And tonight will go on forever while we
walk around this town like we own the streets
and stay awake through summer like we own the heat
---Brand New, Soco Amaretto Lime
I was having trouble sleeping - thanks to the bird convention taking place in my backyard - and started thinking about summer. Specifically, all the summers gone by.
I've got this mishmash of memories running through my head now, some of which will find their way into longer posts, and some which will work their way into the novel I've been writing for the past few weeks (which partly explains the decline of quality of original content here lately).
- The anticipation of summer, which was almost as good as summer itself. It would start getting hot in early June and the teachers would fling the windows open every morning. We couldn't concentrate because we knew what was out there. Not out there, right out the window, but out there in terms of the immediate future. The warm air brought with it a restlessness and every time a breeze came through the classroom, I'd think of the ice cream man and the church fair and the endless days and nights that lay ahead. Even the teachers would get antsy. They'd give up trying to teach us anything for the last week or so and we'd all just talk about what we were going to do over the summer. You could tell from the wistful look on the faces of the teachers that they were looking forward most to being away from the classroom and us.
Summer never held any kind of heavy promise for me, because I never expected anything out of it. It just had to be. As long as I could get up in the morning and walk outside barefoot, it was all good. I never wore shoes. Even in the late afternoon, when the street had been scorched by the sun all day and your skin could blister on contact, I would hop from car shadow to tree shadow or run on tip-toe, letting out little yelps of pain all across the street, because I refused to wear shoes in the summer. Shoes were a formality. Summer was casual.
- Al the ice cream man, a Holocaust survivor who used to tell us his stories and show us his numbers and I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish I listened more, or understood more. But Al's heavy accent and rushed, yet kind, demeanor will forever be part of the summer photo album that sits in my head. After Al, there was a long line of ice cream men who came by in their trucks and that tinny ringing of the bells was the highlight of our day.
- Night swimming in high school, hopping fences and dropping into neighbors' pools uninvited, usually around midnight.
- The church fair with its zeppoles and goldfish games and Ferris wheels. The balloon/dart game, where I won the Lynyrd Skynyrd mirror that's still in my mother's attic. The tilt-a-whirl thing, where I met Doug while sitting underneath the machinery, smoking a Marlboro and listening to the Doobie Brothers blast through the neighborhood. And then walking home from the fair each night, clutching whatever stuffed animal I won, smelling like fried food and beer and from my house I could still hear Father M. on the microphone, exhorting the crowd to buy into the 50/50, as I crawled into bed.
- Kick the Can, which usually turned into something else entirely, groups of us hiding in bushes and trees and backyard sheds. Later on we'd play SWAT instead, peering around from corners, pretending to shoot each other as if we were five and playing cowboys and Indians, not 16 year olds holding invisible guns, pressed against the wall.
- Getting sunburned at the beach, before we knew how bad the sun could be for you. We slathered ourselves in baby oil and cocoa butter and made sun reflectors out of tin foil. My friends' faces and arms tanned a beautiful bronze while my arms withered, blistered, burned and peeled. I gave up on the sun after long and spent my beach time under an umbrella, reading Judy Blume's Wifey and listening to 99x on the little portable radio.
- Going upstate to Roscoe, NY for days or weeks at a time. Wearing sneakers into the lake because the bottom was a bed of mud and algae. Catching frogs and snakes and salamanders and then letting them go because my parents didn't want to drag the things home with us. Carving our initials on trees and making forts that served as a refuge, a place to go to get some shade and read Mad Magazines and Archie comics.
- Lost of concerts, especially the all day outdoor festivals that WLIR used to have at Belmont Park. There was one summer in the 80's when we went to ever single concert at the Pier (where we saw the Alarm in a torrential downpour). The Cars at Forest Hills tennis stadium. Echo and the Bunnymen at the Beacon. The Fixx at some roller rink. July 31, 1978, Genesis at the Garden (I don't know why I remember that specific date) - it was broiling hot that day and we walked through Central Park for hours, pretending to be adventurers and then we went to see Ralph Bashki's Lord of the Rings at the Ziegfeld before the Genesis concert.
- Baseball, so much baseball. Sitting in the backyard with my mother, listening to games and learning how to keep a scorecard. Going to Shea Stadium in the early 80's when the Braves came to town and the place was so empty, we had a section and a beer vendor all to ourselves. Dave Righetti's Fourth of July no hitter. The Fourth of July game between the Mets and the Braves that didn't end until four in the morning - we stayed out in the backyard, twenty of us at least, watching until it ended.
- Every July 4th when I was young, celebrating my grandfather's birthday. Huge, huge parties across the street in my aunt's yard, the whole neighborhood would show up. Going up on the roof to watch the fireworks from Eisenhower Park. Lighting off our own fireworks and running outside the next morning to pick through the debris for any firecrackers that didn't go off.
- Hanging out at the school yard night after night, the suffocating heat making us cranky. Lots of fights and dramatic break-ups. Being chased through yards and streets by Officer Godlberg. Hiding in the fort in D's garage or the shed/clubhouse in E's yard, drinking stolen beer and smoking cigarettes and wishing we were old enough to go to clubs.
- Italian ices, the kind you ate with a wooden spoon and that had all the sugary gook on the bottom, so you dug around enough to turn the ice over and eat the sticky part first. Hamburgers that tasted like charcoal. Early morning walks to the candy store, one dollar enough to bring home a fistful of candy, enough to last the day and that we'd eat in between games of Marco Polo in the pool or hopscotch on the hot sidewalk. Pop Rocks and Pixie Stix and those little wax candies that looked like soda bottles and were filled with a medicinal tasting liquid that, back in the day, tasted like the best thing ever.
- The smells of summer; lilacs and fresh mowed grass. Rain sizzling on the hot street. Overheated cars that smell like baking syrup. Chlorine and pool liners. Oh, the smell of Fleer baseball cards and the powdery gum inside the wrapper. The salty air at the beach, hot dogs on the grill, cotton candy at the street fair.
- The last days of August when you've had enough of the heat and what felt like freedom in June now turning into boredom. The lure of new spiral notebooks and a fresh pair of Keds and sharpened pencils, not to mention cooler air.
- (added)- The summer of '76 when the bicentennial was the hugest thing ever. Everything was red, white and blue. Fleet Week that year was an enormous thing. There was movie theater that for the whole summer charged just 76 cents to get in.
- Summer storms. There's nothing better than a wicked summer storm, when it gets night-time dark at 1 in the afternoon and the trees bend in the wind. Huge thunderclaps that shake the house and lightning that cuts through the black clouds like jagged flashlights. And then the downpour - sometimes the streets flood up instantly and when we were much younger we'd run outside and dance in the puddles until our mothers started freaking out about us getting hit by lightning.
- Blackouts and brownouts.
Yea, one of my most vivid memories of summers past is the thankfulness that it was finally ending. Too much of a good thing, I guess.
I'm sure there are a zillion more memories tucked away and I'll think of a different one each time a warm breeze blows through the window or when I mow the lawn and the cut grass smell unleashes things I thought I forgot.
Update: I've decided to include some of my favorite recent summer shots.