Nature isn’t playing games. The heat is unvarying, and brutal and we’re only three days into August. August is always the worst month in Dallas. Sometimes we have an awful crappy winter and you don’t know which is worse: January or August. At its very best, January will always be bleak and brown, offering endless vistas of barren uglies. But me, I put my money on August for the cruelest month. That’s when I understand the dark emotional underpinnings of a Sam Houston remark, “If I owned Texas and Hell, I’d rent out Texas and live in Hell.”
August is when someone goes batshit a block or two over, down where the meth houses are. The batshit asshole will hole up with a bunch of guns and take his own family hostage for a couple of twelve-hour news cycles. You might as well go check it out. It breaks up the sweltering day, walking over a couple of blocks to view a lunatic. At one saggy house, you’ll spy a heavy confused bare-chested guy flashing his man-tits at an open window and threatening to shoot his toddler in the head for max horror. Maybe you can howl right back at him, like some onlookers are doing: Go rat ahead n’ shoot at baby ‘n you’ll be graveyard dead in a New Yawk minute, on accounta half a us is carryin’ concealed. The cops frown and caution, Easy now. As for us, the ghoulish onlookers, we’re just hanging out, waitng for the shrink and hostage negotiator to show up and offer this creep lots of pizzas and Cokes, then send in SWAT to save the family and get this cocksucker the fuck out of that fucking house. All done without the traditional Death by Cop.
But mostly, everyone stays inside during the day’s blistering heat. The gristly guys aren’t drinking 40’s, talking smack, or chaining cigarettes in front of their garages. No one’s hunched in plastic chairs in the back yard next door, formerly an entertaining scene full of excited yelling and threats. There’s a weird deserted High Noony echoey feel to the neighborhood.
August is when everything is finally nicely fried. No matter how tenderly and illegally you water your lawn, it’s still gonna look like you’re growing potato chips out there. You’ve given up your yard guy because, fuckit, why? Everything that’s supposed to be green has quit growing and, instead all plant life just concentrates on wilting and shriveling. The yellowy grass crunches when you walk on it and you begin to have depressing Malthusian notions. Glancing around, you see your whole little swatch of outdoors in terms of what’s gonna make it. You look at your aged shrubbery and think, Okay, that’s not gonna make it. But, you’re not conned by any diva stuff, either. Keep a hard eye on the vincas. Those cheap little drama queens’ll faint over the edges of their pots if you miss a single watering.
August is when you start thinking about putting in an Arizona-style yard, one like the weird balding guy has, that guy with the guns and the burglar bars over on San Juan: it’s all gravel and cow skulls and napolito cactus at his place. But those yards really look incredibly lame in Dallas. It’s because this is North Texas, mofo, and we have us four distinct seasons, whether they’re recognizable to Yankees or not. So by October, when the leaves have not changed color but turned dead and brown, the cactus, the old wagon wheel, and those coyote skulls look like cheesy stage props. Or worse, it looks like you’re a hoarder in the making and this ruined Old West bullshit is your starter yeast. Just fucking give up the Arizona thing, you tell yourself, but that small bad idea still comes a-knocking every August.
So far, we’ve had day after day of 105 degree heat. The local TV weathermen lecture us like parents: bring the pets indoors, better bring in some of those plants too, and no watering until 6 PM. Towards evening, when it comes down to ninety, you have this utter delusion that cool air has arrived. During the day, only those species that predated mammals stay outside. This mostly boils down to lizards and bugs.
Afternoons, when you walk outside, the heat itself seems like the only lively thing left. It socks you in the chest with the force of a fist, and you never get used to it. You notice how utterly still it is: no bird songs, no dogs barking, no cats skittering. If you didn’t see an eyeball blinking in the ivy, say, you might think there was no fauna left alive. But one night, you leaned over to water your deiffenbachia and spotted an eye blinking somewhere in the foliage. It was a toad nestled down in the pot, enjoying some of that fine deiffenbachia camo. The toad barely breathed. Like the survivor he is, he’d made a toad hole right in the potting soil and in it he sat like a shrunk down Buddha, still as a stone, hoping you’d take your ass somewhere else.
Last Sunday, when you took out the garbage, you saw another blink, then the fast whip of a tail, then spied a little lizard sitting on your dark gray garbage can lid, turning dark gray himself: an exact Pantone match. You tapped your finger on the lid and it zipped over to the chainlink fence, sat on a discolored rail, then changed to a dull silver. Then, panicky, the lizard bounced onto an ivy leaf, the last green thing in the yard, and turned a handsome deep emerald shade before your delighted eyes. It made you think of your much, much younger self, when you were a chameleon too. Remembering now, you take a fast breath of self-forgiveness.
Like the little lizard, there was you with your quick switches of haircuts, makeup, and clothing changes, your instant preference for rock n’ roll over cool jazz, and your impulsive swaps of boyfriends, colleges, and majors. Bless you, darlin’, you were trying to survive. You melted into whatever the background was, praying not to be noticed but not to be ignored either, and wanting some dates besides. No wonder you felt nuts. Much older now, you’re pretty purely yourself and it feels okay. Some days you’re even better than that.
You glanced over to where the chameleon had been; now he was perched on a bright aluminum fencerail. He’d turned pure silver so when he raced along it, he looked like a quick flash of moonlight zooming through sunlight.
Tips for surviving a Dallas August: eat a ton of watermelon chunks, hose yourself down when you water the plants, and remember to notice small survivors.
Like that mud dauber wasp, now busily building an interesting domicile on your porch. You observe how every so often the wasp flies over to the door handle, lights there, and takes a tiny breather. Then back to daubing.
Pay attention. That bug is a fellow traveler, as are we all.