Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summertime (Part I of II)

It was more exciting than the gorgeous Orange talking to me, or sitting down with my own pepperoni pizza. I stepped off the bus and for the next 12 weeks I was on summer break.

I didn’t see time the way I see it now. There was the school year and then there were the summers when suddenly I was defined by the next grade level. “Isn’t it crazy that now we’re seventh graders?” I said to Colossus. At least we had three months to wrap our minds around that truly outrageous idea.

OMC album, How BizarreI wanted to be the first to hear the “summer song,” like Biggie’s Mo Money Mo Problems or OMC’s How Bizarre of the late 90s. I watched SportsCenter more than once each morning, back when it actually showed game highlights and wasn’t just an advertisement for Gatorade and Budweiser.

I played traditional sports and made-up ones, both outside and inside, hopefully without breaking much of the house. My older brother, JD, and I shot penalty kicks with a Nerf ball against the back of the couch. The trusty window blinds gave us the rebounds if we missed.

After he got home from work, my dad threw the baseball with me and JD to prepare us to be Major League infielders. No matter what, my dad always found the time to play with us.

We did things based on tradition. Several weeks each year JD and I went to an indoor sports camp where I was the king of dodgeball. The camp director was from England, so we played crazy shit like cricket and badminton. We had some fierce games with that shuttlecock.

The four of us drove to Carol Stream, Illinois, for a family reunion. When JD turned sixteen we joked that we should go in a separate car than our parents to see how much earlier we’d arrive. “We may get there before they even reach the Pennsylvania Turnpike.” We also took a trip to New York where my dad suddenly found his Brooklyn accent that had been hiding for 20 years.

In late July we went on our summer vacation, usually to a couple amusement parks, some boring museums and Virginia Beach. It wasn’t my mom’s ideal vacation, but sadly she had little hope of changing it. I used to look forward to it 11.5 months in advance. We stayed at the same hotels as always, ate at the same restaurants, did the same activities. I think it was nostalgia that kept us coming back; keeps us going to an extent.

At the amusement parks, with the exception of one or two shows they made us see, my parents waited for me and my brother on all the kitty rides. When we got older they waited for us on the roller coasters where very long waits weren’t uncommon. They still seemed to enjoy it, maybe because of how much fun JD and I were having.

The nights before we went to Busch Gardens or Kings Dominion I could barely sleep, I was so excited. This past Sunday I went to Kings Dominion and it was sad how different the experience was than it used to be. Riding in the front row of Volcano—one of my all-time favorite coasters—was enjoyable, but when I was in middle or high school it was earthshaking fun.

When Volcano opened in 1998, JD and I waited 3.5 hours to ride it. It was worth the wait. On Sunday, Kings Dominion was virtually empty. The park was cutting back costs, like fewer waterfalls on White Water Canyon and an absence of shows at the theater. One of my childhood loves is deteriorating.

My days were carefree as I pushed my summer reading back until the last weeks before the new school year. My biggest concern was which friend I’d hang out with, or whether we’d play Monopoly or American Gladiators with Nerf guns. Decisions life depended on. One year I broke a window playing baseball and Zeke’s parents caught us watching the stripper scene from True Lies. I didn’t get in much trouble for either.

My mom often took JD and me to lunch or the mall on a rainy day where I was guaranteed a stop in the candy store. At night I could stay up late and have sleepovers. Zeke and I would go through the yearbook and select the girl we’d most like to do from each row. If the row had only dudes then we still had to choose. I picked the goofiest looking guys so I could feel less gay.

Aside from a little boredom—okay, a fair amount of boredom—life was great. We were in our youth, innocent kids with the simple goal of having fun. As I aged, that goal, as well as summer traditions, didn’t change much. When I was 16 I think I saw 12 movies in the theater. If it wasn’t for me hanging on to my traditional summer I would’ve gotten a job with Regal. Then they would’ve paid me to watch the movies.

Most of my friends had no problem moving on, playing the part of their age. That left me with fewer people to spend time with. I wasn’t about to let go of my summer break, the same one I had since my mom was still picking me up at the bus stop.

I had my summer break in college. The activities changed and there were even fewer friends to hang with, not to mention that it wasn’t cool unless there was a group or alcohol was involved. But I clung to my summer breaks the way a cancer woman clings to her last wisps of hair before chemo takes it all.

Keep reading:
Summertime (Part II of II)