Summer of ???

Summer evenings when the heat breaks, breezes flow, and the sounds of softball in the park drift throughout the avenues beneath the freshly-greened boughs of maples and elms and cottonwoods are America at its best.  In the long days of summer, the sun sets with a sense of stubbornness unlike winter when it sinks even before the family dog has been fed her supper. I live where seasons matter, or at least I think so, although admittedly it may just be because where I live nature still dominates—you can’t ignore its seasons. Maybe in the city seasons are marked less by nature than by changing advertising campaigns and storefront merchandise, or which pro athletes dominate billboards. Those who live in the sunbelt, where I suppose your electric bill knows best what time of year it is, live in a sameness I would find maddening, but to each his/her own. As happy as I am to see a new season come, I am equally happy after a few months to see it go in favor of the next one. Maybe that is when sunbelt folks adjust their shades?

Will this be the summer we have been waiting for since the onset of Covid in early 2020? The Hot Vax Summer where vaxed and waxed and ready to party is the cry of pandemic liberation? The onset of summer for me was accompanied by a big not-so-fast “Gotcha!” Omicron BA.2 cut my liberation short. My first airline trip in almost a year gave me a dose of the Covid crud, accompanied by flight cancellations that are apparently the new norm. I crawled home with enough N95s to boost 3M’s second quarter earnings. I have never known so many people infected with Covid as I do today, but it should be no surprise as everywhere is packed and few bother with masks. My doc put me on Paxlovid, which works well if you can stand having your mouth taste like acid-washed pennies for five days. Thirty pills roughly the size of Hummingbird eggs come in packs of three as big as an appetizer at a high-dollar hipster eatery, which I suppose is a good thing since I was hungry for little else. Those few extra winter pounds went bye-bye fast. Ten days out I am clear, waiting for the other shoe to drop—the Paxlovid relapse bounce—that may be yet to come. But hell, it’s summer!

“Turn on, tune in, drop out” was Harvard professor and LSD advocate Timothy Leary’s call to action that ushered in the Summer of Love in 1967. Open to everything was the basic modus operandi. Sex, drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll was the popular to-do list. The Mamas and the Papas told us to “be sure to wear flowers in your hair” as the Haight Ashbury district in San Francisco became the place to be and be seen. It was an era of similar furor by and between political parties and democratic institutions in America. Violence was usually in the form of bombs—fire bombs, mail bombs, and car bombs—until the next summer, 1968, when assassination-by-gun started trending. Without four-hundred million guns in 1967 America, what else was a psychopath to do? Blow it up! Love was, then as now, limited to sharing with those with whom one agreed politically. Openness always has its limits. At least they weren’t mowing down third graders with assault rifles. Back then, pro-life actually applied to the already-born too, unless you were a member of the Viet Cong. Ah, those simple times! Peace, baby! We survived. Sort of.

Unfortunately, the summer of ’22 may be known for its sadness more than its love. Deadly violence in America and feckless political leadership in red states and at the national level means many more will die. The Supremes are poised to act to save little clumps of cells; at least zygotes can become blastocysts regardless of a woman’s choice in red states. These budding humans will be safe at least until they are born. Blue states are fast becoming havens for heathens. (I am trying to grow my horns now.) Meanwhile, both the Supremes and the senate will assure every angry young man retains their right and access to the guns of war in the event they are offended by a grade school. Cruz, McConnell, McCarthy and friends will continue to ring their cash registers with the blood-money of the gun lobby. The prevailing condition in America today is not openness or free love, it is very dangerous cowardice. We absolutely know what the right things to do are, but we are—collectively—moral cowards. That scene in Uvalde, Texas with hundreds of cops armed with lots of guns and cowboy hats standing around while innocent children had their bodies ripped apart says it all. To quote a common contemptuous Texas saying: “Big hat, no cattle.”

If only Professor Leary and those damn dirty hippies had not offended Tricky Dick Nixon, we would be decades ahead of where we are in employing psychedelics to better treat mental illness and give us all a more pleasant glidepath to end-of-life serenity. Addiction, PTSD, and many other mental disturbances marked by neurotic ruminations would clearly be better managed by psychedelics than with guns and alcohol with a splash of meth. The gun-loving Republicans who claim mental health as the primary issue causing gun violence in America should jump on the psychedelic bandwagon. Or, at least take a hit now and then. (Can you imagine McConnell on Ecstasy?) It feels like if we could migrate the American psyche back towards an even-keel center and away from the lunatic fringe we might be able to save ourselves. All anger does is fill politician’s pockets and keep funeral homes busy.

But, here we are: shame, suffering, and sadness are what we have and, arguably, what we deserve. The Age of Deceit—of lying to ourselves and compromising fundamental American values—has come home to roost. No outside enemy did this to us, we did this to ourselves. Yes, Xi is dangerous and Putin is evil, but our wounds are self-inflicted. While they would love to take credit for our current circumstances and consequences, we have only ourselves to blame. We did a poor job of picking our leaders. Most of us didn’t even participate in our democracy. We pointed at each other to play blame-and-shame.  When everyone is a victim in their own mind, who is left to take responsibility? I am not a Pollyanna about fixing this mess. I know it will take hard work and harder truths. But, if we don’t start calling ourselves out now, the first better day in America will continue—always—to be tomorrow.

Now, it’s summer. Go put flowers in your hair, and maybe gnaw on a ’shroom or two. I hear the game in the park might go into extra innings.