The blackberries are popping up on their vines like little balloons. Most of them have been picked over along the trail, leaving the remaining good ones deep in the thickets. To get to them requires risking the damage the thorny vines can do to skin and mood, not to mention their claustrophobic and strangling predisposition to cling to clothing.
Someday, someone will do a paper on why we feel it is okay to eat unwashed berries right off the vine. They are usually covered with dust and insect stuff, yet we move them from the plant into our mouths like popcorn that was prepared within health department guidelines. Sure, we might brush off an errant spider web or unidentifiable cling-on, but generally we are overcome by the near-narcotic need to get such a morsel into our mouths. There must be some primitive prerogative that releases antibodies into our systems to render stowaway gremlins harmless. Only the threat of an afternoon spent reading catalogs in the smallest room in the house prevents over-excessive gorging.
There is always the thornless way to enjoy berries: blueberries. The U-Pick blueberry fields in the Valley come to life this time of year, with their orderly rows laid out for easy harvest. Moving from one bush to the next, it is easy to forget where you are. You look up from the pail and all you see are blueberry bushes in both directions, with sky above and dirt below. It is a gift to live in a place where the end of summer is marked by the arrival of edible sweetness, hanging between the warm days and the impending wet weeks. Months from now, we will pull those berries from the freezer. Each blue orb--even before it goes into a pie or cobbler, or atop a bowl of ice cream--will help us remember when the days were warmer. With that memory comes the promise that the sun will shine again. Sometimes a single thawed berry makes it easier to fend off the frustration of not being able to find that favorite winter hat, necessary shelter from the cold winter rain.
Cinemas have long endured the dead time between the sweltering heat and the shortening of the days, when people claim their last few moments of being comfortable outdoors, before the cold and rains begin. With the coming of the "r" word, the traffic at the Darkside increases nicely. It is also the time of year when a lot of our best movies will be playing. Movie companies like to release their best films close to the end of the year to capture the attention of members of the Academy. This increases the chances of getting nominated, or better. More movies to choose from is great, but it also means a lot of the studios want their films moving through very quickly. With only four screens at the Darkside, our seating is limited. You should get in to see a film right away if you plan to see it, or it may be gone.
We're pretty tight with the folks who run the big cinema in Albany. Not so long ago, Lainie and I headed over there early one Sunday to spend a couple hours. It was raining that day and we didn't feel much like being cloistered in the house or the Darkside. I will always appreciate Lainie's ability to tolerate doing something on my day off that isn't too far from what I do for work. We didn't go to Portland to see friends, or to the coast for clam chowder, or to visit family. Nope. We went and hung out at another theater. But, it was the right thing to do that day. I watched a comedy and Lainie watched a drama, then we all four went out to a tiny café none of us had visited before. You know you've been hanging around for a while in a restaurant when you've had lunch and you've lingered over coffee long enough to need to eat again. Between the other theater guy and I, we had almost 60 combined years in the business--but we talked about fun stuff, too. Oddly, it was a respite from my impending payroll, looming at the end of a less-than-stellar month.
A few days ago when I was in that local blueberry field filling a pail, I stepped into a time warp. For a few seconds I wasn't the Avalon Guy with bills to pay and equipment to keep rolling for one more show. I was a scrawny twenty-something thrust into a ritual that involved an old coffee can and rows of blueberry bushes that faded into the way-too-early morning fog. Though the work didn't thrill me, the people I was working with were some of the best I'd ever known. Some of them have since moved on from this life--but one in particular was haunting me that day in the field with Lainie, teasing me about what a shitty job I was doing filling my berry quota. Back then, I would sometimes take the teasing personally. Today, I see it as a way for an old farmer to relate to an angry kid with a loud motorcycle. It was a good way, too. Sometimes it takes a few decades to see the sense of something. Considering the fondness with which I look back, that old farmer knew what he was doing.
That was also a time when I drove an old Chevy Impala, which now sits under piles of Avalon leftovers in a storage unit. The day Lainie and I went berry picking, there was an old Impala parked by the post office downtown. It was a year older than mine, but it had the same familiar anachronistic heft that made it do more than just fill a parking spot. I tend to get a little distracted by cars like this--the way their styling jumps out from the homogeny of silver aerodynamic cars with remote door locks that piss me off when they beep. Those who know me resign themselves to the fact that when I see a car like this, the world stops until I can take at least one lap around it and try to sneak a peek at the odometer.
It's supposed to rain today and probably tomorrow. That's okay. Whether it's the seasons on a farm or the ebb and flow of this business, it has to be okay. After all, the freezer is filling with blueberries and great movies are on the horizon. Though most classic cars will be off the street and out of my view for the winter, I know that, like the berries, they will be back again when the sun is out and the rain takes its summer vacation.