“Beatin’ the heat?” the old gentleman asked, his tiny wife walking behind him, us crossing paths on the Great River Road. (It was 85 degrees and 80 percent humidity at 8:30 am.)

How to answer that question? I am so antisocial that my nephews, when they were little, called me Aunty Social. I am terrible at small talk, which often leads to me blurting out inappropriate responses, funny to me but not the receiver. Plus, I’m from the planet Zenon, the weirdo and secretive planet of artists of all stripes, and if we were social, we wouldn’t be artists. With apologies to Marlon Brando: I coulda been somebody, a corporate something. Instead of a writer, which is what I am.

“Beatin’ the heat?”

“No,” I said, “I’m taking a shower.”

Joke, see: humidity, sweat, shower. Get it?

The wife not only didn’t get it, she also nearly jumped out of her shoes with fear. A stranger, obviously mentally ill, was “taking a shower” and might any minute strip off his clothes.

I walked on, and soon came a young couple, the girl scantily clad, the boy shirtless and weightlifting muscular, and they held hands and looked straight ahead intent on ignoring the old man, and I said, “Hey.”

You say “hey” to young folks because “good morning” is, well, gauche, not hip. I have gout and a bad hip—not the same. And they responded: nothing. They walked by me without even looking at me.

“No,” I, mondo weirdo, turned and shouted, “I’m taking a shower.” Wrong beat. See?

(Don’t worry, I just thought that; I’m not dumb enough to insult a young weightlifter who is dumb enough to ignore the wisdom of elders.)

Re: the man and his wife, I could have responded thusly: “No, I’m focused on the sheer number of plastic effluvia and broken beer bottles and discarded pizza boxes and Coke cans along the path. You can’t walk fifty feet along here without seeing trash. Did you know we all now carry plastic in our bloodstreams? Did you know that babies are now born already with plastic in the blood?”

Okay, I’ll play Midwesterner just for fun: “Beatin’ the heat?” “Oh yeah, and how about those Cardinals?” “Beatin’ the heat?” “Yeah, I’m all lubed up with WD-40.” “Beatin’ the heat?” “Dang, what happened to Spring?”

“Beatin’ the heat?” Samuel Beckett: “They (mothers) stand astride a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.”

Oops, wrong beat.

As for the young, plastic and Roundup-filled, I forgive you for your stoniness. I and my parents’ generation gifted you with gifts instead of knowledge. And I remember my hippie days when I worshipped the Beat poets and I thought Lawrence Ferlinghetti was profound, and 60 was old, and girls were flowers for picking.

James Baldwin and Malcom X (sorry, Muscle and Scanty, not on Tik Tok) saved me. May you be equally inspired.

“Beatin’ the heat?”




About Eugene Jones Baldwin

I am a writer: non-fiction, fiction, journalism (Alton Telegraph), essays (The Genehouse Chronicles) and have a website: I've published a couple dozen short stories and had eleven plays produced. Current projects: "Brother of the Stones" (available on Kindle), a book of short stories; "The Faithful Husband of the Rain, short stories"; "A Black Soldier's Letters Home, WWII,;" "There is No Color in Justice," a commentary on racism; "Ratkillers," a new play. I am an avocational archaeologist and I take parts of my collection of several thousand Indian artifacts (personal finds) to schools, nature centers, libraries etc. and talk about the 20,000 year history of The First people in Illinois. (See link to website) I'm also a playwright (eleven plays produced), musician, historian (authority on the Underground Railroad in Illinois, the Tuskegee Airmen) and teacher.
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