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Set Up for a Fall

What did I do on my summer vacation?

I bet on the horses. I shot pool. I learned how to play cards. I touched an alligator. I spent too much money. I used a self tanner. I listened to Jimmy Buffet.

I saw blue-nosed dolphins and fuchsia sunsets and egrets eating oysters. I walked on the beach. I ate out often and early. And late.

Then I took my oldest daughter to New York City. I showed her my old office building at Rockefeller Center (ho-hum), the Gotham Book Mart (yawn), my favorite café in the Village (better), some serious places to shop (much better) and the Metropolitan Museum (the best). We walked too much and shopped too much and made a pact not to tell anyone what “too much” means.

And when the lights went out everywhere else, I was having a pre-dinner margarita in Vermont.

Now it’s all over.

I’m back. Our lettuce has bolted, our basil is spindly. The grass clumps in the crevices are taking over the brick walk. I owe $18 at the movie store. I need an oil change.

This morning a bright-yellow school bus lumbered by my house, rehearsing its fall debut.

The only reason T.S. Eliot could say April is the cruelest month was because he didn’t have kids going back to school—waking up in the muddy, pre-dawn darkness, not being able to flush while somebody is in the shower.

Unlike T.S. Eliot, I think September is the cruelest month. Because you can no longer hide from what’s coming.

But also unlike Eliot, whose indecision would not have served him well at this time of year (“Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?”), I’ve got to take some immediate countermeasures to allay the September blues.

Of course, after summer vacation and its excesses, these countermeasures must not involve traveling, eating too much, skipping yoga class, shopping heedlessly, gambling, shooting pool or fondling alligators.

But really, what does that leave?

I can come up with all that wholesome stuff myself—the hike in the Berkshires, a Saturday morning sweat-out at Saratoga Yoga. But to really chase the blues, these countermeasures really need to have a naughty edge.

So I took an informal survey of people who can be counted on not to be too wholesome.

And what I found out was that there are lots of naughty things to do to make it through September just fine. I took copious notes. Only, discretion being the better part of discretion, I don’t care to share.

But there are a few one-size-fits-all suggestions to pass along.

Somebody suggested burning a CD full of vintage Tom Waits, Lou Reed and brand-new Robert Plant and putting it on endless repeat on the CD player. Makes more sense than listening one more time to Norah Jones saying she doesn’t know why she didn’t come.

Somebody else suggested making a drink with bourbon and unfiltered apple cider. He said it made the bourbon palatable and was triple-digit proof. Of course, he doesn’t drink, so I can’t get any current testimony about whether or not it really does chase the blues.

My sister couldn’t think of anything that didn’t involve shopping. When I told her it couldn’t involve money, she immediately thought of credit cards. When I told her it couldn’t involve plastic, she immediately thought of the $25 coupon you get from Discount Shoe Warehouse once you’ve already spent 10 times that on shoes. You just need to plan ahead. Timing is everything.

My niece said, change your hair color. She has astonishing hair. Shiny, swingy, straight. I’ve long since forgotten what her natural color is, but becoming a redhead for September seems like a sensible choice.

A penny-pinching girlfriend gets some points for suggesting underwear shopping at Target. Target is cheap and the underwear is great. Plus, you don’t have to listen to “The Four Seasons” for the umpteenth time the way you do when you shop at Victoria’s Secret.

An attorney friend, adamant that I mention her role as an arbiter of truth and justice, pointed out that burning CDs is illegal, whereas nude sunbathing in your own backyard is not. (She also claims ignorance of zoning restrictions.) Another friend thought nude sunbathing in a tanning booth a faster, year-round and less potentially risky option.

My own thinking runs to creating a September survival kit, stocked with the kinds of treats that will make staying at home and catching up on abdominal crunches less punishing than it appears to be.

What would I put into my own homeland-security survival kit?

Industrial-sized cartons of Epsom salts for long soaks in the tub. Lots of cheap white candles in little votives. Champagne. Raspberries. Pesto sauce. Triple-crème cheese. Tins of smoked oysters. A jar of Mac’s astonishing S/He Butter or some oil heavily scented with sandalwood or patchouli.

The Collected Poems of Robert Frost. The Complete Poems of e.e. cummings. The Riverside Shakespeare. The Olympia Reader. The new and old versions of The Joy of Cooking.

Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious. Claire Bloom and Julie Harris in The Haunting. Polanski’s The Tenant and Rosemary’s Baby. Whatever else looks cheap and good in the pre-viewed bin at Price Chopper. A universal remote.

A finely ribbed black turtleneck sweater. Jeans washed to velvet softness. A big, white shirt. A toe ring. Very thick socks.

And the Travel section from The New York Times.

—Jo Page

You can contact Jo Page at

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