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Coming Attractions

August was the plainest month. Yes, there were a couple of storms and an earthquake filling our quota for national emergencies, but you get the feeling those only happened when the real news didn’t show up. The very famous even took a month off from dying, it seemed like, or otherwise making a spectacle of themselves, football wallowed in the platitudes of preseason, and one page in my calendar was mostly noteworthy for not containing any major holidays to plan around.

Alas, we never know how lucky we are until it’s over, when Labor Day and Patriot Day and nieces’ and nephews’ birthdays start piling up along the edges of our schedules and regrets: shouldn’t we have done, have given, have contemplated more? After all, these opportunities only roll around once a year.

Or do they? Now might seem an unlikely occasion to introduce Patrick McDonnell’s The Gift of Nothing, which is ostensibly about Christmas (“It was a special day,” begins McDonnell noncommittally, snowflakes descending around two houses) and yet I cannot imagine a more promising head start, here at the beginning of what is ubiquitously designated The Season, when everything appears suddenly so novel and revolutionary that we would be idiots not to need it. This goes for movies, for gadgets, for fashion, for books, all of them recently bursting their gates, and flooding our consumer awareness in torrents apparently dammed since early April. And television! Is anyone as excited about the newest iteration of Charlie’s Angels as I am? How many shows will make their debuts in the next three weeks before we are allowed to turn our expectations to 2012?

“Mooch often heard Frank say there was “nothing on TV.” But as far as Mooch could tell, there was always something on TV.”

Mooch is a cat, by the way. Earl is the dog next door who apparently has everything – bed, bowl, home, squeaky toy – and Frank is, well, you, waving your arms in frustration, and endlessly flicking the channels. Or maybe you are Millie, gape-faced and loudly declaring after a long day out shopping that there is “nothing to buy,” or maybe you’re just a kid whose fencing lesson was abruptly canceled, and you forgot to recharge your iPad – so nothing, nothing, nothing to do.

But imagine you are somehow able to see your way around such desolations, or through them – is this a gift, or a skill that takes learning? And if you did find such a way, wouldn’t it be a little like breathing underwater or flying or making yourself invisible, and wouldn’t you probably be dreaming until you shared it with a friend?

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