After I posted happy birthday wishes on our friend Josh’s Facebook wall yesterday, he wrote back and said, “I hope you’ve had a good summer.”

I told him I had. That was a lie. It wasn’t all that great.

The millions of us in the U.S. who are celebrating Labor Day this weekend are on some level probably taking stock, reflecting back on what we did over the summer, wondering if we took full advantage of the weather, the time off, the open-air activities. Labor Day is a final salute to summer, and I’m betting most of us are realizing that, no, we didn’t do everything we’d intended to do. And that because we feel disappointed and inadequate over it, we will try to cram as much as possible into this last long weekend before fall begins to set in.

The reasons my summer wasn’t all that great stem mostly from the fact that we live in an urban neighborhood, one that young people like to live in after they get their first jobs out of college, and suburbanites like to visit because it is a good place to see and be seen. Urban neighborhoods are noisy by nature, no matter what time of year. But add to the mix this summer’s oppressive heat and people flocking to Lake Michigan to seek relief, and you have more commotion than usual.

There was inordinate traffic. People who couldn’t parallel park. Driving the wrong way on one-way streets. Car horns. Every day, car horns. Residents without air conditioning sitting on stoops, trying to derive every last bit of coolness from the concrete. No rain. People partying late on the roof deck next door, people stumbling north from the bars on Brady Street and hollering at 3 a.m., people stumbling south from the bars on North Avenue and hollering at 3 a.m. One of these times, a young woman wailed and wailed outside of our building because someone stole her cell phone at a club. Her friend called her cell, the thief picked up, and said he wanted $400 for the safe return of her phone. Then hung up. More wailing.

Garbage trucks at 5:45 a.m. on Monday morning. Utility crews jack-hammering. Someone repairing a sidewalk and jack-hammering. The lawn tools, oh, the lawn tools: leaf blowers and weed-wackers and state-of-the-art mowers that urban dwellers use on green spaces the size of one SUV. The carpet cleaners and their compressors. Public works employees who hack at trees, leaving some to look like deciduous cacti. The landscape crew of five that took a week to do work that should have taken that many people two days. Every time I went out they were on break.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen tuckpointers in action, but they’ve been hanging off our building and the building next to ours the past four summers, using saws and drills to grind out the mortar between the bricks, and then squishing new mortar into the gaps. This summer the building next to us and the building on the other side of it have had tuckpointers working on them since late April. Every day: grind, dust, grind, dust. The guys on the building next to us play country music real loud, and the guys on the other side of them play classic rock real loud. When I threw open our bathroom window and asked the guy to turn down his country music, he wagged his finger at me and yelled, “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you like music?”

The accidents. More than I remember other summers. One occurred right in front of our building and involved six cars; a bicycle cop handled the whole thing. Accidents that, when you look at the aftermath, you can’t imagine how they happened. Who did what first? A young man on a motorcycle was hit by a car a half block away from where we live. The sound of the impact was eerie, but not half as eerie as the sound of his bike sliding across the pavement and under a parked car. It was the sound of Earth holding its breath. I will never forget it.

I know all this because this summer I was a homebody; I work out of our home and so can’t help that. But I also felt very introspective and didn’t want to go much of anywhere or do much of anything except to play music, write, and think.

I rode my motorcycle only twice. One of those times my bike broke down. Went to only one farmer’s market and one ethnic festival. The food from which made me vomit later that night. My husband, on break from law school and bored, was underfoot. I stopped meeting with a group of friends at the German bar up the street every week; it had become too much. I called out a person who isn’t very nice who tried messing with someone I love. I lost weight, put it back on, lost it again. Did not visit the gym for a month. Slept poorly overall. Discovered that some friends aren’t the good people I was led to believe. Three rejection letters. Two potentially lucrative freelance projects severely pared back; two others placed on hold.

This commotion went on all summer long. I am happy to see it end.

But among all of these things are some stunning, gorgeous flowers in a field of weeds, as my undergrad mentor, Dr. Louis T. Milic, was fond of saying. The week after one of the most bizarre things that has ever happened to me in my professional career (I thought about writing about it here, but won’t dignify it), one of the world’s top newspapers contacted me. The writer had read something on my blog that pertained to a story she was working on and requested an interview. We talked last week and she will give me a heads-up when she knows the story is being published. Our band played its first two gigs, and we had our first professional photo shoot. I published one piece per week here. Made some nice friends in real life, on Facebook, at the bookstore, and among other writers in my community. I am finally working my way through a new essay on a topic that has been haunting me my whole life and is very difficult for me to write about.

