Does anyone ever get over the feelings of our childhood, when as school children we anticipated the arrival of our summer vacation with heart palpitating impatience, and greeted the inevitable return to classes in September with both wistful resistance and the thrill of new beginnings. As Joni Mitchell said in her song “Urge for Going”, “I’d like to call back summertime, and have her stay for just another month or so.”
Never mind that 100 degree temperatures and 80 percent humidity are far more oppressive to me now than they ever were when I was young. Frankly, I don’t recall ever once minding the heat and humidity in my childhood, and this was in the days before our home had air conditioning. Secretly, I suspect we are all closet lovers of autumn. In spite of some chilly nights, and the impending spectre of winter, autumn weather is pleasant, the turning leaves are gorgeous, and the world simply buzzes with activity. As Van Morrison said in his song that otherwise celebrates summer, “..we’re longing for fall on this evening in June.” For me the New Year will always begin in September, not in January. Those of the Jewish faith certainly got it right.
But if the New Year begins in September, it certainly ends in summer, and I savor every passing day as if it would be my last. Somehow June always goes by too fast, and then its the Fourth of July. Lately I have been pretending that the summer starts in May, especially if the weather’s good.
So it was appropriate that in May, or thereabouts, the newly reunited Beach Boys (at fifty, they are the oldest major rock band in America) released their new album, “That’s Why God Made the Radio”, their greatest album since the early 1970’s. From the upbeat 60’s myth of the nonstop California beach party in the first half, to Brian Wilson’s brilliant meditations on lost youth, aging, existential angst, and ultimate Zen acceptance in the second half, the album saw my wife and me through the summer. My vote for the Album of the Year Grammy.
This summer, when I thought about it too much, seemed disappointing. My wife Dyane Fancey has been slowed by a bad knee (her doctor insists that she is too young for knee replacement surgery yet), and further grounded by various nuisance ailments such as chronic sinusitis and gastro-intestinal crud. No sooner does one let up when the other kicks in. As a result, we stayed home for the entire summer. Every weekend we intended to go out to eat, or see “Moonrise Kingdom” (or some other art house hit), only to stay home, watch DVD movies or whatever HBO (or other cable network) series we currently found fascinating (generally there are several at a time), and order Asian delivery.
At times I was dying to get out the door. And lets face it, staying home all the time just seemed unhealthy. Going to the store (always by myself) and revelling in being among strangers became my most sociable time of the week. At these moments, I really felt like part of the flow of humanity.
But at other times, I must admit, it was a pleasure to be home with my wife. We have been together for thirty-three years, and have spent most of our spare time together during those years. I cannot think of anything I would rather do than be with her, regardless of what we are doing, and she says the same about me.
In June, at the recommendation of one of my WBJC colleagues, we Tivoed all four seasons of the AMC series “Breaking Bad”, about a staid chemistry teacher diagnosed with cancer, who becomes a genius methamphetimine cook to pay his medical bills and support his suburban family, only to gradually be transformed into a monster. We watched all forty-six episodes in two and a half weeks, including the first week of my June two-week vacation (The second of three vacations I had this summer). I must say, the show is a masterpiece, one of the best television series ever.
I was pleased to pull out some of my old video tapes and watch them again with my wife. Particularly stimulating was the 1963 film of Harold Pinter’s enigmatic “The Caretaker” (the same film that helped ignite my interest in the Theater of the Absurd when I was sixteen years old), and a beautifully letterboxed copy of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001, a Space Odyssey” (recently voted the sixth greatest movie of all time by a poll of over eight hundred international film critics). My wife and I found dozens of essays about both “The Caretaker” and “2001” online, and had stimulating discussions about the various interpretations of these intellectually challenging works.
Anyone who knows me well is aware that I am one of the few American males who does not care for sports. This undoubtably stems from my social discomfort as a child from being lousy at baseball and pretty much every other sport. (I got more coordinated in later years through yoga and biking, but I have always fostered a loathing for competition, unless its the Oscars.) But the one sports event that thrills me to no end is the Summer Olympics. During the two weeks of the Olympics, my wife and I often Tivoed as much as six hours a day. And that’s not counting what we watched live. Every night, I would come home from work in the wee hours, and my wife and I would watch what we had recorded, falling asleep in front of the TV, and going to bed at sunrise. Rooting for Michael Phelps was a joy we shared with all of Baltimore. One of my few mainstream tastes is a love for watching gymnastics. But I also loved the truly weird sports like mountain biking (on a fake mountain!) or kayaking (in some of the smallest spaces imaginable!). Synchronized swimming was a little too weird, even for us. Two people standing on their heads under water and wiggling their legs in unison, with identical frozen grimaces. On the other hand, one Sunday night my wife and I watched the entire women’s marathon (two hours, running early that morning through the streets of London). I have to admit, I have never sat through an entire marathon before, but I found it fascinating, even the inevitable tedium, in a manner similar to many of the art films I watch (or for that matter a Bruckner symphony).
Since this is an election year, my wife and I usually wake up to cable news channels with their political pundits and liberal versus conservative debates. I often alternate brushing my teeth with glances at the New York Times. I never used to follow politics so closely, but my wife has alway been avidly involved, growing up in Washington, DC, where she was an executive secretary for the AFL-CIO while still in her teens. She still recalls the protests against the Vietnam War. She says the police would throw teargas cannisters between 5PM and 8PM to break up the demonstration so they could go home for dinner.
Just a month ago our doctor told my wife she had an infection (although we still are not sure just where it resided, but we are convinced that it has been doing its nefarious deeds under the radar for a long time). The doctor blasted her with a ten day dose of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin, which had nasty side effects, but after a week she was a new person. And off we drove in early September on a two week trip to mountainous Western Pennsylvania (bliss out on the scenery; watch out for the elk!), visiting my father Elton Petersen in Pittsburgh, my best friend Larry Koppelman and his wife Cindy Billisits in Warren, and finally bonding with the young servers at Gunners Inn and Restaurant in St. Marys where we stayed for four nights (“I want to adopt them,” my wife said) while doing genealogical research. We concluded the vacation seeing five movies in four days on actual movie screens, including “Moonrise Kingdom” at the Charles Theater (loved it!) and “Searching for Sugarman”, turning us on to the previously ignored early 1970’s music of Sixto Rodriguez, and his amazing rediscovery in South Africa in the 1980’s. Suddenly, my wife is on a roll. More about that later.family, friends, marriage, movies, music, politics, summer, television, vacation