Monthly Archives: June 2004

Summer memories

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All over town, the soft summer nights are filled with teenagers enjoying their only perfect summer, that glorious space between high school and life, that time when anything is possible and they’re too young to be afraid of those possibilities. Freedom in car keys and bottles and loose curfews. I don’t envy the young much beyond the careless ease of slender, pain-free bodies. If they knew what was coming — if any of us did — they’d be frozen in place, unable to move forward into the pain and the joy. It’s all too much, conceived at one moment. It takes time to live through it all. But I do envy them the warm summer nights spent lazing around the porches of lovely girls, drinking new drinks and wondering what will come next. There may be kisses, there may be more, there may not. Trying to name the stars, debating the profundity of a song, quoting poetry, trying on sophistication like a new suit.

Or maybe it’s completely different now. Who would know? But I know what it was like then, a score and twice-three years ago, and it was sweet. It was nectar.

Though that’s not the perfect night I’d most like to capture. I’ve long thought that I could do no better as a writer than to capture a summer night from when I was one of a bunch of 15- or 16-year-old boys, riding our bikes, hanging out under streetlights and on a series of front porches, bullshitting about sports and girls and especially girls, still something of an alien species to a group of kids that was centered on several families made up of many boys. I can taste the Bazooka bubble gum and the Hires root beer, I can see the fireflies in the high grass of the elementary school ballfield (with its much battered “No Hard Ball Playing” sign on the backstop now reduced by focused pitching to an admonition of “No Hard,” exactly what we thought it should say). I can remember the boasts and the promises, the banter of boys who’ve known each other forever. One of us was going to die, and we knew that, which set an odd tension over these perfect nights, made liars out of all of us when we talked about the future. We couldn’t know then that we’re all liars when we promise the future, so there was guilt about those lies, about what we’d do when we could drive, when we were out of high school, when we went off to college. The friendship of boys — a much simpler thing than with girls, less subject to daily upset. Just because you don’t like another guy doesn’t mean he’s not one of your friends, necessarily.

But when I try to put it down, I can’t quite get it all — the supreme teenage zen of a tank top and cutoffs, perched perfectly on a bike, one sneakered foot against the curb for balance, the other foot idly backspinning the cogs on the bike, occasionally wheeling out into the street, turning the tightest circles possible, back to balance against the curb. I can’t quite describe the tinny, staticky sound of the AM transistor radio, brought out onto Paul’s grandmother’s porch, turned to the Top 40 station but turned way down so as not to wake her, because we could pretty much stay outside until some parent somewhere noticed us, or noticed we were missing, at which point they might send a little brother to fetch us home, or a father would get out in the station wagon, cruise up and lean out the window to check out what we were up to, give a thoughtful puff on his pipe and then announce it was time for his boys to get on home. If we were at one of the places they expected us to be — someone’s front step, the schoolyard, under a corner streetlight — it went nice and easy. If he’d had to drive half the village to find us, harsher direction would be given. Either way, our night would be over and we’d pedal off home to sleep and dream and ready ourselves for another day of baseball and bicycles and bullshitting.

But if you weren’t there, if you haven’t had those sweet nights in your life, I haven’t described enough of the hundred details that went into making such a night: The baseball game — right field an automatic out under our rules, as we’d have to interrupt the game if the ball went over the fence into the street — played until it was too dark to see the ball in the seldom-mowed grass. Wiffleball in the street, using storm sewers for bases. Frisbee, card games at wobbly picnic tables, bike rides to the corner store or to Jumpin’ Jack’s drive-in.

Will the memories of the kids wandering these streets on these soft summer nights be as sweet as ours are?


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Not a bad weekend, though, as always, way too little of it. Only one long bike ride, and a modest one, but that’s okay. Saturday was a day of supreme laziness, just couldn’t get going on much of anything in the morning, and the afternoon was spent disassembling the old swing set, cleaning the garage some more and trimming back lower branches from the massive maple. (Maples are so beautiful, and they make such a mess — dropping blossoms, seeds, and leaves all through the year.) Got the hammock out and immediately lost it to my daughters. Yesterday, mostly more of the same. Cooked a whole chicken on the grill for the first time, and it came out great.

Made it a bit of a baseball movie weekend, too. Watched “Eight Men Out,” truly one of the greatest baseball movies ever, just a masterpiece by John Sayles telling the story of the Black Sox. Last night, we watched “The Pride of the Yankees,” the Lou Gehrig story starring Gary Cooper, and if you don’t think an old ’40s black and white melodrama can still bring you to tears, well . . . there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when he said, “I am the luckiest man in the world.” (In between, we snuck in The Marx Brothers’ “A Night at the Opera,” just so it wasn’t all gloom and doom around here.)

Plans for the Fourth? Why, going to Lake Placid and watching ski jumping, of course!

Today, however, I am the only person in my house who has to get out of bed.

It’s Thursday,

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It’s Thursday, so I must be sleeping in New York City tonight. Another overnight, this time to give a talk to people I don’t care for about a program I’m barely current on. They may have to forgive me if I stick to my notes. And I only accepted because it thought it was taking place at the Crowne Plaza in Albany, short steps from my office. Turns out it’s the Crowne Plaza in Times Square, many more short steps from my office. (And, it occurred to me last night that they use money in New York, just like anyplace else, and I don’t happen to have any, so I’ve gotta run to the bank this morning, too — haven’t had an ATM card in many years. I’ll soon be in the Smithsonian as the last human to cash a check.)