And I got three new pairs of shoes. Adiós, Summer.

Torn Soul band photo by John Hauser


  1. This sounds a bit familiar. I have felt somewhat detached myself this season. More like an observer of than a full participant. At times I have resorted to imitating life in order to better blend in.

    Maybe it is the very unusual weather. Perhaps something cosmic. Maybe even a transition within.

    I am hoping for a fresh, cool, breeze in the Fall to clear the fog.

  2. Please keep writing Cindy. I love to read your words. Not once, with any of your writings, have I stopped reading until the end. As I have mentioned before, your words flow. I believe I always have a smile on my face when I finish a read.


    • Why thank you, Marilyn, I greatly appreciate your kind words. Really means a lot to me – more than I can aptly say.

      (For you other readers, Robin is my legal middle name. Dear friends like Marilyn from way back still refer to me by my first name: Cynthia (Cindy for short). And when they, like my mama and daddy and my brothers, call me that I definitely answer to it.)

  3. I can definitely relate to this post, not just as it pertains to this summer, but to every summer (53 of them) I’ve lived here in Milwaukee. The summers here are so short; people feel pressured to do as much as they can outside; the city itself feels compelled to cram as much in as possible by way of festivals, festivals, festivals…

    All of it bears down on you like a giant weight. You actually start to feel guilty if you don’t participate. This year I went on strike too. Sorry Milwaukee, and friends, I’m just not going to be guilted into doing things I just don’t want to do.

    However, doing that, at least for me, was freeing, and I had a pretty good summer. Having five weeks off from law school didn’t hurt, but the nicest thing about those five weeks was not feeling pressured to do anything in particular.

    • Oh, I forgot about that: the festivals and all their fireworks at 10 p.m., just as you are trying to get to bed. And the live music that tumbles two miles up the coast and bellows into your window at 11:30 p.m. We had a lot of both of those this year too.

      And as I write this, there is a U-Haul with a bad ramp downstairs in front of our building. Someone moving in. Up and down that ramp: boom-boom-boom, boom-boom-boom. For over an hour now. The only other sounds the occasional whoosh of traffic and some crows.

      OK, I’ll stop now. Thanks, John my love, for your comment.

  4. I’ve been struck by a turn of phrase lately, not one, but people who deal them like trump cards regularly. And generally without a flourish. “…deciduous cacti” for example. I’m reading Mollie Voight’s _Moon Dusters_ and she busts out a few here and there: “Oh just swell.” “Swell as in grand or as in inflammation?” Meg lets out a brief chuckle. “Desire for the former while dwelling in the later.” She’s a really good writer. So are you. I’m in the position of knowing enough to appreciate it when I see it, while realizing I’ll never be there myself.

    On to today’s topic. “How are you?” “Fine.” The meaningless exchange of words that happens thousands of times a day across this country. It’s not a question, it’s the first step in an approved social protocol. I’m glad you answered the question honestly, even if I (we) didn’t even ask it yet.



    • Thank you so much, Tom. In your honor I went out to take a picture of the deciuous cactus around the corner, but it had been ground to a nub. So I put that picture up. Your comment is very touching.

  5. Well that was the feel good story of the year…. haha! City dwelling has it’s charms then there is the side you just eloquently described. Where I live summer is much longer but mine has just gone by as one long work call. I’m glad I’m not the only one who wasn’t satisfied with it’s “harvest”. Great descriptive Robin… I’m definitely hooked on you blogs.

    • Thanks for your devoted fandom, John. Love your comment; you probably know by now that you can always count on me to be a tad morose. Also love your “harvest” reference. (Did you notice that I’m using your “fave” photo as my header? This shot officially reminds me of you now.)

  6. reminded of the Joni Mitchell song Urge for Going- unrequited.

    • What a lovely song. For all the Joni Mitchell music I’ve listened to over the years, thanks to you, I don’t think I’ve ever heard this one before. “I get the urge for going / When the meadow grass is turning brown / Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in”
      Thank you, Sally.

  7. it is a great song, isn’t it? this is my absolute favorite version of Urge for Going, sung by Tony Rice.

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