Here’s a heresy with a twist ending.
As a kid, I hated summer.
Oh, I know volumes have been written about the joys of the sunny season. The old fishin’ hole. Camping in the mountains. Frolicking in the water at the beach. Lemonade stands. Catching lightning bugs at night.
Oh, I remember the thrill of the first week or two after school let out. Sleeping in late. No homework. No tests. Nothing to do but anything at all.
But by the time that Independence Day rolled around, and all the fireworks had been shot off and all the frankfurters burned, a kind of disappointed ennui would set in.
Now, I know this was not the case for everyone. But for those of us too young to get a paying job and without transportation to the fun spots mentioned above, summer became a too-hot kind of house arrest.
I grew up in the Sixties when most homes did not have air conditioning. Dads worked and moms stayed home (and many did not drive). There was no public bus service in those days, so the famous Southern California beach scene was more mythical than methodical. The hardy (or fool-hardy) might try hitchhiking or writing a bicycle to the attractions we longed for. But the former option was dangerous and iffy, and in the second case, well, if you don’t live near the beach, it’s a lot farther away if you’re pedaling on a one-speed Schwinn than it may seem.
The big switch in how you view the summer comes around the time you are approaching high school graduation. The realities of economics (and the realities of parents) means you have to find a job, a low-paying, greasy, monotonous, bottom-of-the-food chain job that sucks up all that free time you once wasted so promiscuously.
In addition to your measly pay, you get another lesson in economics: supply and demand. Scarcity creates value. Those leisure moments, looking back, become golden. Sure, now you may have a (used old) car, but you’re working to pay for gas, insurance and the inevitable repairs that come with driving a piece of junk.
The beach is now within easy reach, but you are flipping burgers, selling shoes or cleaning hotel rooms instead of hanging ten, making out or strumming your guitar with a clutch of friends gathered around the fire pit. At some point, elbows deep in some industrial dishwashing sink, the thought comes unbidden: I will be working for a living for the rest of my life.
It’s at that point, those aimless days under the ash tree in the backyard and seeing animals in the clouds begin to assert themselves as the lost Promised Land, the Eden from which we were exiled.
Memories surge back about running through the sprinklers, sneakered treks to the library or liquor store, kickball in the street (the manhole cover was home plate). And how all of that gave way eventually to a combination of apprehension and excitement about the approach of fall and the return to that routine of school days.
You can’t change history. But there’s a good chance you can change how you think about it.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts is posted on alternate Thursday.