The drums came out last Thursday. Bold and insouciant, announcing the beginning of summer in New York City. The bongo drums, the congo drums.
The call to bare arms. To buy short. To sandal up.
According to my datebook, summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21st. But what do the planners of monthly planners know about having summer fever when it isn’t even summer?
Time to go almost native in the city. To straighten your brow and wrinkle your cottons.
“June 21st” means kids have to start cutting school early to head for Central Park or presumably any park for the drums. The pervasive and prosaic drums.
Summer begins, it says (in significant italics) in the otherwise-empty square for June 21 in my month-at-a glance planner. The day after Father’s Day. As if there’s a connection. Do you see one?
The oldest in the family asks four questions: Why isn’t this day different from all other days? Don’t the drummers have fathers? Don’t they want to spend part of the day together? Were they born and raised in the park?
May or June, rain or shine, through September or October, the bongo drums, the congo drums, play on. Pronounced and percussive.
A moment of nostalgia heralding another year in New York dissolves, almost cinematically, into memory… of a book-lined study overlooking Central Park. And trying to write against the background of drums. Unremitting and intrusive bongo, congo drums.
Saturday afternoons my telephone would inevitably ring and I’d answer with reasonable certainty it was Isaac Asimov calling. Isaac and his wife Janet lived three blocks south and a half-block off the Park, on the top floor of their building. “Are you hearing what I’m hearing?” he would ask? I would acknowledge I was. The pounding, unbearable drums. “Don’t they ever stop?” he would ask. I always had the correct answer. “Janet’s writing a letter to the mayor’s office,” came next.
I have always wondered how many New York City mayors received how many letters from Janet Jeppson Asimov. Neither Janet nor Isaac ever referred to a response from the mayor’s office. Saturdays, which should have been writers’ sabbaths for the three of us, were days of predestined torment.
I mentioned this year’s outbreak of drums to someone who told me he found them “liberating.” I told him the one thing I will never miss about living on Central Park is the drums, not the f#!*ing bongo drums, not the f#!*ing congo drums. I think I made my point.