It’s Sunday, August 23, 2020. It’s 72 days until Election Day.

On this day in 1831, the Virginia slave rebellion instigated by Nat Turner was suppressed. 

The rebellion killed about 55 white men, women and children. The reaction to it led to the murder of scores of Black people, even harsher anti-fugitive laws and the ridiculous concept that slavery was a benevolent way to treat African Americans.

Turner himself evaded capture for two months. But once he was caught, it didn’t take very long – less than two weeks – for him to end up on the end of a noose. 

The recording itself shouldn’t have made me sad.

It’s a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You,” from a Dylan tribute designed to raise money for Amnesty International. 

The performance is by the country group Sugarland. I’m not a big country fan and this is the only thing by Sugarland I own.

The song itself is as ostensibly happy as Dylan gets. I’ve fallen so much for you that I’m willing to give up everything – throw my ticket and suitcase out the window! – to spend this evening in your embrace.

So why does this version make me sad enough to write 213 words so far – and clearly more to come?

It’s because it’s a live recording. It was made at the New York State Fair in Syracuse in 2011. 

I didn’t go to that one. But I’ve been to the state fair periodically since 1986, with my wife, my kids and even my brother.

We love it.

That’s weird because we’re from downstate. New York City, Long Island and the city’s northern suburbs. Most people who we’ve lived among have no idea New York has a state fair – much less that it’s in Syracuse in late summer.

New York’s a strange state. The people downstate don’t grasp any commonality with people north of Bear Mountain. If you can’t get there by Metro North, it’s upstate.

In fact, for people who live in the city, if you can’t get there on the No. 1 subway, it’s upstate – anything north of 244th Street in the Bronx.

But New York is a beautiful state, full of gorgeous vistas, wondrous agriculture and hard-working people. 

And that’s what the state fair celebrates. If New York City isn’t part of it, so what? The butter sculpture, the Christmas tree judging, the state agencies’ booths, the baked potato stand. Not to mention gaudy food stands and, if you’re really brave, rides.

We went to the State Fair last year and loved it.

We’re not going this year. Because there isn’t one to go to.

Now you figured out why I’m sad.

Summer is a time of little joys that you wait a whole year to relive. Street festivals. Concerts. The beach. The Mets at Citi Field. Their farm teams in Binghamton and Syracuse. Restaurants. Historical sites.

I’m probably omitting one or two of yours. Feel free to insert.

This summer, those joys are lost. A precious summer – I’m 66 and I’m starting to realize that my number of summers is getting smaller – is gone.

And then, to compound this feeling, there’s this idea:

How many of the 176,464 people who have died as of this moment from COVID-19 dreamed, when winter was its fiercest, about the joys of summer. And thought that if they could endure the cold and snow and dark that corn-on-the-cob and meeting friends at the soft swirl stand and a trip to Williamsburg or Yosemite were not so long away?

That, most of all, is why the song made me sad. There are people cheering in Sugarland’s version of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying With You.”

Nobody’s cheering now.

It didn’t need to be this way. It. Did. Not. Need. To. Be. This. Way. 

Tonight, I’ll be staying here. Throw my suitcase back in the closet.


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