The dog days of July. Pennsylvania is green and my life is dictated by the length of grass. I don’t mind mowing the lawn. Shut my mind off. Walk back and forth. Do it again the next week.
I just googled “the dog days of summer.” Where did the saying come from? Well, according to Google, the Greeks and Romans – those imperialist bastards – used the phrase to describe the hottest days of July. This was a period that could bring fever and catastrophe. Fever and catastrophe? Check, baby.
America, circa 2020: A pandemic wreaks havoc. People march in the streets. Russian bots are working very hard to ensure the next four months are a heated fever dream. Shoot your fireworks well you got ’em, America. Facebook and Twitter assure me that you are a seething powder keg on the verge of collapse.
There’s some poetry in my head from Allen Ginsberg. He addressed these lines of poetry to America way back in 1956:
Are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I’m obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It’s always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are serious. Everybody’s serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.
A. Ginsberg (1956)
Seems relevant. How about this rewrite:
America, are you going to let your emotional life be run by Twitter? I’m obsessed with Twitter. I scroll through it every day. It stares at me as I remain socially distanced. It’s always telling me about cataclysm. Russian Bots are serious. Conservative pundits are serious. Activists are serious. Everybody’s serious but me. It occurs to me that I am America. I am talking to myself again.S. J. Tanner (Dog Days of July, 2020)
Or something like that.
Anyway, I was writing about mowing my lawn:
“The grass is getting long, we better mow,” Samson tells me once or twice a week. What a nag.
One of Samson’s favorite activities is mowing the lawn with his toy mower. The kid’s got stamina. He can last for hours. He follows me closely, walks up and down the rows, and makes sure to cover every inch of our yard. Samson Tanner is a meticulous young man.
“Yes, Samson,” I tell the boy. “We better mow.”
We had a disaster last week. Because of the dog days, I guess. I finished mowing the back yard. Drank a bottle of water and prepared to mow the front yard. I pulled the string to start the mower. I heard a snap, crackle, and a pop. This wasn’t breakfast cereal. It was the failure of a small engine. I did what I knew to do. Filled the oil. Checked the gas. Pulled the string. Nothing. Kaput.
“Our lawn mower is broken!” Samson howled with despair. “We need a new one.”
I’m not much for fixing things that break. And I’m poor. This is not a good combination. I did some basic Googling. I decided that bringing the mower in and getting it checked out was probably as expensive as buying a new lawn mower. In the long run. So I masked up, drove to Lowe’s, and picked out the exact same mower. A few hundred dollars later, I was home. Samson really wanted a purple mower, but they only had red in the model I could afford. Still, his excitement was unbridled. I showed him the “harvester.” This is what he calls the blade. Very poetic.
I assembled the contraption. Added oil and gas. Pulled the string. Success. Mowed the front yard with Samson in tow. He was through the roof.
“Our new lawn mower is so awesome!”
“Sure is, bud.”
So now there’s two mowers underneath our deck out back. I’m worried that I’m a stone’s throw from becoming a hoarder. God knows Samson would kill for 10,000,000 lawn mowers that don’t work. Hoarding seems like the least of our worries during the dog days of summer, circa 2020. At least my Twitter assures me this is the case.
My social media isn’t the only thing assuring me that there’s bad things happening. The CDC and the WHO and actual people with expertise in epidemiology and the social sciences are concerned about the times we find ourselves in. The dog days.
I’m a teacher. Farmers follow the seasons. So do teachers. The school year ends in the summer and starts in the fall. And there’s always a field to tend to. A classroom. Not last spring. Not this fall. It’s clear that, as much as the classroom is (or should be) the heart of social life in a healthy democracy, schooling is going to be very different in the fall. Virtual options. Socially distanced options. Protective measures and all that. I don’t like teaching over Zoom. Or managing a virtual class. I don’t think online schooling captures the heart of social life in a healthy democracy. I like being in classrooms with people. Thinking together. Moving together. Arguing and discussing and talking and making things. That’s soul-growing work. But I also like taking global pandemics seriously. And it seems like we ought to take Covid-19 seriously, friends. I can’t imagine that being a political statement, but so it goes with the times we’re in. According to Facebook, at least. And the handful of people at our local Target who refuse to wear a mask.
No hot takes here. Just a journal entry during the hottest time of the year. The dog days. I miss being in a classroom, and I don’t want to teach online in the fall. I want my sons to be in Kindergarten and First Grade in the fall. But who knows what the future will bring? Twitter convinces me that the Four Horsemen should be arriving shortly. Well, okay.
As for me? Despite the hit to our checking account, the lawn is mowed. That’s about all I’m sure of right now.