The first cool day of autumn
Or the last hot day of summer, if you prefer.
From early May to late August in the South, the sun is like a sweaty landlord looking to collect rent that’s two months overdue. Sure, you can hide for a little while, and you can think you’re safe, but the moment you poke your lil’ head outside, BOOM — hellfire, baby.
You sweat under your eyeballs, your legs stick to your car’s seat, you soak through anything you’re wearing for longer than eight seconds.1 Movement at any pace faster than a mild amble is impossible; thoughts plod along aimlessly in your brain like teenagers at the end of a long work shift. There’s a linguistic theory that the Southern accent developed from people too goddamn hot and tired to enunciate while fanning themselves, and damn if that don’t sound just right. (“jes’ raht.”)
But then, after three months of sticking your head in the freezer after workouts or yard work, just as you’re resigned to spending the rest of your days cooking like a forgotten egg on a five-hundred-degree griddle, there comes a dawn so glorious that I look forward to it more than Christmas morning or the first day of the NCAA tournament. There’s always a morning in late August where you wake up, you notice that there’s silence — because the AC isn’t already running — and then you step outside …
… and there’s the tiniest chill in the air.
Yes, “chill” is relative. It’s still over 70 degrees even before the sun comes up … but just for a few minutes, there’s no humidity sticking to your skin like a wet dog. Oh, it’ll get hot again before winter comes — September in the South always has one or two fiery punches to the teeth to send you off — but just for a moment, the heat has broken, and you know that you’ve passed some ineffable tipping point on the calendar.
Like the sound of the band practicing at the high school near me, or the grocery stores putting out goddamn Halloween decorations before August, the first cool morning of the fall is a sign that change is coming, and it’s glorious.
Friday morning marked that moment in Georgia, and it happened to nearly coincide with another of life’s little landmarks: my overworked laptop entirely crapping out on me.
A few weeks ago, my laptop began sputtering out duplicate letters on a single keystroke, which, if you’re a writer, is very much not a great thing. The fun part was, I never quite knew what letter would repeat each morning until I settled in and started writing about Phiiiiiil Miiiiiickelson or Paaaaaatrick Maaaaaahomes.
After a few weeks of spraying vowels at me like a toddler demanding ice cream, my laptop then started just flat-out refusing to type certain letters, a full-on ain’t-my-job work stoppage. When your “O” goes out, it’s bad news when you’re trying to write about Tiger Wds at the Pen Champinship in Sctland, and it’s a fireable offense when you type the word “country” and don’t check your work.
So I requested a new laptop from my company — I don’t think I’m betraying any corporate secrets to tell you that — and then began an hours-long, labor-intensive process. Not switching over my data … switching over my laptop stickers.
Now, behold as I lash together these two disparate subjects — summer heat and a busted laptop — into a single, unified Metaphor for Life.
I always plaster my laptop with stickers of good times past. On the old one above, you can see souvenirs of a trip to Sun Studios in Memphis, a memorable visit to Devil’s Tower with my dad, the concert where I finally understood what the deal is with Phish2, and so many more. Here's an NCAA tournament from a few years back where, as you can see at the top left, I gave a bunch of breweries a whole lot of free national advertising:
(My buddy Matt Norlander at CBS raised the sticker-bomb game to an art form this year.)
Some of my stickers date back six or seven years, and I've carefully peeled them off and ported them from laptop to laptop, trying to hold onto the memories of some of the best times of recent years. (I'm sure my IT department just loves the sticky-lidded used laptops I send back.)
This time, though, I decided to try something a little different. Rather than continuing to haul my past around with me, I would — to coin a phrase — Let It Go3. Bid farewell to the stickers of times past, and start over with a blank slate. Decorate that slate with memories that begin in the fall of 2022, not holdovers from the last few years.4
And it occurs to me that the end of summer, heading into fall, is an ideal time to do the same thing with one’s life, to take small crises and to-do lists and petty gripes and wad them up in a sticky ball, too. There’s much to be said for making a fresh start, whether it’s a laptop you deface immediately with new memories, or a mindset of present awareness, unburdened by the past.
After all, there’s football and postseason baseball5 and the holidays coming, and that’ll be enough emotional trauma for all of us. At least we won’t be sweaty and smelly as it all unfolds.
Poll: Laptop stickers, yea or nay?
Look, as you can see by the photo above, I smear my laptops with meaningful stickers like they’re guitar cases or footlockers. But I know other people think that’s the province of middle-schoolers. They’re wrong, but they’re entitled to their opinion. So let’s settle this: laptop stickers, pro or con?
Song of the Week: “Chicamacomico,” American Aquarium
Damn, do I love this band, a rock/alt-country outfit out of North Carolina. American Aquarium’s the next in a line of brilliant country-rock bastards that runs from the Stones through the Byrds through the Drive-By Truckers, and their music would fit in any of those eras. But it’s not dated, because the lyrics and the melodies combine to hit on the kinds of deep emotional truths that transcend time. This song has at its core the most heartbreaking subject imaginable, but still manages to salvage dignity and hope from the wreckage. Give it a listen, and then check out the rest of the band’s catalog for some strong late-summer-afternoon listening.
You can find “Chicamacomico” and a whole bunch of other fine listening at the ever-growing Flashlight & A Biscuit playlist:
Enjoy the week, my friends. Stay cool, and we’ll see you back here next Saturday.
This is issue #69 of Flashlight & A Biscuit. Check out all the past issues right here. Feel free to email me with your thoughts, tips and advice. If you’re new around here, check out some of our recent hits:
43 giant presidents’ heads, sittin’ in a field …
What’s your favorite bookstore?
Chili, onions, pickles, oyster crackers … too much is never enough when you’re loading up a Scrambled Dog
What does “Flashlight & A Biscuit” mean, anyway?
If you dig this newsletter, share it with your friends. Invite others to the party, everyone’s welcome.
Those of you on my parents’ Christmas card list, see if you can spot the sweat stains all over my shirt when the family card arrives later this year. And I was outside for only like three minutes!
See, with Phish it’s not about normal, mundane concert traditions like “hit tunes” or “conventional song structure” or “music you can shake your ass to,” it’s about improvisational genius and a state of mind that only comes about when … hey, wait, get back here, I haven’t told you about their New Year’s Eve shows … !
You’re singing it now, too.
As long as we’ve got old masks, hand sanitizer, Facebook, and the seething distrust that too many Americans have for one another, the last few years will always be with us.
The warm, comforting glow of the Braves’ 2021 World Series win will expire right when they decide to go 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position in an elimination game this fall. And they will.