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Grinding Through the Nonexistent Summer

A look at the state of the metal world, how lives have so drastically changed during the pandemic, and behind-the-scenes at MetalSucks.

The following is the fourth in a series of editorials that tackle topics more personal in nature than MetalSucks’ usual fare. These journals bridge my personal experiences with the world of metal while offering a behind-the-scenes look at forces within the industry and a peek behind the curtain of how this website operates. Previous entries:

On the Natural Bias of Friendship, Metal Bands, and Access Journalism
Does Your Age Define Your Taste in Metal?
The Endless Spring

The other day I heard cicadas chirp to life in the late afternoon as I sat inside at the computer working. But it’s only mid-July, how could this be? Cicadas typically signify the coming end of summer.

And then it dawned on me: we’ve now reached the point in the summer here in upstate New York where things start happening before they do down in New York City, where I’ve lived for most of my life. Until now, everything up here this spring and summer came later. The seasonal tide has turned.

I wrote at length in my last column in this series, “The Endless Spring,” about the long, cold, corona-induced slog of spring this year. I went through it once in New York City in March, then fled the city upstate and experienced it all over again, on a three-week time lag. We’re about 2 hours north of the city which makes a bigger difference seasonally than you’d think, and on top of that we’re at about 1,000 feet of elevation which also makes a bigger difference than you’d think (just 15 minutes down the mountain in Kingston, due east, the trees and flowers were consistently a solid week ahead all spring long).

Sometime in mid-May, summer finally broke, much later than I’m accustomed to waiting to experience sustained warm weather. All of a sudden the earth exploded; the late spring flowers, pent up with energy awaiting their warm weather cue, erupting in a fireworks-like display of brilliant color. Whereas the flowers of early spring stuck around longer than they ought to have, prolonged by an unseasonable stretch of chilly days, the opposite happened with the flowers of late spring: they arrived all at once, but seemingly just as quickly they withered and died, as if they’d missed their window to truly thrive. The irises, roses, peonies and lilies vanished as quickly and suddenly as they appeared. “That was it, guys, sorry!” it’s as if they said to us, and about summer in general.

Because, other than the flowers, which don’t give a shit about pandemics, everything else about the arrival of summer has been muted. This has, without a doubt, been the strangest summer I’ve ever experienced. The thermometer says it’s summer, but nothing else does: there are no concerts, no big barbecues, no parties, no beach trips, no baseball.

In normal times, I play hardball every weekend from April through Thanksgiving with a fellow bunch of olds in what is essentially an organized pickup game. There’s about 50 of us, a membership level carefully maintained to ensure that 18, give or take, are available to play nine innings every single weekend. The idea is that individual attendance every week is not required; there are enough folks in the group to ensure a game gets played regardless, so you don’t have to make it your entire life like you do in a traditional “costume” baseball league, as we call them. Most of us played ball in high school so the level of play is decent but far from overly competitive; a few guys that sat on the bench in Division III college ball have joined our squad over the years, and they’re always far and away better than most of us. It’s glorious, it keeps me going, I look forward to it all week, and it has been shepherding the rhythm of my summers for the past eight years. And just like that — along with everything else — it’s gone. Major League Baseball, too; the hum of the AM radio static, an ever-present dinner time audio accompaniment for my entire life, just completely absent. Today, July 24, the Mets will kick off their abbreviated 60-game season; I welcome professional baseball’s return, but my anticipation has been muted by the past few months.

As the trees morphed from the innocent, fresh green of spring into the hardened, deep hue of summer, so too did my and my wife’s attitude about what the fuck we’re doing with our lives. The corona haze of spring, drenched in panic, fear and uncertainty, has given way to a new kind of all of those things. Uncertainty is the new normal, and with our brains now more fully groking what’s happening today and even tomorrow (once impossible!) our mental horizons have expanded to next month, next season, and even next year. Many of us have made drastic adjustments to our lives on account of that, me included. We’re staying here all year because we need our five-year-old son to be in a real school, both so he can get an education and we can work. There’s a better chance of that here than in New York City, and we are extremely fortunate to have the option. We have childcare help here, too, from his grandmother — who we are living with — which is crucial. The plan is to return to New York City next year and hopefully — finally! — call ourselves homeowners.

It’s fucking nuts! I’ve only lived outside of NYC for five years when I was in college. That was a long time ago already. We’re letting our Brooklyn apartment go, the beautiful two-bedroom, large by NYC standards, that our neighborhood landlord has generously let us stay in for nearly decade with a single $100 rent increase. We were paying probably half of what it’s worth on the market right now, pandemic downturn not withstanding. Tough to let that deal go.

