When I was a wee lad of grammar school age, it was guaranteed that within the first week of the new school year, my classmates and I would be tasked with writing the dreaded “My Summer Vacation” essay. Apart from the occasional foray to the Happiest Place on Earth or being dispatched to my mother’s native Minnesota for some out-sourced parenting, the long suburban summers of my youth in 1970s Sonoma County were precisely the same, year in and out. Which is why, when the composition books and the thick red eraserless pencils were distributed, notions of plagiarizing myself were hard to stifle.
If I had any sense back then, I would have just kept the previous year’s essay and written something in my mottled black and white book akin to “Like last summer about which I wrote [insert massive quote of last year’s “My Summer Vacation” essay], this summer was pretty much the same. The End.”
Despite, or perhaps because of, the annual repetitions of my summertime experience, I’ve retained little other than a smattering of sense memories. I’ll record them here so that I might quote myself later. Among them are:
Frozen candy bars at the local swim center. An ingenious means to compensate for a lack of ice cream, which would extend the life of a Three Muskateers Bar by half an hour while loosening our molars.
The sweet reek of coconut-scented suntan lotions and the Lolitas who lathered themselves into human piña coladas. Mind you, this was before I knew anything about the opposite sex other than I wanted to know everything. (Now, I’m Socratic about the matter: “I know I know nothing” and I plan to continue enjoying not learning a damn thing.) Coconut is the official smell of summer.
Feats of derring-do off the high-dive that resulted in the hard slap of aquatic reality against my belly and the sting of chlorinated water up my nose. My hair was artificially blond for years from stewing in chlorinated water. Of course, this ended when I turned 15 when my hair became artificially black and I shunned the summer sun for shadows, graveyards and coffee house batcaves.
Hot dogs that tasted like charcoal lighter fluid, daubed with hot mustard the color of poster paint. This is mere moments before California’s gourmet revolution took hold. The kid in back of me in the lunch line was probably handed a prosciutto and brie panini.
The nozzle of the inner tube gripped between my wet toes as if keeping a tenuous grasp on something vital and real like waning youth or… hot air. It’s a common mistake to conflate sentimentality and profundity. I can guarantee you, at age eight, I was thinking of neither. I was probably trying to let the air out of the tube with my toe as a means of poolside propulsion, given my cartoon-level understanding of physics.
Anyway, the above sensations are what I might written in my comp book had I any sense of retrospection and wasn’t a notch above being learning disabled. Without a legion of editors, proofreaders and advances in writing technology, even these very words would read like some kind of pidgin English composed from random keystrokes and autocorrection.
Of course, if I had any sense now, instead of putting the staff through the paces, I would have simply scrolled through the archives and poached liberally from last year’s “My Summer Vacation” column. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any sense last year to “pay it forward” (trust me, I checked). So, you’ll have to wait until next year for a proper riff on summer’s cessation. Here’s a preview: “Like last summer about which I wrote [insert massive quote of last year’s “My Summer Vacation” column], this summer was pretty much the same…”
Daedalus Howell begins his autumn vacation 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 14 at Copperfield’s Books, 140 Kentucky St., Petaluma, when he reads and signs “I Heart Sonoma: How to Live & Drink in Wine Country.”