Saturday, August 21, 2004

Clamcakes with a side of ennui

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All right, smartypants. Answer me this: If summer is supposed to be all about fun and relaxing, how come it's officially late August and I haven't had a clamcake yet?

Clams, yes. A clamboil, yes, one. I even had mussels earlier this month. But no clamcakes. I mean the balls of dough deep-fried so they're a crispy golden brown on the outside and chewy on the inside. Some even have a piece of clam in there somewhere, probably. Usually, they just have a vaguely seafood-like scent, but they're still good.

That's right. None so far.

In 2003: at least eight clamcakes. In 2004 so far: zero.

Something has gone dreadfully awry.

How? For the love of Mergatroyd, how did I get this deep into summer clamcakeless? Summer in New England without clamcakes is ... I don't know what. We don't have a term for it. It's not supposed to exist -- like how the Eskimos have no word for "flip-flops."

Maybe it's the weather. This summer has been distinguished primarily by its dampness. If I'm not rained on, I'm under a stifling blanket of mugginess. If it's not the mugginess, I'm a sopping, sweaty mess. When my grandchildren ask about life way back in 2004, I'll slurp reflectively at my gums and tell them that was the year it was so rainy, humid and sunless that I grew a thick, proud layer of mildew.

But no -- that doesn't clear things up in terms of the clamcakes. Blaming the weather is an easy excuse. Clam shacks are open when it's muggy. There are clamcakes when it rains. It makes the dough mushier, but still edible.

There's a real reason why I haven't had a goddam clamcake yet. It's much more scientific: It's about time and energy.

My problem with clamcakes can therefore expressed as this math equation:

Clamcakes (or C-squared) is a function of time, as defined as 98 days from June 1 to Labor Day, multiplied by energy -- which can be expressed as a fractional number by taking time and dividing that by the number of weekend days I have off from work and subtracting the weekend days when I have things to do, subtracted by one-third, which I use to take naps. And then divide it all by pi, key lime if they have it.

In layman's terms, that means I'm exhausted. I've been so busy that I don't have any energy. And this summer has slipped by so quickly that I've run out of time.

Most of my free time this summer has mysteriously vanished. If I'm not working at this newspaper, I'm at home trying to work on my own projects. If I'm not doing either one of those things, I'm either trying to relax by staring vapidly in the general direction of the TV or I'm asleep. In between all that, that's when I get to do errands.

My wife is busier than I am. She works full-time, then does her own projects -- but unlike mine, hers make money.

Our schedules leave us little time for fun, and there's hardly any relief in sight.

This week, I had to run to Home Depot twice. The first time I found a plug for the new washer and dryer I bought -- so I could do more laundry. The other time, I needed a sheet of plywood. I was so excited.

My wife, my dog and I went for a brief walk the other day, just before we both dashed off to work. We were talking about how tired we are.

"The only places I get to see are work, home and the grocery store," my wife said. "The only places you see are work, home and the laundromat."

"Now that we have the washer and dryer, I can't even go there," I said.

We shuffled through the park, our limbs like lead. The humidity made it seem like we were trudging through a pool full of melted butter. Then, like amnesiacs suddenly struck with flashes of remembrance both marvelous and terrible, our eyes opened wide as we realized something.

"August is almost over," she said. "Where the hell did the summer go?"

"Remember when summer used to be this long period of time that stretched out in front of us with no end?" I said. "What happened to that?"

"We got older," she said.

It seemed poignant. "What the fuck?" I said. "When?"

After a while, she said, "Remember when we used to go on little day trips? Because there'd be nothing to do? We'd go drive somewhere?"

"Like that time we drove up to Maine because neither of us had ever been to Maine before," I said, "and then when we got to Kittery we decided that we'd seen enough so we turned back."

"Or we'd go down the Cape and have a picnic? Or Newport?"

"There was a time when we used to be able to do stuff like that all the time," I said.

"That was just last year," she said. "We haven't even been to Gray's Ice Cream in Tiverton this summer."

"We got Del's. Once."

"We used to go to Fogland Beach all the time. And Bristol. We used to hang out at a cafe in Bristol and play chess together, and I'd beat you every game and let you win once in a while so you wouldn't be a big crybaby -- or sometimes we'd just talk for hours."

"Now the summer's almost over," I said. "We've hardly done any of the New Englandy things that we usually do."

Our dog stopped abruptly. We looked up and realized that we were in front of our apartment. As we climbed the stairs, it hit me:

"Clamcakes!"

"Where?" she said.

So I made a list of things that make a summer in southern New England, and we have to do them before Labor Day.

Before the weekend is out, I'll be able to cross off at least one item. I see in my very near future a brown paper bag turning clear, full of fried dough nuggets oozing oil and a scent approximately like clams. I see my wife and I taking them on a picnic someplace by the sea, driving with the top down on the car and the late-summer breeze in our hair.

Incidentally, if anybody can modify a hardtop Toyota Echo into a convertible real cheap, let me know.

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