America can be violent and empty, but never dreary. This week she was battered by storms from the imagination of Herman Melville. They died out before hitting New York, but lashed the beautiful Carolinas. Seen from the vantage of politics and economics, America is all gleaming towers and concrete. Seen from outer space, she is a vast wilderness battered by earthquakes and tornadoes. Parts of her are alien. I once spent ten days trapped in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in a snowstorm. Everything was white: there was no horizon. I was at peace. Unable to leave the city, I settled down in my motel room and knocked back whiskey by the pint. One day I braved a walk to the cinema in town. It had an organ that played ragtime and sunk into the ground when the picture began. Most people got up to leave at that point. The flick turned out to be A Single Man, and dreary it was too. I can tell you the plot without ruining your life: gay dude can’t get any so contemplates suicide, is offered some by two teenage boys, decides he wants to live, dies of a heart attack. After the organ player stopped, the only people in the cinema with me were a shocked married couple and a man with an Alsatian dog. I walked back in darkness through three feet of snow. It was one of those moments when I could have died and I wouldn’t have cared. Yukio Mishima was right that life is lived in preparation for the perfect death. That might have been it, and I'm disappointed that the opportunity was lost.
How different everything is in England now. We find ourselves at the end of a “dreary summer”. That means wet weather and nothing to do. Last week I went to a party at the house of a shadow minister (he wasn’t there, of course) and drank with chums and talked about politics and women. My host said, “I was at a wedding last week and I got stuck with Ed Miliband”. Then went to a café that was run by a Philippine man who swore constantly at his wife. Stale bread and tomato ketchup: the breakfast of the English gods.
So what is dreary? It is a state of being dull and boring that is without action. A man can bore you, but to do that he must be capable of irking the listener. A man who is dreary might as well not be there. Dreary people are depressing or silent. Dreary places are tired and brown. Dreary clothes make the wearer fade into the background – without the magic "puff!" of a chameleon, of course.
It has been one month since I left the USA, and I miss it dearly. America moves in dramatic cycles, lurching from violence to outrage season to season. In New England, in particular, I love how the changes in color are instant and dramatic: white, green, yellow, brown, white. In England, once we leave summertime we just slide into dew and mud. Christmas looms without excitement, just aching certainty. Already, on the 29th of August, I can see candle-fire and tinsel. “Holidays are coming … holidays are coming.” Even the gaudy joy of the British Christmas was invented by a Coca Cola ad exec.
Now the summer is over, we must all return to work. Students must be taught things, articles must be written, great aunts must be entertained. Out go the blazers, in come the grey suits. There'll be blacktie feasts and a beard by November. I move to Oxford in October and start the “learning of the names” all over again. And from the dreariness of the early Autumn afternoon comes the sexual thrill of new faces and new friends.
Happy bank holiday, England – may it not be dreary.