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Thursday, Sept. 2, 2004 06:45 pm

Grace about town 9-2-04

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"Hi, my name is Grace Smith . . ."

"You can write about fall for this issue, if you want," said my editor. Fall? Fall? Is anybody thinking about fall right now? Are you kidding me? I mean, it was suddenly strangely chilly for a few days, but where's the rest of summer?

My Boyfriend and I were taking a walk the other night, and he started pointing out trees whose leaves appeared to be changing color. "Looks kind of like fall," he said, very gently, hoping this wouldn't start me off on another "Summer can't be almost over" rant, which would involve lots of stomping around and yelling on my part.

I've been hearing lots of ominous rumblings around town as well. Woolly worms, for example, lots of chatter about woolly worms -- they're fatter or blacker or surlier than usual, which portends a bitter, fat, surly winter. Uh-oh. Early frost, I've been hearing. Frost mid-September. Better batten down the hatches, boys.

I have nothing against fall as a season. By itself, fall can be perfectly pleasant, with the crisp days and fall festivals and fall fashions -- plus, of course, the new line of fall lipsticks and nail polish. Whenever I flip through a women's magazine, I'm fascinated by the many new lipsticks and nail polishes; there's always some dazzling new shade as the makeup-maker people continue to reinvent red and dark red and pink. Sometimes I've bought a shade of red nail polish that looks like the most beautiful, new and dazzling color I've ever seen. Then I take it home and realize I already have eight bottles of polish of exactly the same color.

But I digress. Fall. The smell of burning leaves . . . well, when I was a kid, the smell of burning leaves seemed OK. But I've noticed that even though leaf-burning is now banned, a dark blanket of smoke covers vast areas of town every fall. Places such as Jerome and Southern View seem to think it's OK to burn, baby, burn, but somehow the smoke blows all over the place in a smokelike way, seeping into the sections of Springfield proper where we don't believe in leaf-burning.

When I first moved back here a couple of years ago (A couple of years? What on earth have I been doing with myself? I must have been wasting lots of time. Must get busy . . .), I kept thinking the town was ablaze. "No, it's just leaf-burning," Mom said.

Perhaps Jerome and Southern View and other pro-burning subsections of town need to enclose themselves under a dome to keep the smoke from encroaching on the rest of us and impeding our right to freely breathe in and out without coughing or gagging.

But my big issue with fall as a concept is that it means that winter will soon be here. I refuse to contemplate that horror right now, except to say I've already booked a Mediterranean cruise in January.

Also, even though I no longer have to go to school, fall always feels like back-to-school time, which is kind of depressing. Actually, I went to a meeting a week ago, and it reminded me of school because we had to say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the meeting. This fascinated me -- I realized I hadn't had to recite it since grade school. Would I remember? I did, every word. I think maybe I'll start reciting it now and then, just for the fun of it -- so I don't get rusty.

The meeting went much better than anticipated, by the way. For one thing, they served really excellent chocolate-chip cookies. Also, the speaker spoke for just 11 minutes. Not that she wasn't interesting, but I think 11 minutes is a perfect duration for speech-giving. Even I can sit still for 11 minutes (it helped that cookies continued to be served during the speechifying).

The only bad part of the meeting was when we had to stand up and state our names and tell what we do. We passed a microphone around to speak into. There were approximately 40 bazillion people at the meeting, and I went last. You may have read that I've done a couple of one-woman shows, in which I've stood up in front of people who actually paid real American dollars to listen to me talk, and I've been in all kinds of plays and stuff. And yet I was terrified at the thought of standing up and saying my name and telling what I do. Over and over again I kept saying in my head, "Hi, my name is Grace Smith. I write a column called "Grace about Town" for Illinois Times." As if I was going to suddenly stand up and forget my name.

I didn't forget my name, of course, but it was touch and go for a torturous amount of time. "Grace Smith" -- maybe I should have it tattooed on my hand so I won't have that fear anymore. I'm thinking maybe I'd like to go to another meeting someday, but will they make me stand up and say my name again? Maybe I could stand up and say, "Hi, I already introduced myself last time," and then sit right back down again.

Anyway, fall. OK, here we go -- let's jump right in.

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