What is so hot about summer?

SEE THESE people having fun on the beach? That was never me, says Jim Tortolano (Flickr).

Unfriend me on Facebook. Block me on Twitter. Cross the street when you see me coming.

But I’m going to stick to my controversial position.

I hate summer.

Well, I don’t mean I hate it like broccoli or mayonnaise. I simply find that despite being a resident of Southern California’s sunny climes, I am so out of synch with what most people seem to feel that I sense myself an outcast, a pariah.  Or, perhaps, just an East Coaster at heart.

We are mere days from the official beginning of summer and I’m already getting a little bit itchy. Having been born in chilly Rhode Island with its miles of rocky coastline, what’s celebrated here in the Golden State was mostly absent in a state where water was to fish in, not to splash around in.

Neither of my parents ever learned how to swim. In contrast, native Californians seem to be born with invisible gills and flippers. West Coast beachgoers surf, parasail, play volleyball and the ladies dress in outfits seemingly inspired more by Victoria’s Secret than JC Penney.

Back then in the Ocean State, my people went to the beach to sit on a blanket on a bluff overlooking the water, chowing down on gigantic pepper and sausage sandwiches. A bathing suit was a pair of denim cutoffs, inspired by the rapid deterioration of the fabric at the knees. We watched the fishing boats and scanned the horizon for the next hurricane.

When I was young, sure, summer seemed like a good idea for the first two or three weeks after school let out. No homework, no books, yada yada. But then the boredom and the heat set in. The “Cool Kids” made trips to The River, wherever that was.  The rest of us stayed home and moped around the house, contemplating our boredom.

By mid-July temperatures rose into the 90s. Not bad for people like Marilyn, whose family had a pool. I guess that was the rich part of town. We were lucky to run through the sprinklers. I’m not sure we could even afford a Slip-N-Slide.

At our house, we not only lacked air conditioning, the old folks didn’t believe in fans, either. The air would lean hot and humid on us, and sleeping soaked in your own sweat was a challenge.

Summer didn’t get much better as I grew older. The Cool Kids who had older brothers and sisters got rides to the beach, where they honed their warm weather styles. They got bronzed and buff and quaffed Cokes and Pepsi Colas. We perspired, mopped our brows and drank pre-sweetened grape flavored Kool Aid.

By the time I was enough of a swimmer to make it out to the sandbar at Huntington, the season changed from a half-dressed frolic on the strand into a time to spend my summers sweating at fast food restaurants, flipping burgers and counting my pennies.

By the time you begin your actual careers, summer exists only as a concept rather than an actual season of leisure.  We labor 50 weeks out of 52 and it’s been years (decades?) since we looked good in the bathing suits of our youth.  In early days, I was too thin to look good in a swimsuit, and later too … uh … well-fed. I was only beach-fit for about 20 minutes between those two eras.

Marilyn, of course, doesn’t share any this with me. Blonde and tall and peppy, she swims like a fish and loves frolicking with the grandkids in swimming pools and the surf.  She’s the joy of summer personified, and sometimes I feel a little overshadowed.

But, then I cheer myself up by remembering that I can eat a sausage and pepper sandwich a lot faster than she can.  We all have things we excel at, even during the summer.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts is posted on Wednesdays. He can’t wait for September.










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