‘Tis the season of whine. It’s too hot. The subway is a sauna. The streets are melting. I wish I were at the beach. I wish we were in the country. Our air conditioning barely cools. I’ll take hostages before I use my oven again. We spend all winter awaiting the dog days and then all the weather people can talk about is when will the latest heat wave end.
I, for one, love summer. It requires the requisite shedding of all that is comfortable. It begs for a change in routine that only the languorous days of July allow.
I piss off my kids and jeopardize my marriage annually by delaying the installation of the rattling window air conditioning units for as long as humanly possible. Aside from gobbling up energy and eviscerating the environment, I find, like most things technological today, they make life too easy. I enjoy hiking up the four flights of my somewhat renovated tenement, opening all the windows, powering up the fans and stripping down to my skivs. I sit in my green chair with an icy cold beer and chill. The fans simulate a breeze and soon enough your body temperature levels out with the air temp. It’s a luxurious way to enjoy a cheesy novel.
Summer harkens back such interesting memories that I find no other season can compare with palpable context. My sibs and I jammed into the back seat of a not-air conditioned Bonneville, enroute to Jones beach, plumes of my parents’ cigarette smoke drifting lazily over us as we sat crushed in traffic on the L.I.E.
Tennis in the stultifying heat and humidity of DC. We’d get on the courts with our dads at 7 a.m. so they didn’t croak from sunstroke in the midday claypot. Once the elders retired from their exertions, my buddies and I would play round robin until our feet were blistered and our faces plum and dripping. We’d ride up to the 7/11 and gulp gallons of Gatorade and inexplicably and joyously, industrial fridge-chilled glass bottles of Strawberry Yoohoo. I swear that stuff never curdled.
The soundtrack for summer was Chicago and the Beach Boys and the Yankees on a Transistor radio, playing a day game against whoever was better than us. Back then that included the entire AL East. It was an exercise in futility and we tuned in daily. Farm-to-table had not yet been invented and the neighborhood pool served up grilled hot dogs on a smoky fire and watery cups of frosted lemonade. There was no better reward than that first cannonball plunge into the ice cream blue waters amidst the screams and Coppertone on an August afternoon.
Have we aged or have times changed? I suppose in the era of ubiquitous mobility everything is designed for maximum comfort. It’s the paradigm shift that no one dares speak its name. There’s no app for wiping the dripping ice cream of a melting cone from your fingers, no online service that delivers your grade school pals riding up on their Stingrays to see if you want to go look for frogs in the brook. Summer clung to us like a sticky haze and we created memories that refused to let go.
I’m staring off into space in my 6 by 9 foot Manhattan cubicle, straining for the words to capture that fleeting moment. Labor Day beckons but I still have some business to attend to. I’ve got the Rand McNally open on my desk and I am thinking North Dakota. The two-lane stretches like licorice out there and you can always find a game on the radio. Windows down, hot air blowing through the car, Levis and Keds and the glowing ember of a stolen smoke. Night falls. The air cools. Somewhere on the AM band, The Kid from Minot takes a mighty swing. You hear the crack of the bat, the echo of one hand clapping as a smattering of fans take it in. Summertime in America. You can’t take that away.
Ken Carlton might be the last person who still navigates his cross country forays with a Rand McNally road atlas. You can follow him on Instagram @mrswagnerspies.