Sunday, November 18, 2012

80° in March

Observations on an 80° March Day

    "Oh, come on, guys."
    The voices drift over the summery air, blown with the dried leaves and the broken twigs, rising and falling with the severity of the wind.  Sometimes everyone is talking at once; sometimes all you can hear is a continuous clanging as the flagpole's wire batters against its slim frame, and the flapping of fully extended banners flowing in the chaos of the atmosphere.  Other sounds drift in and out on the breeze, as if through doors that are opening and closing.
    Lunchtime in the schoolyard.  It's March 12, but it is 80°, unusual for Chicago.  High school students in short sleeves lounge on the damp lawn in front of the imposing edifice of the school.  Small groups, mostly: twos, threes, occasionally something a bit larger.  Rarely is anyone alone; this isn't a time for loneliness.  One boy, dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt with something written on the back, crouches in the distance, huddled over a book, reading.  Eventually, he moves on, joining the group nearest to him, trying to maintain his stranglehold on schoolbooks and papers that suddenly have a life of their own and want to be free.  Holding them as he would a cat straining to leap out of his arms, he is absorbed by the group.
    Another boy, red crew cut, dressed all in blue, lies silently in the yard, contemplating the vista that surrounds him.  His body rests on his elbows; for all the world he looks frozen there, unmoving, some carved image made of marble or granite, a recumbent Thinker with eyes squinting in the sunlight.
    His blue clothing blends into the population of the lawn.  Blues and whites, khakis and tans, occasional grays and blacks, and a few dots of dull color--red, pink, yellow--dominate the yard, a testimony to the fact that it is, after all, still winter.  One girl, in a fluorescent green windbreaker, stands out--out of place, she walks into the obscurity of the building, into safety. The beach in May or June is the place for those colors: the reds and oranges and yellows then will be vibrant, the landscape itself dotted with them. Here the only bright color is the blue in the sky, a deep, rich blue mottled with wisps of transparent clouds rapidly flying to the north on the wind; even the freshly uncovered grass is not true to its nature, its surface a mixture of pale greens and the brown` remains of muddied fall decay. Nowhere is the spectacle of the flowers of spring, the tulips, the daffodils, the apple blossoms.  The trees too still cling to their autumn deadness, tiny shriveled brown balls of last year's crabapples contending with evanescent buds on their branches.
    "Oh, they're just so luscious."  Another voice in the wind.  Not the crabapples; she's talking about something else.  Boys, probably; she's looking at a group of boys tossing a football that wobbles and dives as it fights the wind.  One boy flies in the direction of the ball, arms and legs akimbo, reveling in the freedom from heavy sweaters and coats, his energy revitalized by the warm air.  Probably, like so many others, he has been sitting inert in front of a television set all winter; today he's soaring through the air as if newly alive.
    Others are alive, too, rescued at least temporarily from the drudgery of winter days when the snow, far from the source of joy it once was, long before, when a shovel was to play with on beaches, represented a chore waiting to be done, fathers’ and mothers’ voices badgering, admonishing, threatening.  Rescued from cold, air-tight rooms and dry, stifling air.  Rescued from the endless winter days of couch potato nothingness and joyless afternoons.  Rescued at least for the moment; no one on the lawn seems to be giving a thought to what tomorrow might hold.  Here a small group huddles in a malformed circle trying to keep a hackysack aloft, in defiance of gravity and the winds; the football still flies overhead, runners below moving in tandem with its erratic flight; two girls stand in the midst of a crowd, hand-wrestling, playfully trying to throw each other to the warm, moist ground, laughing as the breeze wraps their hair across their brows.
    Some choose not to do anything, standing on one spot of ground as if it were all they need in the universe; silently defending it against unseen intruders, they maintain control of their private Valhallas, their temporary spot in heaven.  One girl approaches me, looking for conversation.  The wind plays with her hair as we speak.  A gust lifts her loose white blouse nearly over her head; trying to maintain her poise, she stops it just before it leaves her vulnerable or embarrassed; the conversation continues unabated.  All across the lawn, shirts are blowing, staying on their owners’ bodies only by the sheerest of luck.  Overhead, the flags are stiff in the hard wind, like photographs on postcards; one expects to see “America” splattered across them in bold letters, or to hear the salute of an honor guard.  In the yard, a photographer sizes up prospects for images of his own.
    “Rob Lowe teaches him everything he knows,” a voice drifts in over the wind from the endless dull murmur of voices in the air.  Two girls discussing a new movie as streams of candy wrappers, papers, lunch bags, and other debris whisk past on the breeze; alive and with destinations of their own, they hurry past, trying to get there before the next cold spell catches them in the open.  For this is March, and 80° does not last in Chicago in March.  Cars cruise by in the drive, windows down, radios on, circling.  A lone teacher stands in the doorway, absorbing the warmth.  Handfuls of grass torn from the lawn fly through the air.  A barefoot figure in a flannel shirt, short hair, androgynous, eats ice cream near a tree whose branches are still dotted with bits of toilet paper from a late-winter basketball game.  The smell of wet grass is everywhere.
    More substantial clouds pass overhead: a perceptible chill.  I’m leaning against a tree, but it’s not much of a brace; moving, shifting, it tries to cast me off.  The football, blown severely off course, lands not far from where I stand.  Perhaps the spot will be snow-covered next week. 
    “Suck it up,” says a t-shirt.  March 12.  Nearly April; real summer can’t be too far away. 
    “Call me--no, don’t; I’ll call you.”

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