the air up here
May 29, 2006

It's hot—and even though I know it's only a prelude to summer and compared to August this is nothing (compared to my Texas upbringing this is nothing), it's hard to move. It's hard to think. It's hard to breathe. My body is rebelling at being in my own skin, which is sporatically burned from an inexpert sunscreen application (my own). People are grilling all down my block and it seems like the thing to do—but how when all I want is to move in to my freezer, unidentified frozen food smell and all. (Must check Craig's List for freezer-apartment rents. More or less than a Park Slope studio?)

It hits me anew each year, this start-of-summer morass. It's impossible to eat, let alone cook, and this holiday weekend it seems the whole city is in on it but me: My Tribeca dive bar is empty on a Saturday night, and who knew brunch could be so hard to come by in Carroll Gardens?

I've planted marigolds in a box on my fire escape, and that's what I want to take inspiration from. They're goldenrod-rimmed and blood-red at the center; I daydream (because lying on my bed and staring out the window is how I've spent most of the day) that they taste fresh, plant-like and pungent—in a good way, like vinegar. Even though it's not fresh (left over from the beach yesterday) this carrot and wild rice chicken salad from Bon Appétit's RSVP section at least returns the color scheme and the vinegar. (It would be plant-ier if I could find wild rice at any of my markets, but the closest I ever get is a blend of two kinds of brown with wild.)

But I decide I can muster one more act of summer alchemy: old-fashioned lemonade. My friend calls while I'm trying to figure out the sugar ratio (and boil a sugar syrup, what agony). He suggests a lemon-maple syrup-cayenne pepper alternative, but I've heard about this and I'm not buying. I do try portions with grated ginger (too much for what I'm looking for now; better if I were sick), some with very old strawberry liquor (might be time to throw the bottle away) and finally the remainder with chunks of pineapple, also left over from the beach. It works: I cool off, become a thinking person again.

And, heralded by an apocalyptic crash of thunder, the air up here just got a whole lot more bearable.