“The room was close and sweaty, suffocatingly so. It had been a hot and surly summer in Manhattan, and summer in the city is more than anything a psychological season, a season dictated by income bracket. (The lower your bracket, the longer and hotter and smellier summer is.)”

Betsy Berne, from her wonderful novel, “Bad Timing”

“I don’t own a house in the country. For a lot of the time, I couldn’t afford it, and when I could afford it, I didn’t have the urge. I think that almost everyone now owns a house in the country, so there is a guest shortage, and I feel I fill that need.”

Something Fran Lebowitz once said.

* * *

At the exact moment at which I agreed to do this column I was stung by a bee. I was in the country, walking hastily away from a swimming pool so as not to bother people with a cell phone conversation. “Fine,” I said, in response to the editor, who was apologizing because they could not pay me what had been asked. Then all of a sudden I started hobbling from this pain in my toe. A moment later I was sitting on the grass like a monkey — my foot in both hands, bringing it toward my face. With my head cocked so as to cradle the phone while I pulled out the tiny glistening stinger, I said, “I’ll do it.”

This was before the war started. To say the war is factually and possibly morally wrong. But that is the word that sprang to mind. The ambivalences multiply as fast as the unlikely sentiments. I mention the bee sting because the timing seemed interesting — can you write about August in New York at such a moment without somehow shooting yourself (getting a stinger) in the foot?

* * *

Our hosts for our prewar country sojourn live in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., full time. They used to live in Manhattan. Over dinner our first night we discussed a move to Roanoke, Va., that my wife and I are going to make this fall. I’ve taken a job for a year, a visiting professor gig at Hollins University.

“You’ll find that living outside of New York is very convenient; there are a lot of things that will just be easier for you,” our host said. “You may like it.” He dabbed a napkin to his lips. “Then there are things you will miss.”

These comments were bracing, though I can not say if it was the first half or the second half that moved me with worry — that we might like living elsewhere, or that there are things that we will miss.

* * *

Back from the country, I arrived into a heat wave. The city was like a kiln, but I had been in the country long enough to have started to crave the city, and my enthusiasm for it survived the first scorching day intact.

On the second day I was standing in the subway, listening to my Ipod Shuffle with my face in the paper. Suddenly someone bumped into me from behind. He really jostled me. I hardly had time to react before he was past me, though at the last second I did something with my body, barely a twitch. It was a late rebuttal of sorts to the rude shove.

The man slid past me and then turned to face me at the distance of a foot or so. He was slender and had high cheekbones, a baseball cap on backward with a bandana underneath, baggy jeans and, though I couldn’t register this at the time, the coloring of both an Asian and a Hispanic man. Like me, he had white earplugs in his head. Our eyes met for a beat. Then he said loudly, “If you didn’t have those earplugs in your head you would have heard me say,’Excuse me.’ Dumb ass!” Impressively, he stood right there and stared.

I responded with a witheringly blank look or, depending on how you consider it, a look that reflected a certain dullness and inability to think on your feet, compounded by the fact that I was on my way home from the dentist and half my face was numb. So I stared at him with an expression that said, I am bigger than you but incapable of speech and, possibly, thought. I stared right into his eyes. There was a small horizontal scar above his left cheekbone. He was a cool-looking dude. We faced off like boxers before a fight.

This was high theater and everyone in our vicinity was looking at us. But I could offer nothing to keep the play going. After a moment he stormed halfway up the car, and I stared at him for minute in an attempt to recoup dignity and tried to formulate what I should have said.

There is a term for thinking of the snappy thing to say after the fact. It is French. l’esprit de l’escalier, the spirit of the staircase. This was l’esprit de l’subway.

The big ideas that came to me while I pretended to go back to reading my paper were: “Are you also an ass in winter?” and “What are those white things sticking in your ears?” But only now, writing this down, do I wish I had simply said, “I am sorry I blocked your way; please accept my apology.” That would have been amazing. But I am not that cool, or that swift. Maybe next time.