The smell of summer…

There’s a certain smell in the summer. Maybe in my mind it’s actually the smell of summer. 

It’s a smell of damp wood, sun-scorched earth, brackish water, salt marsh, and the slightest hint of creosote. It’s strongest, most potent in the high summer, just after the sun sets, maybe around 8:30 or 9:00. It’s a unique smell I only catch somewhere near the Bay after a blisteringly hot day with high humidity. On days when the weather is just right, you can feel it in the air as much as smell it.

This is the time of year I can smell it here at near the head of the Bay. I could smell it from the patio of my one-bedroom bunker in St Mary’s County, too. But the first place I smelled it was in Tracy’s Landing. It was a million years ago when I was a kid and summer was defined by “long” trips to my aunt and uncle’s house. It wasn’t more than three hours from home, but the drive then felt like it took forever. The flatlands of tidal Ann Arundel County might as well have been another planet from the ridges and valleys of far western Maryland.

It feels like that was lifetimes ago, now. More than anywhere else it was on these summer trips that I learned to love the Bay and the critters that dwell in, on, and near it. Those summer days were filled with buckets of corn distributed at a waterfowl sanctuary in Shady Side, picking fossils out of the creek out on the “back 40,” feeding Stormy and Hazy, the resident horses, gathering up vegetables for the night’s dinner out of the deep garden plots just a few hours before they were on the plate, trot lining blue crabs in the West River in a hand-made skiff, or chasing rockfish out on the “blue water” Bay in a proper work boat. There too, innumerable family events unfolded – back before family got too damned weird.

All these years later and I remember it all with stunning clarity thanks to something as completely ephemeral as a smell I can’t quite describe.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. One Day Shipping. I have no idea why Amazon even pretends to offer items for “one day shipping” any more. Of the last three items I’ve purchased that touted this speedy service, exactly none of them arrived when “expected.” When I’ve been lucky, the items may have shipped by the expected arrival date… although one of those never arrived at all and had to be reshipped, arriving a full week after I ordered it. At one time, Amazon was practically synonymous with “logistics,” but mostly now I think they just make shit up as they go along.

2. Anti-intellectualism. America has a long history of anti-intellectualism. I could give you someone examples, but since we’re currently living through one of them, I’ll save you the trip down our collective memory lane and hope that you’ll just accept that I’m telling you the truth. Maybe the space program in the 60s was an exception, but I suspect that was more because those with the right stuff were billed as test pilots rather than engineers – though in many cases they were both. I know the historical backstory of why Americans have a long tradition of hating the smart people in the room, but I’ll never quite understand why we can’t get the hell over it. 

3. Peak savings days. Local electric companies are quick to hand out a few pennies savings for those who are willing to swelter a bit as afternoon temperatures hover in the mid-90s. All that really tells me is that increasingly, the local electric grid hasn’t been built out to meet actual demand for its product. Personally, I’d prefer to pay them a few pennies more during off-peak times so they can build a bit of excess capacity rather than sweating all the way through high summer. A little personal comfort feels like something well worth paying for, but maybe that’s just me.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. It’s glaringly obvious to me and maybe to you too if you’re a regular reader, that I’ve slipped back into what I fondly call a stream of consciousness blogging mode. Even when I set out with a target in mind, the narrative sort of zigs and rambles around to a point where it ends kind of wherever rather than where it might find a reasonably logical finish. Maybe it’s just the kind of thing I notice because I spend four or five days a week with my own writing. Maybe it’s less annoying to outside observers than it is to me. I hope so, because not being able to keep to the thread of a previously well thought out line of thinking is pretty goddamned annoying.

2. Jorah. The dog who won’t be housebroken. We’re still mostly hanging out in the kitchen, because as adorable as he is, the little beast is not to be trusted to avoid pissing all over whatever happens to be at hand when the mood strikes. It’s happening with less frequency now to be sure, but since he’s doubled in size the volume involved has also increased dramatically. There’s also the occasional middle of the night accident in his crate, which is doubly agitating since I know he can hold it far longer than the few hours a night I carve out for rest. To counteract that bit, he’s lost his soft bedding and gets no water after 7:30 each night. Who the hell knows if that will make any difference. At ten months old and after three months of consistent lessons on how to be a decent member of the household I’m running out of ideas with this one. The next stop is probably the vet to get a once over and confirm that there are no underlying medical issues involved. After that all that’s left is a turn to a far more Prussian discipline than I usually impose.

