(Please note: This is less a film review of Summer of Sam, the 1999 Spike Lee movie that has less to do with serial killer David Berkowitz, known popularly as Son of Sam, than just some people who happened to live in New York City in 1977 and what they did and how they lived and got along during those summer months that Berkowitz happened to be on the loose, than a short essay about some people I saw and things that happened to happen to me the Saturday morning of that fateful July 4th weekend that the aforementioned movie premiered. It is important that you note this in order not to be misled.)
I am in the habit of walking to the post office on Saturday mornings. While I have been known to walk to the post office on weekday mornings, hold no conscientious objection to walking to the post office on any given afternoon, and recollect sometimes even walking briskly to get to the post office right before it closes, it is my Saturday morning walks that I enjoy most, for all the reasons involving quiet and peace and a respite from all manner of urban activity you can imagine.
I arrived early at the post office in our miniature shopping mall. The mall was deserted and dark except for select main lights. The gate to the post office was lowered. It would not open for another half hour. Although I briefly regretted not bringing a book to read, I found it not at all unpleasant to sit on a bench with my package beside me, soak in some AC, and observe.
Two men came in the mall’s side entrance. One was older, wearing knee-high socks and a matching shorts and shirt outfit. I believe the color of the socks was what is called loden. The younger man pointed toward the wall of post office boxes and started fumbling through his keys. Both spoke English with a French accent that I didn’t identify as French until I sat down to write this. He opened the door, reached in for his mail, and pulled out one tall envelope covered with all kinds of airmail and registered mail stickers. He held the envelope in both hands. This was what he’s been waiting for. Ho ho, he said, now holding it away from him and looking at it. Socks looked happy for him and gestured, open it already, open it.
A college kid with his mom and dad came in from the opposite direction. The father walked ahead, the son walked behind the father, and the mother walked behind them all, holding her skirt bunched into one hand so she didn’t step on the hem. The father and son both wore identical slip-on loafers with no socks. The mother said something about is this where we bought those lovely knit shirts for the Jameson’s last year? The son answered her without turning around. The mother said something about see here’s Hammer’s Jewelers. Everything about the trip before this trip was coming back in pieces. The son bore his sunglasses out in front of his chest. I think you know his manner, that whole my-sunglasses-are-an-important-facet-of-my-multi-faceted- identity. This family did not have a single sock among them. I guess I really just cannot comprehend what some people have against the sock.
While I waited, a man excused himself and asked me what day of the week it was. I said, “July 2nd. No wait, Sunday is the fourth, so today’s the 3rd. Today is Saturday, July 3rd.” Not two minutes later a different man approached and asked me what day of the week it was. What gives? I always know what day of the week it is. Sometimes I don’t know the date, although I usually can guess it to within plus or minus two days, but I always, always, always know what day of the week it is. I told him, Saturday, July 3rd.
A man I’d seen often at the university library locked his bike to a payphone. He had a briefcase with tape on all four corners, long pieces of tape across the hinges, thick pieces of tape across the locks. He sat on the other end of the bench from me, put his briefcase in his lap, peeled the tape back from the locks, and began addressing several size 10 envelopes (4 1/8″ × 9 1/2").
The college kid with his parents were back. They had gone upstairs, father, son, and mother, turned right around, and now came back downstairs, father first, son second, then came Cody and Chance and Clay, the triplets, with the mother last.
During the half hour I was at the post office someone switched the whole world on. The streets were filling up. I had to wait on corners before crossing. I smelled perfume and gasoline on the air. I smelled pizza dough, bubblegum, and garbage. People woke up in their cars and started driving, it seemed. In a nearby parking lot, I saw a dozen or so cars parked closely together. Each had one of those great PA systems installed, and the drivers casually chit-chatted with one another from inside their cars over their PA systems. The conversation was all last weekend this and well, you know, the wife and I are planning that. Then someone with a PA system of heroic amplification announced, “Attention, attention, your attention please, it’s time I call this meeting to order. Now I know we’ve got some new members with us this morning and we’ll get to that new business in a sec, but first Bob’s going to read the minutes from our last meeting. Bob?”
A few blocks from the house where I live, a father and his baby daughter were washing the family truck. This baby, an infant child technically, was beautiful, too bright to look at directly, shining as if sculpted from glass. When I drew even with them, I saw that the baby in fact owed her brilliance to a large, floppy hat made out of intricately folded aluminum foil. The baby had platinum hair and skin that was literally white, typing paper white. The hat was one of those sailor hats, but this one had an elaborate series of veils and earflaps descending almost to her knees in foil coils and finely-pleated sheets. The sheets produced a rustling, windchimey music in even the slightest breeze. As I watched, the baby walked around the end of the truck, dragging a dripping floormat behind her. Her father scrubbed and sprayed the side of the truck’s bed, then bent down to spray water underneath. (Un nota bene for folks interested in the care and maintenance of cars and trucks: I understand it’s not such a bad idea to wash regularly underneath, particularly in the Northeastern United States and especially in the winter. Salt, you see, promotes oxidation — known colloqially as rust.) Anyway, this baby with the aluminum foil headdress lifted the back of the truck up by the rear bumper, sort of gripping it right underneath the trailer hitch, and held it above her head, enabling her father to wash more effectively. This was a full-size truck. When her father had finished, she set it down and went back to entertaining herself with the floormat. As I walked over the top of the hill, I looked back and saw her put a corner of the floormat in her mouth, wrap herself up in it as if it were a blanket, and fall over in the grass, laughing and carrying on and so forth and so on and so on.