A not-green leaf or two may appear without causing comment, the decline of the sun is a long slow slide, and even in summer the humidity breaks occasionally. But on the day when all three converge, it is with the feeling, almost the sound, of gears meshing and turning. If you had not felt it before, you would think only, That’s pleasant, for so it is: Crisp is better than sticky, side- and under-lighting is more dramatic than the steady downward beat, and red, orange, and yellow are pleasing especially when they pop out against a backdrop of chlorophyll (much as one teenager with blue hair amuses, whereas a roomful of them — as at a rock concert — alarms, or depresses). We have felt and heard the tick before, though, so we know where this is going.
Attn: Hasidim, piling out of your vans. Attn: Mexicans, sweeping the fields with the efficiency of locusts. Get your sweet corn, get it now. Already acres of it — especially those planted only to qualify for agri-tax breaks — are dry and spindly. Pick it, shuck it, roast it; best of all, gnaw it raw off the cob. Its time is running out.
The last four months have seen a parade of flowers, and kitchen-shelf florists know the parade goes until the end (one of the last to bloom has a funereal name worthy of Edgar Allan Poe: monkshood). Some tough guys — calendula, old roses — can go on after the end, showing a little color as late as Thanksgiving. Gather them while ye may, the next flowers will be early-morning frost on your windshield.
The lore of baseball is full of autumn heroics: The outfielder snags the almost–home run, the relief pitcher walks to the mound with two on and one out, the old veteran uncorks a walk-off hit. These stand out in high relief while the losing teams plod to year’s end or disperse to their off-season breaks, thinking, “Better luck next spring.”
We have added one more mark of finality to the calendar, as beautiful as it is bitter: the double towers of light that rise from the financial district every 9/11 night. Will they one day be switched off? Become generic, as Armistice Day faded into Veterans Day? Or could they retain their specificity for centuries, as England remembers Guy Fawkes, and Christendom Jesus?
But cheer up, because this time of year is also a time of beginning. The fact that it is must be a tribute to the habits instilled by universal public education. New Year for the last few centuries has come in January; before that it came in March. But children of the early modern era who were lucky enough to get any schooling got it when the farm chores were done, so urban/suburban kids who have never seen a furrow still start their year mentally in September; their parents, and other former children, do likewise. Every noon, in the park two blocks from my apartment building, I see a double line of preschoolers, boys and girls holding hands two by two, the girls in plaid pinafores, the boys in shirts with neckties. One boy is extra, he holds hands with the teacher (a privilege, or an unbearable burden?). What will they wear, who will they be, as adults? In my nursery-school class there was one girl, black Italian hair and eyes, who would look unmistakably the same 20 years later. I haven’t seen her in almost 40 years; the hair is no longer black, I imagine, though maybe the eyes . . .
A dozen blocks to the south, the streets in and around the great university are simply crawling with students. It is not the city’s Ivy League school (that is miles uptown), but it has stepped up its game big time in recent years, both academically and as a real-estate empire. A year there costs over $60,000 if you’re paying full freight. I look at the kids in their Ts and cut-offs and think, Don’t blow it on intersectionality studies (it’s hopeless asking them not to blow it on self-destructive love affairs).
Culture stops its EZ-listening concerts and Hamptons fundraisers, and mails out listings of all the art and artists it is about to display and present. A Memling triptych in the robber baron’s house; Scandinavians performing the quartets of Shostakovich; plays that will try to elbow their way to notice past cast changes in Hamilton. Last and least, in the public spaces of the big stores that sell stationery, children’s games, desktop paraphernalia, and magazines, the artisanal craftsmen who make content for bound print-outs will give readings for a handful of eccentrics (unless they are Armenian exhibitionists, in which case the lines will stretch for blocks). (N.B. All this product is available, for much cheaper, on your device with ReadApp.)
Retail knows now is make or break, two hurdles and a sprint to the finish. Fall collections, for clothes: stick-figure girls and bare-chested boys gaze at each other in desireless stupor, sleeves and skirts falling off appropriate limbs. Halloween, similar, but as a joke: monster life, fake death, imitation celebrities, sex life (naughty nuns, French maids, the doctor will see you now — it’s hard to make jokes about sex anymore since everything funny is everywhere taken seriously), Disney characters thrown in for the innocent. Then, the Birth of Christ (see above): new devices, toys for kids, toys for adults, necessities (you used to hate getting, say, undershirts, but now you appreciate it), stores handing out champagne, eggnog, anything for foot traffic, the as-yet-unknown novelty item that will set the nation agog. Non-famous Armenians (one such who is a friend once told me) benefited from their Julian calendar to sit out the madness and take advantage of the post-Christmas sales.
As the sun slips lower, the moon rises higher. Warm enough to need no jacket, cool enough not to sweat. Come to the café, sweet is the night air.