There is a strange irony in the fact that, on the very first day of summer, the days start getting shorter. It is a reminder. It as if people grieve the end from the start. It is like crying at a wedding, even when you have a sense the marriage is a good one and could last sixty years.
To me this has always seemed a bit stupid. It is like sulking when flowers bloom, because you know they will someday wither.
Don’t get me wrong. There is some wisdom in being detached, like some Yogi on a mountain peak, and in droning out a mantra of “This too will pass.”. Nothing on this planet was designed to be permanent, including our physical lives. However that doesn’t keep things from being beautiful, and admirable, and worth emulating.
In terms of romance, I always wanted to emulate my Grandfather. He was of a Puritan, Mayflower, upper-class, Brahmin family, and in 1896, when he was eight years old, he came trotting home from school and announced he had met the girl he was going to marry. The elders found the lad amusing, for the girl was from the wrong side of the tracks. However the childhood friendship endured and they did marry, and still were best friends an amazing eighty years later. It was a most beautiful marriage, but like all things on earth it had to end, and a day finally came when my Grandfather awoke alone.
For some reason my Grandfather’s grief struck me very hard, as a poet aged twenty-five, and I fell into a wallow of morbid gloom, seriously thinking about how pointless life was, and how empty all deeds are, when the results of even the most beautiful love-story is death. I wrote a mournful poem about how our good deeds lose their goodness when they cannot keep Love close. One image in that poem has always remained in my mind as an good example of a good deed that looks foolish in the face of death. It was the image of a man climbing the steps of the gallows, brushing his teeth. (You may borrow it, if you chose.)
However at that age my mood was simply too buoyant to remain morbid very long. I might vow to be serious, and never sing again, but as soon as I stepped into the shower I’d find myself singing like a deranged skylark.
June is like stepping into a shower of light, washing the filth of a dark winter away. How can you not sing?
I’m a lot older now, and much less inclined to be buoyant. I’m bitter, because that’s what life does to you, but I’ve the brains to twist that bitterness towards a wry sense of humor, and make it be a breakfast many don’t mind. After all, grapefruit is bitter, is it not?
But when June comes rolling around it is hard for even an old coot like myself to be properly cantankerous. For one thing, in June everyone makes the end of long friendships, and the shattering of communities, into a celebration. They call it “graduation”. It is a time you are kissing good-bye to friends you have known, and it is often a boot from the community you grew up in, (especially if you graduate in a wealthy town and are not fated to be wealthy). Graduation is actually a sort of death, but everyone acts as if dying is wonderful. The young girls at least have the good sense to cry, but the young men are such boobs they think they have escaped schoolmarms, and are free, free, free at last….until the party is over and they face this gruesome thing called, “Getting a job.” Then they see that freedom isn’t free. Years pass, until they wind up an old coot like me, who knows the glory of graduation is akin to a funeral.
Still, the celebrations of “The End” get to my sentimental side. Perhaps it is because kids do not merely graduate from high-school and college, these days. They graduate from junior high, from grade-school, from kindergarten, and my wife even has a sweet event to celebrate the graduation of rug rats from our Daycare. And mothers cry at all these events. And when I see them get teary, I have to turn away, because my own eyes want to begrudge a bit of sympathetic moisture.
A more pragmatic side of myself thinks it is a bunch of fuss and bother. What a waste of time! People should be growing food, hoeing the corn, chopping the wood, getting ready for next winter.
But the detached yogi in me sits back on his mountain peak and contemplates the significance of all these graduations. Each is an end, and therefore a sort of funeral, but it is also a celebration, because each assumes the after-life will be better. Each graduation is like the funerals that first-century Christians were purported to be: Joyous events, because early Christians were so sure the continuation of life after death was like escaping schoolmarms, and becoming even freer than a teenaged boy on a night he won’t remember.
