When you reach the 208th day of the year it will be July 27. On this day in 1890, the painter Vincent Van Gogh shot himself in the chest. He did this in one of the French wheat fields he frequently painted. He was thirty-seven years old and died two days later. His last words were, “The sadness will last forever.”
Also on this day, in 1946, the writer Gertrude Stein died in France while being operated on for stomach cancer. She was seventy-two. A year later, the American novelist Katherine Anne Porter, writing in Harper’s magazine, will call Stein’s work “the long drone and mutter and stammer of her lifetime monologue” and refer to her “tepid, sluggish nature, really sluggish like something eating its way through a leaf.”
For the rest of us still living, even the sluggish ones, July 27 will be like all the other days, which is to say, a combination of breath and panic and glory. There is not much we can do about any of this.
OLD WIVES DAY
This is the day you realize you’ve become an old wife. It’s because your husband, Owen, has given you an electric can opener as a thirty-third anniversary gift. And because the celebration dinner is the two of you at the Dairy Queen—Flame Throwers, Diet Cokes, a shared Oreo Blizzard— after which you ride home in silence sucking an orange Lifesaver. Okay. So be it.
But consider this: Being an old wife can be a cause for joy because you can now put your stamp on each day. From here on you’ll be able to add to the world’s store of tales, sayings and remedies. And there’s a good chance you’ll become valued, even prized because of this. You will soon learn that being an old wife changes all the pieces on the table.
The only problem is that being valued can mean you’re in danger. This is because old wives are becoming a scarce item. Maybe divorce or disinclination are the reasons, but there are fewer of you participating in the long-haul marriage. As a result, old wives have become a rarity. People have taken to running off with them. They’ve become a cultural product, valued like argon crystal or a horse coloured amber champagne. There is now this amazing phenomenon of old wives just quietly disappearing.
If Owen is worried about theft, tell him it’s unlikely you will be taken. As an old wife you’re a pretty standard model, small and blonde, and you’re not shy and have a big mouth. You also wiggle your finger a lot, like an old cat woman, and you know what that means. Cats can suck the breath from a baby.
DOROTHY PARKER DAY
On August 22 we honour Dorothy Parker for her corrosive wit. Born in Long Beach, New Jersey, on this day in 1893, she came to prominence as a writer, reviewer and satirist while working for the New Yorker magazine during the twenties and thirties of the last century. “Those were the terrible days of the wisecrack,” she wrote. “There didn’t have to be any truth.”
There still doesn’t have to be any truth, which is why August 22 has been designated as the one day of the year we can say corrosive things and be free from public censure. Dorothy Parker was reputed to have said corrosive things every day of her life, including the fact that she loved dachshunds better than men.
“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”
“I require three things in a man: he must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid.”
“Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”
“Tell him I was too fucking busy—or vice versa.”
On Dorothy Parker Day we wear wool suits and little hats, smoke with cigarette holders and have a liver-coloured dachshund on a lead. We wander about being bored and sullen and sad and nasty.
“If you can get through the twilight you can live through the night,” she said.
Come evening we toast her with Whiskey Sours, her favourite drink— bourbon, lemon juice, and sugar over ice. She was drunk most nights. When a reporter asked her if she was going to join Alcoholics Anonymous, she said, “Certainly not. They want me to stop now.”
She died of a heart attack on June 4, 1967, her preferred words for an epitaph being, Excuse My Dust. Her ashes remained unclaimed in a lawyer’s office for seventeen years.