When I was a kid, I knew exactly when summer began. It started the very moment I stepped out of my school on the last day of class. Boom: summer. As an adult, the timing becomes a bit more murky. Does summer start on the summer solstice (June 21st this year). Does it start when college kids get out of school for the year, or when secondary schools let out, or maybe elementary schools? How about Memorial Day weekend or your work vacation? My point is, to quote The Breeders (yes, another ‘90s anachronism for this site), “Summer is ready when you are.”
And for me, that is right now, at this very second. It’s warm out, I’ve submitted final grades for my college students, and I have sprawling months ahead of me to write and sculpt, do chores and play video games, eat ice cream and go to fairs. Sounds like summer to me.
Whenever this time of year rolls around, like the start of most seasons if I’m honest, I start to reminisce about when I was younger. I ponder the endless summer days of youth when the school year was like a fever dream, unreal and distant. When a single hour could stretch to the horizon. When waiting for the ice cream truck was an event worthy of our full attention and a pocket full of quarters could sustain us for days.
I mourn those summer days of my childhood, long dead and buried under countless other memories. Try as I might, it's hard to claw my way back to the feeling of freedom and wonder I’d experience as I stepped out of my classroom, never looking back, eyes forward, scanning the days ahead like a king about to address his subjects. Still, there’s always hope.
As I sit here writing this, the sky is cloudy outside my window, threating rain. This alone, this one little change in atmosphere, helps bring me back to all those wonderful summer thunderstorms of the past. Invariably, on summer days like this, I’d head to the video store across the street and rent a scary movie. Next door, at the Milk Inn, I’d buy some snacks. Probably a box of Goobers to pour into popcorn. Maybe we’d order out for pizza too. There were countless summer nights spent this way, with the rain beating against the windows, a fistful of popcorn, and the VCR whirring away with Jaws, The Burbs, National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Goonies, The Great Outdoors, or some other seasonal fare.
But the rain didn’t always mean seclusion indoors. We were kids after all, and a little water never mattered much to us. I remember having countless footraces through the rain, getting soaked to cool down after a sweaty day. I never could pass a puddle without leaping into it. Or build little paper boats to sail down the sidewalk rivers, always keeping a keen eye out for Pennywise.
Later in the evening, when I was supposed to be asleep, I’d turn on my bedroom television and sit up close so I could keep it low. There was always some movie playing that I shouldn’t be watching on WPIX 11, and I’d sit there, bleary eyed and half asleep. Because I knew, tomorrow, there would be no school. No homework, teachers, or classrooms. Only an endless day of bike rides, exploring, trips to the park, and video games. Sometimes, when the atmosphere is just right, I can still remember exactly how I felt on those warm, magic nights.
Over the course of the next few months, I'll discuss my fondest memories, the best events, the most popular movies, and every other great summer thing of the 1980s that I can think of.
Prepare yourself, because summer is ready when you are.