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My Miracle Summer

by Steven Utley

Cue theme music, a medley of Gershwin’s “Summertime,” Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” and The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon.” Each of these songs will probably be evocative of particular aspects of my general situation by this summer’s end. So might The Beatles’ “I’m So Tired.”

The capitalists whose running-dog lackey I had been for almost ten years were finally bought out by other capitalists with, evidently, more capital. This was really the second time the financial institution of which my office was a vital part had changed capitalistic hands, so I did not permit myself to become excited. As the office’s office-supply guy, my chief concern was a storeroom full of suddenly obsolete stationery. Even when the new bunch of capitalists dropped the axe on my department, I was, in a way, relieved.

They would have imposed their color on us, for one thing. The former owners had liked the color blue and used it in their logo and bandied about the term True Blue as being indicative of the company’s relationship with its clients and the community at large. I let them do it because I did not have to relate to clients or to the community at large; I only had to make sure there was enough copier paper. Besides, I was okay with blue, true or otherwise. The new color was called Life Green. That is, everybody in the office was encouraged to call it that. I privately called it Obscene Green and publicly suggested calling it Lima Bean Green, either of which was accurate and (like the discarded True Blue) rhymed. I also suggested Tangerine Green, which not only rhymed but injected a refreshing element of cognitive dissonance.

Well, anyhow, my department was Let Go or, as it used to be called, Fired, and I found myself contemplating new career opportunities working for people at least half my age who made at least three times more than I had ever made.

Now, shortly before the axe fell, I decided the time had come to do some home improvements: I wanted real tile in the kitchen and bathrooms, hardwood everywhere else, fresh paint. To this end I began putting my books and other things (everything I own is either a book or some other thing) into boxes and stuffing them into the storage shed. When the shed had had about enough of that, I moved big durable goods into the kitchen and dining area, the plan being to do paint and new floors everywhere else, then move stuff out of the kitchen and dining area and do paint and new floors there.

At this writing, I have just finished going around the house applying spackling paste (which as you must know is the heavy isotope of library paste). Whoever lived in the house before me did not know about studs. By studs, of course, I mean the framework behind the drywall, not whatever you’re thinking of.

Well, wouldn’t you just know that I didn’t already have plenty on my plate when my muse showed up again. She had taken off for parts unknown with parties unknown a couple of years ago. Now she was back, and though I figured she had only dropped by for the usual quickie, I figured I’d best not ask any questions and, like a fool, took her in again.

And began to write like a sumbitch on fire, turning out more than thirty thousand words of fiction in one week’s time and then topping it off with another ten or so thousand during the next three days, with time off for taking a nap and watching a samurai flick. This blizzard of wordage will strike you as a good deal less impressive even if you don’t bother to compare it with that of such hyper-prolific pulp-fictioneers as H. Bedford Jones and Frederick Faust, guys who could knock out that much on a slow day. The thirty thousand words were distributed unevenly among a dozen stories, some of them quite short, that had till now been sitting in my Unfinished Stories file. Some of these fragments, in fact, had been sitting there for years, decades, while I waited for them to grow like Topsy — forgetting my own rule that a story should be only as long as it should be. They were my recalcitrant pieces, at which I had picked and poked in vain like somebody trying to open Brazil nuts with his bare hands.

Nevertheless, after my long dry spell, during which assembling mere subject-verb combinations had been like excreting cinder blocks — sideways — this represented my most sustained and unprecedentedly productive week ever, and I wasn’t even breathing hard.

I have made up my mind to enjoy, and to exploit, this burst of creative productivity for as long as it may last (I’ll know it’s over when my relationship with Miz Muse approximates the one in which Tom Neal and Ann Savage find themselves in the great noir film Detour), even as I tend to the job hunt and the home improvements, with time off for more naps and more samurai flicks. I hope against hope that my muse won’t decamp before the end of the summer, by which time I’ll surely have a wonderful new day job lined up and the house will look nice, too. Already, though, she is saying things like, “Why am I not hanging out with John Grisham or Stephen King?” and “The dog eats better at J. K. Rowling’s house.” My muse is really a harpy.

Copyright © 2007 by Steven Utley

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