3. Mosquitos. I’m out in the yard at night so often with these hoodlum dogs that my legs currently look like I’ve got some kind of damn scabby plague trying eat me from the ankles up. I live in the woods. I know there are going to be bugs. The number of winged bloodsuckers inhabiting my little slice of the forest is absolutely out of hand though. So it’s either spend all evening smelling like Deep Woods Off or end up West Nile Virus and methed out legs. I don’t usually celebrate the end of summer but this year I’m looking forward to a good killing frost.

I suppose experts say a lot of things…

So it’s summertime here in the northern hemisphere. That means the temperatures regularly climb up past 90 degrees, the humidity soars, and the news covers a raft of stories about people who leave their pets or their kids locked inside their vehicle and only discover the error of their ways when they return to find Spot, Mittens, Bobby, or Suzy broiled much later in the day.

According to the inevitable articles on the topic, boohooing and pleading sympathy for the guilty, “Experts say” it can happen to anyone. I suppose it could, in theory. Monkeys could also fly out of everyone’s collective asses. Or we could all get hit in the face by simultaneous meteorites. Anything is possible.

Speaking as a guy who put an automatic starter on his truck because he wasn’t comfortable leaving his dogs in the vehicle long enough to get in and out of various gas station bathrooms along the 800 mile route between Maryland and west Tennessee, any kind of excuse about forgetting the living creature or creatures in your back seat rings just a little bit hollow.

Look, I know everyone is busy. Everyone is tired. Everyone can have a scattered moment, but for fuck’s sake, people, at least try to pull yourselves together. It’s a living thing you’ve at least theoretically decided to take responsibility for, not last night’s leftovers that you inadvertently left on the back seat when you got home from Olive Garden.

As always, I’m left wondering what the hell is wrong with people. Unfortunately I probably know the answer to that. It starts with an S and ends with “tupid.”

Monsoon season…

As it turns out it’s monsoon season here in the mid-Atlantic. Something something climate change, something something global warming, something something fake news. I’m sure there are a wide ranging set of reasons this summer as gone directly from cold and rainy to oven baked, and is now shifting gears back to torrential downpours. I find none of those reasons particularly interesting. Mostly because none of them lead to a long stretch of days that we could reasonably describe as “temperate.” I think at this point I may even be willing to settle for “seasonal.”

We’re two months through “summer,” and I’ve only had the top off a handful of times – worse yet, the doors have been firmly installed since I put them back on last September. That’s no kind of life for a Jeep. I mean if you’re not going to drive it up to the fender wells in mud, the very least you can do is strip it down to the bare essentials and enjoy the open air. Except, sadly, you need the air to also cooperate with this plan.

We’ll see what August brings, but given recent history I’m not overly optimistic. I have a terrible feeling that the last, best hope for good Jeep weather this year will be in finding a long Indian summer and trying to hold on to it a little too long. This late in topless driving / monsoon season I suppose I’ll have to take what I can get.

What Willis was talking ’bout…

I’m going to take an entire day’s post today to celebrate the often unsung genius of Willis Carrier, the man responsible for bringing us modern electrical air conditioning. Sure, those first air conditioners contained all manner to toxic gasses that destroyed the ozone layer and would occasionally burst into flame, but right up until they suffocated or burned to death, people were comfortable. And in the end, being a relatively short lived animal, personal comfort is going to trump the risk of environmental destruction or immolation just about every time.

So, as I nudge the thermostat down a notch or two to compensate for the late afternoon sun streaming through the windows I tip my hat to Mr. Carrier… and wonder how, after our sainted ancestors spent their first summer in the mid-Atlantic, they didn’t immediately board the Nina, the Pinta, and the Get-Me-the-Hell-Outta-Here and set sail for Canada.

Warning! Warning!

As I was sitting at my desk this afternoon after lunch, I was inundated through email, text, and pop-ups that the State of Maryland “Alerts Residents of Extreme Heat.” Thanks for that, I guess.

Still, it doesn’t quite scratch my intellectual itch about why the state would need to send out a mass communication to residents that it was hot outside and going to get hotter as we went through the afternoon. Being a sunny day towards the end of June in the Mid-Atlantic, I’m not sure “it’s hot” should be a surprise.

