Summer Chronicles 2019 #1: June Gloom

by on June 24, 2019 · 0 comments

in Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

In the summer of 1967, the great Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector, began a seven-year stint as a writer for Jornal de Brasil (The Brazilian News) not as a reporter but as a writer of “chronicles,” a genre peculiar to Brazil.  As Giovanni Pontiero puts it in the preface to Selected Chrônicas, a chronicle,

“allows poets and writers to address a wider readership on a vast range of topics and themes.  The general tone is one of greater freedom and intimacy than one finds in comparable articles or columns in the European or U.S. Press.”

What Lispector left us with is an eccentric collection of “aphorisms, diary entries, reminiscences, travel notes, interviews, serialized stories, essays, loosely defined as chronicles.”  As a novelist, Pontiero tells us, Lispector was anxious about her relationship with the genre, apprehensive of writing too much and too often, of, as she put it, “contaminating the word.”  It was a genre alien to her introspective nature and one that challenged her to adapt.

More than forty years later, in Southern California — in San Diego no less — I look to Lispector with sufficient humility and irony from my place on the far margins of literary history with three novels and a few other books largely set in our minor league corner of the universe.  Along with this weekly column, it’s not much compared to the gravitas of someone like Lispector. So, as Allen Ginsberg once said of Whitman, “I touch your book and feel absurd.”

Nonetheless the urge to narrate persists. Along with Lispector, I am cursed with it–for better or worse. So, for a few lazy weeks of summer I will, as I have for a few years now, try my hand at the form.


Sitting on my front porch in Golden Hill, I take a sip of coffee and stare over at the side of the 7-Eleven across the street, fresh paint covering the graffiti on the beige wall, a person buried in a black sleeping bag on the sidewalk below, the sky above flat, dead grey.  For a moment it feels like the gloom of June has sucked the color out of the world and left us in a forgettable black and white TV show, a re-run no less.

I put my coffee on a step and look down at the magazine in my lap, my eyes landing on the words: “The Dali Lama at the roadside 7-Eleven extending his hand to surprised truck drivers.”  Looking back up, I see that a woman has emerged from the sleeping bag and is brushing tangled, dirty blond hair out of her face, glancing sideways toward the alley where a crowd of men from the rehab center are ambling her way, talking loudly and laughing.

In the parking lot in front of the store, a woman is holding the door of a van open for a little boy carrying a Slurpee the size of his head.  Next to them in a truck, a couple is kissing with Norteno blaring from the stereo while a woman in a pantsuit comes out of the door of the store with a quart of milk and squeezes between the car and the truck before heading over to her red BMW in the second row of parking spots.

As always, the police are there, sipping large cups of cheap coffee, surveying the scene in the lot from behind their dark sunglasses.  An old man in a rumpled brown suit walks out of the $5 Dollar Pizza next door holding cardboard boxes containing two large pies with a certain elegance at the same time a whole family wearing bright yellow soccer jerseys strides into the kabob place in the far corner of the strip-mall.

I look back down at the magazine, a picture of the Dali Lama beaming widely from it, and wander unthinkingly through the text, not really reading until I hit the words, “The ability to touch joy while in the midst of suffering.”

Back across the street, the traffic picks up, with cars pulling in and out of the lot and people strolling in and out of the store and restaurants.  The homeless woman has moved on from her spot and in her place another woman in a short blue skirt is screaming something I can’t quite make out into her cell phone, gesturing wildly with her arms, and pacing manically.  The men from the rehab center give her a wide berth as they head back toward the alley armed with Big Gulps.

On the corner, a woman is packing up the flower stand and a pair of neighborhood regulars lingers close by, ready to take up residence in front of her shop once it’s closed.  She nods at them and smiles, and one of them, an old man who looks a bit like Amiri Baraka, tips his cap.

Despite the leaden grey above, there is energy in the air, anticipation of the end of the work day.  The smell of steak searing on the grill drifts down the street from the Turf Club. Some retro-clad hipsters with goatees leave the 7-Eleven with a 6-pack of beer, and a guy hops into his work truck with a huge energy drink.  The hipsters stare at a beautiful young woman with flowing black hair heading across Broadway toward the taco shop. Stumbling past her, a lost soul is striding wildly, raving at the still leaden sky at the top of his lungs, dishing out every profanity in the book and then, “I see you doing this to me!  I see you!”

I think of the Dali Lama stopping by this 7-Eleven and smile.  Perhaps he would bless the desperate wanderer, grab a stale donut, shake hands with the gardeners in their dusty work-clothes, or bow to the young woman buying some condoms for a date.   Maybe he would stop by my front porch and tell me that any one of these people could be me and that I could be them and that underneath the dead grey sky that seems to have sucked the life out of the world, the sun is always there, always luminous.


{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: