The Fair always has every type of weather the summer can concoct: a perfect mild blue day, needling cold rain, cloudy autumnal chill, the sudden furious downpour, the blaring sun that turns everything into a miasma of grease and sweat and horse-barn aromas. It’s the last that helps you let go of the summer: you feel like you want to go home and shave off the Fair with the edge of a blade, and the return of cool Fall seems like a reward. Even though summer this year had a two-month run. Even though Fall is really just the booking agent for winter, showing up to make sure the venue’s ready.
Well, we’ve summer in full force today, and if Thursday’s like today expect stories in the news about “how to keep cool” at the Fair, because Lord knows the idea of finding shade and drinking something wouldn’t occur to you otherwise.
Anyway: Yesterday I went off on a few pieces from writers I like, including a piece about lawn tractors by James Fallows at the Atlantic. He’s writing a series called “American Futures,” visiting places around the country, toting up the challenges and successes. I was irritated by a headline about the prevalence of lawn tractors, which puts me squarely in the camp of people about whom it can be said “life had been so drained of zest and questing enthusiasm that he was bothered by website headlines,” I know.
The headline was “Giant Lawn Machinery Everywhere: This Actually Is a Thing,” and I thought, well, yes, and so what, and “a thing” - argh.” In my defense, But let me tell you a story.
My daughter is now like 13, and she like says like the word “like” like sometimes too much and she would like kill me if she knew I like was like, saying this? She’s not that bad, and is, like, aware. When the likes appear in monologues like popping corn, though, I point them out with a question: was it actually that, or was it similar to it? That’s what like means. Or do you mean in the sense of having affection? I get eyerolls from the backseat but she knows I’m right - because when we’re driving along with a friend, who’s liking every other word, Daughter will point that out.
Last week I was taking Daughter and friend home from a class, and after Daughter pointed out the excessive liking, her friend attempted to speak two consecutive sentences that didn’t use “like,” and was horrified by her inability to do it. A lesson was learned, I think. It evaporated the moment she was three steps out of the car, I think. But you do what you can, right? So if I convince one internet writer to never, ever type “is a thing” again, then it’s all good. And when someone writes me to point out that starting a sentence with “so” is a lazy modern tic, and no says “it’s all good” anymore, that will be fair.
This is why I went off on a fellow whose bounteous accomplishments and skills have been apparent for decades. I stand by my nitpicking on the headline, but I regret the disrespectful tone, particularly since I hadn’t given the project a close read, and I hate realizing I was one of those sourpuss cherry-pickers we all meet a dozen times a day on the internet.
Mr. Fallows noted the piece and sent me a genial email linking to other examples of his anabasis. So: here’s a piece on Holland, MI, which is doing something Mpls has been discussing, and another about his approach to writing about places based on a visit or two. As he assured me in the email, he’s not doing a “biggest ball of Twine” or “Corn Palace” piece, so I wasn’t correct to assume this was one of those series where someone from the Beltway ventures into the brush to report on the curious tribes outside the Bosnywash corridor.
I don’t think I would have gone off on the project at all if I hadn’t gotten that surge of chauvinism one feels when the ordinary elements of one’s culture seem to be viewed as a curiosity. For years I’ve gone to the big hardware store in the suburbs, and there’s a gleaming row of lawn tractors surrounded by men attempting to craft a rationale for buying them the wife won’t see through for at least a week. My dad’s great joy at 87 - besides riding his Harley around North Dakota - is firing up the tractor and shaving the thistly expanse behind the service station. Large mowing implements may be a “thing,” but they’re a good thing.
All because I was irritated by a headline and needed a post. Well, post in haste, repent at leisure, on Twitter.
HAPPY ENDING We’ll break our moratorium on celebrity news to mention the rescue of Dick Van Dyke from a flaming Jaguar. The automotive type. Here’s a line in the story you may not have noticed:
Dick did not require medical attention after the incident, although was apparently slightly disoriented.
His wife of 18 months Arlene Silver, 41, picked him up from the scene and drove him home.
He’s 87. Well, we wish them the best. Here’s her Vine of the aftermath:
Mr. Van D posted a picture on his Twitter feed. Dick Van Dyke tweets! What a world.