Issue February 16, 2011

I wish you warmth

It’s 83 degrees outside. A perfect summer day. You are in your backyard sipping lemonade and soaking up the sun. An Atlantic Monthly in your hands tastefully conceals the Entertainment Weekly you’ve hidden inside, which includes a vaguely critical feature about TV shows that exploit sexy young stars. To prove its point, it includes dozens of photos of those nearly nude actors. Their torsos glisten with celebrity sweat.

Down the street, a neighbor mows his lawn using a zero-emissions mower that nevertheless relies on coal as its energy source. This quiet carbon consumption, when mingled with the sweet smell of newly mown grass, the festive singing of a crazed chickadee and the low moan of a mourning dove, comforts you despite your concern that it is hastening the planet’s demise.

You apply sunscreen to your nose, while next door some children scamper through a sprinkler. You listen to them giggle, remembering a time when you were a kid and you tried to fry an egg on the sidewalk because your grandpa said it could be done. (It couldn’t, you’d found; the lying old coot.) Your phone chimes “Hot Fun in the Summertime” to announce a text, which wakes you from your reverie. It’s from your best friend, who wants to drive the back roads, out past where the Ruby Tuesdays end and the sod farms begin. You text back, “Hell yeah.”

In the car, you blast Barenaked Ladies and roll down the windows and let the wind blow through your hair, which always leaves you feeling like a hungry lion, but the heat and dust and crickets and the smell of drying alfalfa are irresistible. You pull over at a train trestle and try to scare each other with stories of goat-monsters until a vagabond wanders up and asks for a ride. “Sure,” you say, even though he reminds you of an outhouse fire and is obviously a connoisseur of drugs made in abandoned trailers. “Hop in.” And off you go again, only to get pulled over immediately by a cop who looks as if he knows the lyrics to the entire Lee Greenwood oeuvre.

Turns out the hobo is wanted for three counts of murder and two counts of Old Milwaukee-induced flatulence, and you are taken in as an accomplice. You are found guilty and sentenced immediately to death and summarily executed, whereupon your soul goes to hell, where it is surprisingly comfortable. Hell’s more like a campfire than the inferno you’ve been led to believe in, and you hang awhile with the devil and Reagan and the guy who invented pantyhose until God texts that there has been a mix-up and you are reincarnated and free to go.

To make amends, God sends you to Kauai, where a gentle breeze wafts through the palm trees and the surf laps the shore and you spend a couple of weeks on the lanai watching whales frolic and eating tako poke and drinking umbrella cocktails and experimenting with new sex positions and rejuvenating yourself afterward by reading the fiction of Louis-Ferdinand Céline and the tweets of pattonoswalt.

You get back home on a hot summer night, and you ride your bike for ice cream, where you order your favorite flavor (butter pecan with sprinkles of loving kindness) and step out into the city to look up at the stars and feel the heat coming off the pavement. You bump into some friends who have an extra ticket to Kings of Leon, and you end up dancing the night away and getting tipsy enough to bum a cigarette, which you feel compelled to explain to everyone that you deserve on the grounds that you have literally been to hell and back.

At that moment, your free-pass celebrity walks up and gives you several passionate kisses with eyes wide open and, courteously, a few with eyes shut (so you can close your eyes too and imagine you are kissing one of your non-free-pass celebrities) and then abruptly walks off, leaving little cartoon hearts floating around your head and your shirt sticking to your back and a desperate desire for something — anything! — slathered in habanero sauce. After releasing the endorphins, you mop your brow and someone yells, “Pool party!” and you all jump the fence to Old Lady Johnson’s backyard, swan-dive into her pool and observe that it is pretty much always the perfect temperature somewhere, even if it’s just in your mind.