Break(s) in the heat.

Sunday, August 13th, 2006

It’s the quiet part of Sunday night, and I’ve just returned from the curb, past the smells of shorn front-yard-grass and cats trying to mark part of our driveway as their own. The green trash doohickie and its smaller black recycling cousin are on the curb, awaiting Monday morning action.

If the TV were turned on, there’d be a small clock in the corner of CNN, counting down the hour or so until the Israeli-Hezbollah cease-fire (which I guess is why it isn’t turned on.)

Our neighborhood, which is at what I hope is the tail end of a long hot summer of excavation, is quiet and peaceful in the urban semi-darkness…although I’m sure the crews trying to force-feed an entirely new sewer and storm drain system down apparently random tiny holes throughout Atlanta will resume their noisy labors in a few hours. Their drilling and…well…drilling will be joined by the hammery sounds of house after house around here being awkwardly coerced from bungalowdom to intown sprawldom, in search of the perfect $1.2 million dollar house…all marketed to nice fresh owners new to the neighborhood, who won’t think it all odd that a outsized home with five bedrooms and five baths is mashed onto a teeny tiny Virginia Highland lot.

Although…do I detect the slightest scent of a market that’s turned, of an economy that won’t support that sort of wretched excess? Maybe there’s the first whiff of common sense in the air, where folks just starting out won’t go for the gold-premium cable package and the insane lease deal on the guzzler and the overblown home that will shatter their overheated credit rating.

Or maybe that’s just the crepe myrtles trying to drown out the smell of half-excavated sewer pipes.

Just like gasoline-powered internal combustion engines, big ol’ houses remain the default for modern families across our overpopulated land. They signify something to someone (me, I’m tone-deaf to the message.) And even in the face of smart, sensible, even stylish alternatives, defaults can have a terrible momentum.

We fired up our Honda Default (hey, a 1996 Civic…) and rolled through suburban and rural Georgia yesterday and saw sure signs of can’t-meet-the-payments: Hummers and large pickup trucks with ‘for sale’ signs parked in front yards, a sight that I’ve associated more with places in the rural economically-challenged midwest.

And we saw layer upon layer of tract-developmenty-homes starting-from-the-low-whatevers reach out and fill the once-rural space between Atlanta and Athens. But…are these places selling? There was an air of desperation in the billboards pointing the way, but isn’t there always?

Here at our once modestly-priced home, we’re provisioned, paid for, fixed up, and just generally in a good place…for fall, for a newer economic normal, for hunkering down and doing some work.

The new fridge seems to be living up to its energy star claims. We’ve got a healthy supply of library books, Amazon-ordered books on the way, and even a book I bought the old fashioned way this afternoon (by going down to Borders…it was amazing, really, books in three dimensions for sale!) I have a pile of PDFs virtually piled up also demanding my attention. Our household repairs, give or take a ceiling fan, are under control…our new kitchen faucet and on demand water heater are doing what we demand of them. My coffee collection is down to the remainder of what Steve Kowalewski brought me back as a gift from Oaxaca (mmm…), but the construction of a new Trader Joe’s within walking distance gives me options in that category before long.

But most important among portents and provisions, it’s a cool-ish evening.

It’s not nearly ninety degrees post-sundown. As I said, we were able to go out to east Georgia yesterday and visit friends and enjoyably congregate around the grill—yes, outside!—while not sweating buckets of extra saline onto the food-in-progress. We were able to breathe air that seemed less ozone-laden. We were able to drive without nonstop air conditioning.

It’s a most welcome change. And as usual, I’ll take changes in the weather and use them as my own personal chapter markers where I can find them.

So maybe we’re turning the corner, as we always seem to do somewhere between my Aunt Rosemary’s birthday and my sister’s. And the messy, hot and sticky parts of my life will tidy themselves up at summer’s end.

Sure feels that way, in the near-cool of this evening.