In the absence of a warning from our friends in Annapolis, perhaps walking outside, opening a window, the local news, your favorite weather app, or some other means could have put us on our guard. There are any number of things I look for the state government to do for me – but warning me that it gets hot in the summertime feels like a business they don’t necessarily need to be in. Is there a value added here that I’m missing somewhere?

The perfect afternoon…

Four years ago I had a perfect afternoon. I don’t think I’ve ever actually mentioned it either here or to anyone in the non-electronic world, but it was a rare few hours when the better angels of my nature utterly routed the demons. The moment was fleeting, it was ephemeral, but it was perfect.

I’ve spent more of my waking moments trying to find a way back there than I’m in any way comfortable admitting. I won’t even get started on how it intrudes on my non-waking hours. Now I’m not saying every other day from then to now has been a pile of shit. There have been some awfully good days in the mix even when others leave me feel like an alchemist bent on learning the secrets of transmuting lead to gold – committing the cardinal sin of believing I could summon a thing into existence through sheer force of will and determination for it to be so.

As it turns out, massive amounts of willpower and determination sometimes don’t do any more than generate a massive reality distortion field that’s only observable by the guy inside the bubble. There’s a hard lesson in that when you’ve gotten accustomed to issues of luck generally breaking in your favor.

They say the first step to getting well is admitting you have a problem. Well, maybe I do and maybe I don’t, but in any case I’d be hard pressed to imagine a circumstance where I’d ever entirely stop chasing that perfect afternoon…

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Rain. Not all rain is bad or evil. We need it and in some quantity recently. If it could hold off a bit on pouring it down during the mid-morning through late afternoon parts of the day, though, I would really appreciate it. As much as I still enjoy driving my big red Tundra, I’d really like to continue Jeeping topless during the only time of year when it’s really comfortable to do so. Yes, I know the drain plugs will take care of whatever standing water may be on the floorboards, but that’s an extreme measure I’d just rather not need to resort to unless it can’t be avoided.

2. Q&A. Live, unscripted question and answer periods with “the general public” should never be encouraged. For every reasonably well thought out question that’s asked, three more that are either completely off topic, so specific as to bore the other 300 people in the room to absolute tears, or utterly nonsensical and not formulated in any kind of structure known to the actual English language. In an open forum it’s just not worth the risk. The potential damage due to the extreme rolling of audience members’ eyes is a real and present threat.

3. Trusted professionals. Today, I’m left with a thought from John Wayne in his last role. He said, “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.” Now I may have missed the circus this morning, but let the word ring forth from this time and this place, that if any of you trusted professionals decides to to put your hands on me, you’d best have made up your mind that I’m the last thing you want to touch for a good long time because by all the gods, I will break every bone in your worthless hand.

Accessorizing…

With temperatures creeping up out of the 50s on a regular basis, it seems it’s the time of year when a boy’s thoughts turn to finding just the right accessories for his fancy new Jeep. At least that’s the kind of thing that catches this boy’s attention. I know my priorities can be a little jenky, but I just go with it. It’s easier that way.

To tell you I’m ready to strip off the top, unbolt the doors, and recapture a bit of the olden days is a rank understatement. I’ve been ready to do that pretty much since the day I sold the old Jeep, so it’s been a long time coming. And yes, before anyone asks, in all likelihood I’ll be the dumbass that has to wear a winter coat on the morning commute for the privilege of enjoying open tub driving on those first good warm spring afternoons. Mercifully I’ve never let fear of looking like a dufus stand in the way of doing what I wanted to do.

I was fortunate to get a few of my accessories early as Christmas presents or thanks to post-Christmas sales. I ordered a few more today – including a good set of bolt-on mirrors so I can stay on the right side of Johnny Law here in the Democratic People’s Republic of Maryland. Mostly it’s now a matter of waiting on the arrival of consistent weather to “summerize” my ride for the year.

There are still plenty of bits I want to add… a stereo capable of overpowering the wind noise without distorting everything to hell and back, some secure storage for those times when you can’t avoid leaving things behind, bigger tires and a touch of a lift to make it a proper mall crawler. Like most of my other lists, this one is just about endless… and for once that isn’t a complaint.