But for now, summer grinds on. I spend at least a half hour up in the garden every day, often more, tending the soil that my late father in law worked for decades. The crops I’d just put down in spring, highlighted in my last piece, are now in various stages of bloom or soon-to-be bloom. The tomatoes are becoming plump but still green (with many plants still growing), and the seeds I took from the package labeled zucchini in my father in law’s seed bin ended up being cucumbers, which are now flourishing, with 20 plants snaking their way up trellises and five-petaled yellow flowers abound. The peas are peaking right about now, their crescent-shaped pods dangling from the vines, perfect for snapping off and eating raw. The pak choi is exploding, I can’t possibly eat it all. The potatoes, which I planted from eyes growing on old spuds I found in the drawer, are prolific, but it’ll be some time before they’re ready. Lettuce is already eaten and gone, two rounds of it, and I just put down some more seed for the fall crop. Speaking of fall crops, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, broccoli, kale and cabbages are now all in the ground and growing. My wife and I have become very in tune with vegetable seasonality in recent years, but now we’re seeing it first hand instead of relying on the farmer’s market tables to tell us what’s in. This city boy has NEVER had anything approximating a garden before… it’s all a learning experience. Mistakes have been made. But I’m loving it! I’m optimistic most of the crops will bear fruit. The garden is where I’d rather be at pretty much any moment. Oy, the weeding, holy shit, the weeding, it’s never-ending! If I added up all my weeding time, I’ve probably lost literal weeks hunched over on my knees pulling those damn things out from the roots.

Speaking of grinding on: I’ve been working on a mammoth MetalSucks report that’s going to expose a serial harasser and abuser in the metal scene. I started it in September of last year, and though I didn’t touch it from February through June due to the aforementioned corona haze, I’m back on it now in earnest. It is, unquestionably, the biggest single work I will have ever published on this site. I have hours and hours of recorded audio, 20,000 words of transcription of that audio, and I’m already 7,500 words deep on the final piece. It’s draining the living fuck out of me, both from a work time perspective and emotionally. But it’s not about me. I owe to the women (and men) who courageously shared their stories with me to finish it. You’ll know it when you see it. The metal industry landscape will be altered forever. For the better.

More grinding: on October 18 I had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, an injury I sustained in the aforementioned baseball club many years ago. I played through it for years, and it fucking hurt every time I threw the ball, but I put off surgery all that time due to a combination of wanting to try other therapies, bad timing due to childcare duties, and fear of the lengthy recovery process. The stars aligned last fall and the pain was just too much to bear, so I went for it towards the end of the season. I was in a sling for a month, during which time I began physical therapy, and for a while there the trainers were telling me I was ahead of schedule — so affirming! I’d go twice a week, and did my exercises daily at home. But then at some point I plateaued, which if you’ve ever attempted to rehab a surgery or injury, you know how defeating it feels, all those hundreds of hours of work for nothing. All of a sudden I was behind, not hitting the benchmarks I was supposed to, and then the pandemic hit. I had to cease going to PT, and unexpected pandemic-related childcare duties (no school!!) made it impossible to continue my home workouts at the pace I had been. So I fell even more behind. But I’ve stayed with it, albeit slowly. The original six month return-to-sports recovery timetable has now surpassed nine, and it’s still not fully better. Twice a week I drive to Kingston and throw against a handball wall, progressively increasing distance and reps. I’m at 90 feet, three sets of 25 throws, a milestone I’d hit previously but had to jump back to 60 feet after experiencing sharp pain. It feels good right now. I think I’ll be able to jump up to 105 feet soon. The shoulder still hurts a bit day to day, though… I can’t sleep on my right side, for example. But I’m sticking with it. Onward.

Hope of an eventual return of live music concerts, a weekly (at minimum) part of my life for as long as I’ve been an adult, is now an afterthought. They’re not coming back any time soon, and I’ve stopped thinking about it as a possibility. Maybe next spring. I reckon most of you feel the same way. Wake me up when there’s a vaccine, then we can earnestly talk about tours again, you know? Same for restaurants; no fucking way am I sitting down inside with a bunch of maskless goons, even if the authorities say it’s safe. I can go a year without eating out, it’s not that big of an inconvenience! Not to mention, this lifestyle is way less expensive, a good thing given the fact that MetalSucks’ biggest advertising sector, live shows, is completely gone (every music publication is in the same boat).

I’ve become a bit of a hermit. I haven’t been very that many people, especially not outside of a family setting. Earlier this month I took a night on my own back in Brooklyn to see some friends, something I hadn’t done (alone) since early March. We wandered the streets of Red Hook, masked, beers in hand. We played music on a street corner and danced. We spoke to strangers (from a safe distance, of course). We had a run in with the police after posing for photos on a parked big rig. We drank and danced some more. We woke up extremely hungover, another foreign feeling. I fucking needed that release! The next morning I had the single best bacon egg and cheese sandwich, an NYC delicacy, I had ever had in my life.

But it was a one-night escape… and life grinds on here during the nonexistent summer. Whereas spring was about day-to-day survival and stretched on infinitely as we did our best to grasp what was happening in the world around us, summer has gone by in a flash as we adjusted to this new “quiet” normal. Not much different happens from one day to the next… they’re all just kinda days, as illustrated brilliantly by Steel Panther’s “What fuckin’ day is it?” social media campaign. I’m experiencing very little FOMO about missing what’s going on in NYC right now, ’cause ain’t shit happening there either and entertaining our five-year-old every single day in that corona-laden hellscape sounds like a nightmare.

The world is asking us to look ahead to fall — return to school, return to work, elections, pandemic second waves and, now, the cicadas — but I’m still firmly in summer. We have our kid enrolled in a school here that says they’ll have at least some in-person instruction, and we have a place to live, and that’s as much thinking ahead as I’m capable of right now. It’s fucking hot and the garden needs watered, I’m behind on staking the tomatoes, and there are weeds to be picked… holy shit, the weeds.

Keep grinding.

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