It’s October, and that means it’s time for jaundiced, worn-out columnists determined to wring all the joy out of life to complain about Pumpkin Spice Whatever. Middle-aged men stare with mute despair at the computer screen, wondering if they wrote this last year. Probably. Well, no one notices. Do it again.
“So I was at the hardware store the other day — the local one that the big box in the suburbs hasn’t killed, the kind of place where there’s an old dog hanging around and an older guy who can find you a flanged nail if you tell him you need to fix the gutter, a place America seems to forget in these days when Amazon will send you a head of lettuce if you ask — and I was surprised to see they didn’t have Pumpkin Spice Paint.”
The columnist stops, thinks: Is there Pumpkin Spice Paint? Better use the Google.
Well, I’ll be. Benjamin Moore. Color #126. Rewrite, then.
“I wasn’t surprised to see they had Pumpkin Spice Paint. I guess it has notes of cinnamon and nutmeg in case you want to feel cozy on a wet day and decide to lick the wall. But if you ask me. ... ”
“No one’s asking you,” the voice in his head whispers. “No one cares. People like it. Write about something else.”
No. I insist. But I come not to condemn Pumpkin Spice, but to praise it. Put it in everything. Popcorn, deodorant, motor oil, I don’t care.
Let me back up a bit. The other night I went to Trader Joe’s, where the calendar either says “Mango” or “Pumpkin spice.” They had PS waffles to sample. They had PS butter for your PS bagels. They had PS rolls with PS icing. They had PS granola. The only new item that did not have Pumpkin Spice was the Pumpkins.
I bought it all. Why? Because I want my family to have a perfect PS weekend.
Picture this as an October tableau: You awake Saturday morning under a cozy comforter. You go downstairs, yawning and scratching, because that’s what people do in movies to show that they just woke up; apparently the process of regaining consciousness is itchy. Outside the trees are a mixture of green, brown and red, a gorgeous abstract tapestry. There’s a touch of fog, soon to be burned away by the clarion blare of an October sun. “The old girl’s got some punch left in her,” you chuckle because you’re the kind of person who says folksy things about the sun. As you clatter around the kitchen, the kids tumble down the stairs, eager for breakfast.
“Who’s up for some Pumpkin Spice waffles?” you say. “And perhaps some Pumpkin Spice butter to go with it?”
“Oh, yes!” the girls cry. “That would be ever so grand! You’re the best father ever, you are!”
You hear Little Tim coming down the stairs, his crutch striking on the steps, and a dart strikes your heart — the doctors say it’s Dickens’ Palsy, but it’s usually cured by the last chapter.
“Might there be Pumpkin Spice syrup?” says Tim. “I’d be ever so happy if there were.” And you pick him up and spin him around and say, “Of course! There’s Pumpkin Spice yogurt with Pumpkin Spice granola.”
“Oh, we are the luckiest family that ever was!” Tim says, and then coughs, because for some reason the bad leg makes him cough. Your wife appears, and asks if there’s any Pumpkin Spice coffee.
“We’ve been through this, dear,” you insist. “Flavored coffee is an abomination and I won’t have it in the house.”
Everyone is suddenly silent, shocked.
“I jest! Of course there is. With Pumpkin Spice creamer. Now everyone take a seat, and I shall prepare a repast with an unvarying flavor profile. My dear, if you would light the candle? No, not that one — it’s cranberry and pine, are you mad? Is there snow? Are these peppermint waffles? The orange candle. Right.”
While everyone eats their delicious breakfast, you consider the day’s agenda: looking at leaves, jumping into piles of leaves, something related to apples, laughing in a corn maze. Ah, fall. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
That’s the dream.
Reality: Daughter comes down for breakfast. You offer a Pumpkin Spice waffle.
“That’s a lot of carbs,” she complains. She poaches an egg instead.
Six months later you find the Pumpkin Spice butter in the back of the fridge, mostly unused. Out it goes. It’s almost time for mango butter, anyway.
So it doesn’t work out as planned. Who cares? For a while, Pumpkin Spice held the promise of an ideal fall: long, nutmeggy, traces of bonfire smoke on the wind, golden light trickling through russet-hued trees, crisp days, cozy nights. Mindless summer gives way to the romance of autumn.
That period lasts about 72 hours, and then it’s just damned bleak and damned cold forever. But Pumpkin Spice helps us ignore this hard fact with a non-holiday seasonal flavored diversion, and we need something to take our mind off what’s coming. I mean, there’s Pumpkin Spice wine. They know what they’re doing.