors have matured.

Modern man has his modern inventions. But every invention of his is something of a re-invention. Even air conditioning, among the highest achievements of modernity (next to Tupperware), is not original to him. Just earlier this day, a wide column of rain clouds swept over the place and cooled the air to an optimal temperature. Now a breeze dries the glistening leaves. These leaves hang loosely, as if all the fairies had decided together to hang up their garments to dry, had gone to do something else, had forgotten, and would not remember to unclip their clothes from the trees until a crisp September wind reminds them of red blankets and orange sweaters. (On consideration, however, perhaps we have made something that the sun has never seen before: where in nature is there anything like Tupperware?)

Today is August becalmed. A book may be read outside without sweat smudging ink. Though one’s drink’s condensation might. My books are not directly apropos. I should have brought Jane Austen, or Fitzgerald, a collection of fairy tales; something elated or warm. I have with me Melville’s Moby Dick, and Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Stubb has recently killed a whale, and Prince Myshkin is listening to Ippolit’s necessary explanation.

Otherwise, the earth sways to and fro, as a breeze keeps the hammock rocking. A few crickets tune themselves for the approaching evening. The horses gallop, neigh, and prance. Between two of them is something like a summer romance. I do not pretend to know, certainly. The horses have let me in on very little.

Swallows swoop and climb around unseen pillars – are they not, with their life-long baptism in the wind, the bird most full of exhilaration? A sparrow skips playfully through the air. The robin always observes and hops. Chickadees sing and stop, like grey punctuation marks. And the swallow goes always headlong, always plumbing the depths of an ocean, deeper for being higher.

The Wood Brothers play from a computer set down beneath the head of the hammock. Where most music would certainly distract or subtract, they fit like a banjo suits a pair of overalls or whiskey on the rocks glistens on old, smooth wood.

I light a cigarillo, and speculate about the importants. I think amidst the taste of white-pepper, and the smell of pine bark. I reach few conclusions.  Well, I arrive at one: that I repent of my initial dictation. Do not imagine such a cabin, as I asked you to. At least, do not think that because you imagine it, that it is imagined. The magic of this place is its existence, this and such days. When Fall reminds us of friends and indoors and mulled cider and old, wise things, and winter reminds us of silence and solitude and anticipation, and spring reminds us that the earth is always new and renewed, a summer day reminds us of the radiant and windy thing it is to exist at all. Whenever the heat is unbearable, that is the unbearable energy of existence, if light and existence have anything essential to do with each other. To burn is to burn with being. I finish my cigarillo.

That evening, I go to an Irish pub, titled autobiographically, McNamara’s Irish Pub & Restaurant. McNamara himself plays one of three guitars in the live band, along with two violinists and another one who plays the flute or the banjo, depending. I order two shots of whiskey (and forgot how to ask for a double, in which case I could have gotten the whiskeys in one glass, with ice; as it is, I carry two shots over, as if I’m about to commiserate in the corner), and sit at the back wall to watch the breadth and depth of celebration. A toast is made to a local who passed away. Another song pokes fun at a few people present, all to merriment, including, dangerously enough, the bartender. He hears a verse speak his name (and I can’t repeat the verse exactly; though it had vaguely to do with old Irish ladies, desperate measures, a bucket to wash one’s face in, and a misunderstanding). The bartender laughs. I sigh, relieved. What if he hadn’t? But in that moment, I realized: proprietors of Irish pubs are the healthiest humans I know of.

Near the end, McNamara preaches a homily (like any good liturgy, given after the music, and during communion). “Where’d we forget how to play?” he admonishes us. We turn to our neighbor, and nod, “good.” McNamara says that he has four children, and they play, and love to play. “Where’d we stop being children?” he asks. “Good!” we shout, some raising their glasses. “I’m still playing,” he strums his guitar, and jiggles. “I’ve only changed the sport.” “Good!” The place roars, and another song meets the cheers. “Another!” demands a man at the bar, and guffaws in the loveliest way.

At the end, McNamara dedicates a song to his wife, “who usually doesn’t spend time with adults” (does that but speak to their health? I ask again) A final cheer clips pints and empties shots and clears throats. The bartender calls “last orders,” and everyone orders and gulps. Their commitment to finishing their drinks reminds me of priests when they finish the last bits of communion. I leave the sounds of farewells and glass sliding across tables.

An ideal summer day is ideal only if it is not merely an idea. That’s something about ideals. Perhaps they’re called that for usually living in the mind, until hatching out. But I hadn’t a cigarillo with me to accompany that meditation. That’s as far as I got into it. I had that day, though, and when it ended, like coming to the butt of a cigarillo, I only wished to praise everything about it, and thought I was satisfied.

Then morning came, and to the utter surprise of the world, another day. I found another cigarillo. The hammock kept swinging. Stubb had a talk with the ship’s cook, and Prince Myshkin spoke with Aglaya on a park bench. Thus abounded the persistent joy of the swallow, and the endless stock of praise-worthies.

About the Author
Alongside studying politics, philosophy, and economics in New York City, Charles usually has with him St. Aquinas' Being and Essence and De Regnum. He yearns to write stories and essays carefully, and thinks both English tobacco and ale the better choice to end the day with. Aposiopesis is currently his favorite figure of speech.