University of Baltimore Asst. Prof. and Bohemian Rhapsody Columnist Marion Winik ponders “the half-life of a snow cone” and other heated, heat-related topics.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s night? Thou art more lovely and more temperate, but I’m afraid that’s not saying much. These nights are thick and heavy as black velour, hot and formfitting against our bodies, over our faces. A humid landscape through which we plod like testy zombies, arms outstretched, eyes blank, returning slowly and inexorably to our air-conditioned tombs. We have sacrificed our last calorie of energy on the altar of daytime. We have burned the skin off our thighs getting into the car. We have permanent ruts between our eyes from the weight of our sunglasses. Exhausted drag queens in melted makeup, we have worked our last nerve.

Motorcycles thunder, jet planes roar, a distant procession of sirens woo-woo for hours, as if people for blocks around us are dropping like flies. The cicadas drone the same annoying phrase over and over, a garage band of four-year-olds with sitars. Then the monotony is cracked: shattered glass, a shot, a bomb, a firecracker, maybe just a boom car throbbing down the street. Toward midnight, the fabric of the sky is torn by heat lightning; even the atmosphere cannot take it anymore.

Somewhere, a serial killer’s air-conditioning conks out, and he leaves his home.

What is the half-life of a snow cone? But a millisecond compared to the sticky mess into which it devolves. And what of the scent of honeysuckle? No match for the sweetness of ripening Dumpster rot. Ah, the perfume of summer. Chlorine, tar, sunscreen, burned meat, and ketchup, yes, ketchup, red and viscous, dripping from refrigerator shelves, down every picnic table, every T-shirt, from the Formica of every takeout window to the hot asphalt. Ketchup, the blood of summer, oozing from our food, our food which is fast and salty and greasy, our food which is like our sex, only with more ketchup.

Don’t start with me about fireflies, drive-in movies, hide-and-go-seek, skinny legs swinging from the fire escape, the sound of a radio drifting through the open windows of the house next-door. I’ve had my good times, like Walt Whitman, my mad naked summer nights. I’ve had frozen drinks so cold I lost two years’ worth of memory. I’ve danced so hard and long I had to throw away those clothes. I’ve climbed over the fence at the city pool for a midnight swim and gotten busted. I’ve eaten ice cream till I puked, I’ve drunk until I puked, I’ve stayed all night in bars that smelled like puke. I’ve waited and waited for the fireworks and I’ve waited for you to kiss me and I’ve waited for someone to get back with the goddamn beer.

Sure, if I still had a bedtime, I’d be happy to stay up past it. If I still went to school, I’d be glad it was closed. If I still fell in love with lifeguards, I’d be delighted to screw one. But those days are over. Now our kids are in bed, our cockroaches in their cupboards, our empty beer cans nestled in the recycling bin. We’re avoiding an argument. You want to set the AC on 65 and sleep with five quilts, that’s fine with me. I’ve had it with showers and ceiling fans, and it’s almost time to get up anyway. Let’s kill this night and call it morning while there’s still time to make coffee before the burning starts.

Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.

University of Baltimore Professor Marion Winik is the author of "The Big Book of the Dead,” “First Comes Love,” and several other books, and the host of The Weekly Reader on WYPR. Sign up for her...

8 replies on “The Mad Naked Summer Night”

  1. Loved the new ode to a hot summer. Hopefully there is power, and AC, somewhere in your future.

  2. Wow. Wow. Wow. When Marion Winik is on, there is no better writer anywhere. And she is ON here. Whew! I’m fanning myself.

  3. Poetic and hilarious, as always, Marion! But I still love summer, even with the heat.

    And I adore the cicadas. Their song is magnificent, mesmerizing. Nothing says “summer” to me like the rise and fall of the cicadas singing in the trees.

  4. Or you could be long past all that and have an eight year old girl and a 5 year old boy–grandchildren–who wake up shrieking and making race tracks all over your body while you try to wake up cheerfully as you curse their parents for wanting a night out and a morning in without the happy and never ending shrieks that make me wonder why they don’t have vocal nodules-the kids, not the parents. Somewhere in the midst of the clatter and in between the homemade waffles they had to have, I heard “HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY EVERYONE!” So be it everyone!

  5. What a sweaty blast of an ode-essay, Marion. Thanks. And get thee back to the Hudson Valley where awaits refreshing swimming holes!

  6. Marion, you have an incredible gift and craft. If ever you considered doing one other thing besides writing for a career, I am glad that you disabused yourself of that silly notion. You are the best. I can tell that each word auditioned to be included. Yes, even in the oppressive heat, those words pirouetted to get on the page. Koko

  7. What a fantastic piece! Really brings to life the sights, smells, and tastes of summer!

Comments are closed.