I walked into the local market a few days ago with my mood uplifted by June and six graduations. I wasn’t singing like I do in the shower, but had been singing in the car on my way to the store. I was happy, but the store’s mood immediately wiped the smile from my face. Everyone in the store was so grim. Not a person wore a smile, except the girl at the register, who was bravely attempting to be cheerful, but losing the battle. As I got my six-pack and waited in line I glanced at the headlines on the papers. (Sometimes a terrorist attack has this sort of sobering effect.) No new atrocity greeted my eye. I figured I’d check the internet when I got home, and then noted people were looking at me with disapproving looks. This seemed odd, so I put on my best disarming smile, but even the poor girl at the register gave me a “I-don’t-know-you” look when I was the only customer who smiled at her and was pleasant. “What the heck?” I thought to myself, as I drove home.
During my ride home I glanced in the rear view mirror and understood one reason people had been regarding me oddly.
During the final hour at the Childcare, when we are basically just waiting for parents to show up, I was showing the children the June-art of making daisy chains. Unbeknownst to me the little girls crowding around to watch had adorned my tough, Aussie, crocodile-hunter hat with a ridiculous bouquet. Flowers were sticking every which ways. However ordinarily that would have been a reason for smiles, if not joshing, at the market. Some other thing was affecting people.
I checked the internet first thing, but there was no fresh terrorist atrocity. Then I checked a weeks worth of snail-mail, (I’ve been out of town), and then dawn abruptly broke on Marblehead.
Many poor folk around here work construction during the summer, and, if they are lucky, work for ski-slopes in the winter, and, because some winters are not all that snowy, they typically fall behind in their bills in the winter, and then catch up in the spring. This is so typical that there is actually a New Hampshire law that keeps the electric companies from cutting off people’s power in the winter, though they can cut off your power if you don’t pay off the bill by the end of April. However recently the old electrical company (PSNH) was taken over by a money-grubber company called “Eversourse”, and they lobbied and were successful, and the politicians had the old law tweaked. Anyone who had ever fallen behind in their bill during the winter would now have to pay a “deposit”, or their power would be turned off. In my case the deposit was $800.00, (combining both the Childcare and my home). For me that is roughly two month’s worth of electricity in the dead of winter. In essence, rather than helping people out by allowing people to fall behind in the winter, Eversourse now wanted that money up front, ahead of time, as a deposit.
I likely sound a bit quaint, but that simply isn’t how things are done in the world of bumpkins. People help each other out when times are rough, and I myself would never have been able to raise five kids if I wasn’t allowed to run up a tab at times. It wasn’t just the local market that saw my tab get alarmingly large, but the doctor and dentist and telephone and propane and electricity saw me running up a tab. However I was honor-bound to pay, and always did pay the tabs, once times got better in the spring. I was grateful to all who had patience, and became a faithful customer to the businesses that treated me so kindly. But perhaps such honor is old-fashioned, and perhaps Eversourse has run up against people who do not pay their tabs. Or perhaps they are just greedy. In any case, the letter they sent was not what you’d expect, from people who you have faithfully paid your bills to for over 26 years. They basically gave me 14 days to come up with $800.00 or they would shut off my power. Since I’d been out of town, most of the time had already passed, with their threatening mail sitting in a pile on my desk. I had to come up with $800.00 in one day, or the power would be shut off at my place of business. (I don’t know about you, but I am self-employed and have to fund my own vacations, so I was not exactly rolling in the dough after five days off.)
Now, I’m sure the stockholders of Eversource want plump dividends, and feel it was very expedient on the part of Eversource to stop allowing poor people to run up tabs during the winter. After all, Eversource only collected 12% interest on that loan. (1% a month). Surely rich fat cats can get better dividends than that, even as poor people get next to nothing on a savings account.
I called up Eversource to raise some hell, but got some sweet girl on the phone who likely is paid $8.00/hour to face the public’s rage, as the fat-cats hide like the cowards they are. I decided to dump all my spleen in the scuppers, and just be polite, as if I was spiritual and not hopping mad and thinking very unspiritual thoughts. It worked. She was so glad to talk with a nice, polite person she became very nice in return, and we has a good talk.
