Labor Day has come and gone, and the horrors of summer are behind us once again. Now that it’s September, we can all get on with the business of existence without trying to convince ourselves that, since it’s summertime, “the livin’ is easy.” There is nothing easy about living, and I’m thrilled we can stuff the ridiculous notion away for at least the next nine months.
I am especially motivated to conclude this most recent summer, which was singularly cruel due to the fact that I missed a puppet festival.
Yes. There was an entire festival of puppets — indeed, a festival for puppets — in Minnesota in August and I learned about it exactly one day after it ended.
My soul is delicate right now. I don’t mean I’m a delicate flower; I mean that existentially-speaking, I’m a Jenga game 20 minutes in. Things are precarious. I spend a good deal of my waking hours rending my garments over being and time. As if that weren’t enough, I find myself wild with strangled rage that due to recent world events I must consider the very real possibility of a nuclear war waged by human garbage playing ruinous games with humanity itself; resentful that I literally ordered a fucking hand-crank radio and a space blanket from Amazon so that I might be prepared for fission radiation, say, next Tuesday.
In other words, I’m depressed.
One revoltingly hazy afternoon in August, despondent inside my air-conditioned apartment, I ordered delivery from Pauly’s Pizza, an establishment scarcely a block away from my building. I had no choice but to request my food be delivered to my door, as rising from my prone position, taking the elevator down 16 floors, walking outside and retrieving this pizza myself was obviously impossible due to my dispirited state.
This pathetic reality further blackened my mood; my ancestors — running, as they did, in loincloths — were able to spear a wild animal at 30 yards, skin it, bleed it, and roast it over a fire pit they built and lit themselves. In such an environment, I’d be dead in a day, as would basically everyone I know and care about. This weighed on my mind while I placed my order so heavily that I ended the call mumbling, “We’re all going to die,” which surely rattled the girl who was taking my order. As I tossed my phone aside, I hoped she wasn’t too upset, primarily because she might forget that I wanted extra tomato sauce.
I stared into space for the next 45 minutes. When I heard the delivery person knock, I heaved myself off the couch, carefully stepping over Death’s scythe, which he tends to leave lying around. I took my food and thanked the Uber driver/Lyft driver/food delivery guy, considered the gig economy and how we’re all going to die, then tipped the fellow generously and shut the door. Alone again.
As I ate my pizza — not all of it, mind you, I’m not that depressed — I perused a magazine. It was a satisfactory magazine and Pauly had sufficiently sauced my pie, so for a short time, things were bearable.
Then, in the magazine’s listing of “Worthwhile Things To Do This Summer” there it was: The National Puppetry Festival in the Twin Cities. There would be “lively, interactive discussions, lectures, and demonstrations,” it read; there would be dozens of performances to attend on numerous stages. This sounded incredible.
I love puppets. Puppets make me feel good. They are funny. They are often kawaii, the Japanese word for “cute,” which is somehow more accurate a word to describe a cute puppet. I even like the weird puppets, the creepy-ass puppets that jangle and slump, because they perfectly represent humankind. We are all creepy-ass puppets! Mannequins! Marionettes manipulated by the gods, lifted and tempest-tossed by unseen forces! I recognize puppets, man. Puppets are my people.
And there was a four-day-long celebration of them in the Midwest? I sat up. I flung a half-chewed slice back into the box. Minneapolis wasn’t that far. I could get there. I could go to the puppet festival and immerse myself in the world of puppets — which is to say the real world — for a change. For a brilliant change! When was this festival to take place? I scanned the dates: July 18-22.
I dug into the couch like a badger, frantic for my godforsaken cell phone, so I could light it up and be informed of the date. I found the hideous thing and pressed the button: It was August 23.
I had missed the puppet festival by a single day.
The world receded. In a flash, I saw stagehands with crowbars hacking at splintering stage boards, pitching them into the beds of trucks to be taken to the dump. I saw great bins being packed up with bubble-wrapped props and costumes, the lids closed and the bins lifted into trailers to be driven away and stored in climate-controlled storage units. I saw puppets, carefully laid into puppet storage boxes, taped up with heavy tape and marked, like so many Christmas ornaments at the end of December, “Open next year.”
The magazine slipped from my hands. I sank back onto the couch. Why? Why did that have to happen, that I should see a window of escape into sublimity and then, just as I approach that window, it should shut on my fingers! Death re-crossed his legs and picked up the magazine from where it had fallen on the floor.
“Wow, that sucks,” he said.
We both noticed at that moment that I had dripped pizza sauce on my pants.
“That’s gonna leave a stain.”
I rolled over, groaning, and pulled a quilt over my head.
“Oh, cheer up,” said Death. “There’s always next y — well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”