The year is 2009, and July has come to Ohio’s Miami Valley, just as I predicted.
It is midday. I am sitting on my back deck, smoking my pipe and frying ants with a magnifying glass. The temperature has climbed into the mid-’90s, and the humidity is unbearable. It’s difficult to tell if I’m breathing or inhaling broccoli soup. Sweat tickles my brow. A grasshopper lands on my face. As usual, my thoughts turn to Leapin’ Lanny Poffo. Will there ever be another like him? To ask the question is to answer it.
Winter, with all its woodsmoke and mentho-lyptus, is a distant memory. I marvel that there could ever have been snow in this jungleland. The sights and sounds of summer have taken over – children playing, bugs buzzing, the Chamber of Commerce giggling. In the fields, corn stalks sprout up with an audible “bloooop.” Red slushies are the treats of choice for the little ones at all the pools; potato chips are plentiful; watery beer flows from the taps on the patios of a hundred bars.
And everywhere there are hot dogs. You find them in the bleachers, on kitchen tables, and in all the mini-van glove compartments. Plastic bottles of mustard and relish are always within arms’ reach, no matter where you are.
In the distance, a gleaming new water tower rises up from the horizon like a polyp. It’s the pride of the county, but they have built it too tall, and when Ms. Brenda Fark, in her 2-story Victorian, turns on her bathtub faucet, the water pressure launches the tub through the roof of the house. It ascends through the atmosphere and enters a low earth orbit. Weeks later, her insurance company, maintaining that the glazing on the tub can withstand the friction of re-entry, will deny the claim.
Over the airwaves, the classic rock and the classic pop FM stations provide the soundtrack for the summer, just as they have for decades, with all the same songs, over and over, and over again. As required by state law, John Mellencamp’s “Small Town” is played thrice per hour somewhere on the radio dial. It’s far from the only song that has been dangerously overplayed. In fact, a handful of songs have so saturated the air that they have transmuted. No longer just waves of sonic energy, they now exist as corporeal atoms, new elements. A local air quality study finds that the air in the Miami Valley is composed of 78% Nitrogen, 19% Oxygen, and just under 3% Billy Joel singing “You may be riiigghhht. I may be crazy.”
Others songs have mutated further and have begun causing problems. “I had to get a special spray for my yard,” says one neighbor, “to control all the ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ ‘ that was coming up. It was taking over my grass.”
“Tell me about it,” says another, “I found a medley of Aerosmith hits living under my porch. They burrow, you know.”
Oh, believe me, I know.
A few miles to the southwest, a cub scout pack is going canoeing down the Stillwater River. The den leader sits on a cooler full of hot dogs at the back of one of the canoes, watching the river bank while the boys do all the paddling. The boys are earning a badge, but the den leader is on a mission of his own. He has become convinced a Yeti inhabits the banks of the Stillwater. Binoculars in one hand, hot dog in the other, he scans the banks for any sign of the creature, neglecting the river ahead.
Without his guidance, the cub scouts paddle their canoes over a spillway. All three of them capsize. Within minutes, first responders are on the scene and, working quickly, manage to recover all the hot dogs.
The cub scouts are initially thought lost for good, but turn up a year later, working at a discount tire store in Xenia. All accounted for, all duly paying into Social Security. Detectives attempt to interview the store manager, but he flees the office before they get to him. They search the office but find only a half-dozen worn out electric razors and some pictures of the Himalayas on the wall.
The day seems to drag on and on. The deck furniture, made of cheap plastic, is uncomfortable and I am now hungry. Surely five, maybe six, hours have passed since lunch. I check my homemade sundial. No, the sun has moved backward and it is morning again. I sigh and begin to prepare breakfast, only to realize my sundial is upside down and also that I have no idea how to read it. Thank God. It will be dinner soon after all. I return to my deck chair.
On a side street, I see a young man walking. He looks to be a migrant worker, probably from Central America, almost certainly here illegally. He sees me and stops, looks at me humbly and says, “Señor, su casa está en fuego.” I have no idea what he’s saying, as Appalachian was the only foreign language offered at my high school. But I’ve been around the block a few times, and think I know what he wants. “I’m sorry,” I reply, “I have no crops for you to harvest. Besides, I only have a quarter-acre lot.” He gives me a strange look. Is it dejection? “I just want you to know,” I say to him, “I understand your struggle. You’re a personal hero of mine.” He shrugs, pulls a hot dog from his shirt pocket, and keeps walking.
I exhale forcefully, forgetting the pipe in my mouth. A cloud of tobacco ash sprays into the air around me. Looking down as I brush the tobacco off my bathrobe, I am startled. I have inadvertently set fire to the deck through my careless use of the magnifying glass. It has already spread to the house. When the fireman come, I blame it on Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen,” the odor of which had been reported in the neighborhood, and which is well known to ignite when mixed with boredom and scotch. For now, the firemen buy it.
Hours later, as my home still smolders, I walk over to my neighbor’s house, shimmy up the downspout and sit on their roof. I re-light my pipe and watch the sun, now a deep red glorious ball of fire, sink below the western horizon. Presumably, it lands somewhere in Indiana, laying waste to a vast tract of the Hoosier State. Too bad, I think to myself, that’s where they make all the hot dogs.