Sneezing with Grape-Nuts in your mouth is actually dangerous.

What am I reading?

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What am I reading, out on my porch on a fine summer’s evening until it’s too dark to see anymore? Baseball’s Best Short Stories, a rare case of truth in advertising that I picked up at the Hall of Fame a couple of years ago and am just now getting around to loving, and McSweeney’s Issue 13, the all comics issue — a Father’s Day bonus. Strangely enough, the cutting edge comics artists are the same as they were 20 years ago, or so it seems. Hernandez brothers, Daniel Clowes, Kaz, Charles Burns, etc. Great stuff.

Party on, Wayne!

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So, speaking of grocery stores and iPods, I was listening to a playlist last night that I had named “Party Mix 1.” Couldn’t remember having put it together, then it dawned on me — iTunes now has a function it calls “Party Mix,” which is just a slightly fancier version of shuffle mode that actually lets you see the upcoming songs. At some point the listing must have pleased me especially, because I took a list of 20 songs and put them into this playlist. But I listened to it last night and just had to wonder, what the f kind of party would this be, exactly? It starts out with surf classic “Comanche,” okay — then goes into “Gorilla You’re a Desperado,” a lesser Zevon work, followed by a song that should never follow anything (or lead into anything, either), “Couldn’t You Keep That to Yourself” by Ute Lemper. You just have to take Ute on her own terms; doesn’t playlist well with others. Then “Can You Be True” by Elvis Costello, in the same vein (not surprising, he wrote both). Then it goes into “Sliver” by Nirvana, Cracker’s lugubrious “Rainy Days and Mondays,” and Nick Lowe’s “I’m A Mess,” and it’s really just time to leave this party and find some anisette to take the mood down to the basement, curl up on a bed of nails with some Ibsen, put on some Tom Waits and wait for death to come. Thinking I may need to retitle it, something subtle like “Never Play In the Grocery Store!”

Old school

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Slacker dude working the register at the supermarket. I’m in my total dork dad costume — race t-shirt, baggie shorts, clogs and my iPod. (Like most people, I completely don’t care what I look like when grocery shopping.) Dude smirks at me and asks an unusual (and therefore, I think, snarky) question: “Find everything okay?” I answer with a “yep,” and then he asks, “Listening to anything good?” Happens that I’m listening to “Let’s Go Crazy” from Sandinista, so I say, “At the moment, The Clash.” Not what he expected. Shut down! (Either that, or he had no idea what I was talking about.)

Best Father’s Day weekend ever

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That’s all. It just was. Saturday, a little bit of Troy’s Riverfest and the rock ‘n’ roll stylings of The Fleshtones, who know what to do with wireless guitars and a flatbed trailer converted to a stage. They completely rocked. Then, went to the drive-in with friends to see the best Harry Potter movie yet (that’s three drive-in shows this summer, and Spider-Man 2 is yet to come). They stuck to the core of the story and really made it great.

Yesterday morning, I was awakened by much shuffling and pitter-patting and whispering, and then officially awakened by two beautiful girls in shiny dance costumes carrying a tray of presents. It was incredibly sweet. They gave me a bike repair stand and a new set of tools, which was very nice and much needed. I spent the day finishing the tree fort and cleaning the garage, and tried to get in a bike ride but my headset started coming apart again, which proved the need for the repair stand, so I put it to immediate use.

Also? Dozens more strawberries, and the first of the black raspberries. Love those girls . . . .

New York, Not New York

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Sometimes it strikes me how very odd it is that I can just get on a train and suddenly be in New York, and a few hours later I get off another train and I’m back in Rensselaer, which is so very Not New York. Had to spend a couple of days in the city, and I can’t tell you how hot it was. Had to wear a suit, and I was just dripping. No wonder there are so many dry cleaners. I stayed across from Madison Square Garden, very convenient to the train station but a pain in the neck when there’s an event at the Garden — it gets very noisy. Plus, there’s a fire station on one side of the hotel and a police station on the other. Madonna, who apparently didn’t understand that people were busting on Prince over that whole name change thing, was playing at the Garden, and it was odd to see a whole bunch of people decked out as if it were 1984 — not in Madonna chic of the time, but punk clothes: studded belts, lots of chains, torn shirts, spiked hair. Right costume, wrong party. The leftover punks of the early ’80s would not have been going to Madonna shows, kids. Struck me as very odd.

This afternoon’s family event? The Fleshtones, live and absolutely free, up in Troy. In all this time, I’ve never gotten to see them live, so I’m totally jonesing for this….

Joys of my yard

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The absolute best time of the year for living in my house is about to arrive. The little wild strawberries that we let overrun the back corner are turning up perfect, tasty, tiny little berries, and the black raspberries that surround the house are about to deliver us quarts and quarts of delicious black caps. I know that someday we will be gone from this house and someone else will come here and mow down the strawberries and tear out all the raspberries, and I just want to be on record saying that I will be forced to haunt the bastids, even if I’m not quite dead yet, because anybody who doesn’t appreciate having their own raspberries doesn’t deserve this house.

Scientific experiment concluded

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I can now report with a 98 percent confidence interval that taking a week off to ride a bike is better than going to work. In addition, I have scientifically established, once and for all, that my headaches are work-related. However, despite fairly comparable amounts of sitting involved in both activities, work-related sitting has never required me to patch my butt with second-skin bandages, so, oddly enough, it is the leisure activity that proved to be more of a pain in the ass. (Feel free to peer-review.)