When I said I was baffled by how I was being treated she said Eversourse only wanted to bully people into automatic payments. In fact the only way to avoid having my power cut off, (besides coming up with $800.00 I don’t have), was to agree to have my electricity bill automatically removed from my bank account. This was Eversource’s way of making sure they got paid on time, next winter. Never mind that I might not have much money when the sun gets low. They came first. The doctor, dentist, market, propane and telephone could all wait.
I agreed to have my bills deducted from my business account. But I sure don’t feel like a valued customer. And I intend to be petty, and get even. If push comes to shove I will simply instruct the bank to stop the automatic payments next November. By law, they still cannot shut off my power until April. And then, when they ask me for a huge deposit next April, I will be shifting to a new supplier. (There are actually other electric companies that use the same wires, and are slightly cheaper.) (They have been pestering me to switch for years, but I was a loyal customer…of PSNH, I suppose; definitely not Eversource…any more.)
In fact I’d switch today, but someone told me Eversource doesn’t really want to have residential customers, and actually wants to alienate them, and force them to switch, so they can focus on the big factories and corporations. That is where the money is, and that is where those ruled by greed (and not community and family values) go, like pigs to their sty. Therefore I will not switch today, because a nonspiritual side of me wants to declare war, and be petty, (and I promise you I will derive great pleasure from being uncooperative).
Judging from the faces in the line at the local market, I am not the only disgruntled bumpkin. It is not anything spoken, but rather is a hardness in faces. A lot of dawning is going on upon a lot of Marbleheads. A lot of people feel treated like trash, and want to graduate from that class. The stock-holders in Eversource need to ponder whether slightly larger dividends are worth stirring up a hornet’s nest.
I’ve talked with people who think local folk are rubes, because they only care for their neighbors, while “Internationalists” care for everyone. However that is just big talk, like a roaring drunk claiming he loves everyone, when he has abandoned his wife and children for a bender. He will talk differently in the morning, and so will the so-called “Internationalists.” It will be a bit of hangover for them to realize they cared most for dividends, and not the neighbors rubes care for. Charity begins at home.
America was made, and remains full of, people who want to graduate. They do not want to remain in the class they are. If the rich should decide they want to “keep people in their place” they will be preventing graduation, and I fear there will be hell to pay.
However that is gloomy talk for June, and likely due to the fact I own a part of myself that is bitter and old. It is constantly at war with a part of myself that never gets old, and enthuses in June, even though it knows sunshine has its price.
When I was young the sun shone much more than it does now. This is not merely the rose-colored spectacles of age looking backwards. It is a meteorological fact, and shows up in the degree of drought we faced. The 1960’s saw year after year of drought.
I could tell some good tales about growing up in that drought, about how low the reservoir I illegally fished in got, and about the roaring brush fire I started at age twelve. In fact, I may do so, some night in the near future, for we currently in a drought that reminds me of my boyhood.
However the drought of my boyhood was back in down-to-earth times, when white-collar people could relate to poor blue-collar folk just trying to get by. Back then Americans stood united as basically ordinary people all trying to graduate together. Then times changed. A so-called “1%” decided their income mattered more. They decided it was good to profit by impoverishing the poor. They only wanted sunshine, but it created a drought.
This bothers me. The other night I was kept from sleep, thinking about the drought of compassion, and was still awake after midnight, when I started to notice the flicker of lightning. Then, as I barely dozed, I began to hear the faint drum of distant thunder. Then I dipped more deeply, and was abruptly awoken by a loud crash. Then I listened to the delicious sound of drought-relieving rains slowly approaching through the summer leaves.
In my sleepy state I wondered if the drought caused by the 1% hogging sunshine for themselves might also be ended by thunder.
“What country ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”
November 13, 1787 Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith