Saturday, January 17, 2004

"Cause It's Summer"

Summer time is here
Yes it's summer
My time of year
Yes it's summer
My time of year

-lyrics from Summer by War

We have a saying out here in the West, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” Two weeks ago the temperature was down to -14F/-25.6C, there was two inches of snow on the ground, and the river had frozen solid enough for my dogs to scamper across it with impunity. The last few days the temperature has been in the upper 50's/teens, all the snow disappeared last week, and the only ice remaining on the river is hidden in places where the sun never reaches but even that is melting fast.

Yesterday I was driving to the eye doctor and listening to the car radio when a song started playing that made me think of summer. I remember the first time I hear it. I was on a city bus heading home from an afternoon at the shopping mall. Hearing it again put me right back there on that bus on that hot summer day, my body rocking to the motion of the bus and a hot breeze blowing in though the open window hitting my face.

Summer, when I was in junior high, was a time when I walked around barefooted as much as possible. The only time I would willingly put on my sneakers was after a late afternoon rain shower. Those showers were few and far between but when they did come they were short and intense. After the sky cleared we (friends or siblings) would put on our sneakers and go gutter walking. That meant walking in the gutter as the rain water raced down the street on its way to storm drain at the street corner. The water would be running so fast our shoes would create a wake as we shuffled our feet along. Some times we would turn our feet sideways and create a spillway that the water would rush over. There were two reasons why we did this. One, because the cold water felt good on a hot day and, two, because it was also a contest to see who could keep their feet submerged in the water the longest. That water was always ice cold. I never won these contests because I could never stand the cold for more than a minute or two.

Even though I wore my sneakers a little as possible I would carry them around with me if I thought I would be going somewhere I might be made to wear them. I would tie the shoelaces together and throw the shoes over my shoulder or walk with them hanging from my hand. One time I got on the bus carrying my sneakers and it wasn’t until I was half a block away from where I got off the bus that I realized I did not have them anymore. I knew my mother would be upset if she found out I had lost my shoes because they were my only pair. I never told her I lost them but the next morning I rode three buses to get to the city bus garage and pick them up from the lost and found. I never even considered the fact that someone might not have turned them in.

One Saturday my brother, sister, and I went roller-skating, Later we stopped at a liquor store that was near the bus stop where we would be catching the bus home. I bought a bottle of 7up for the three of us to share. The law at that time said any bottle leaving a liquor store had to be put into a paper sack so, after opening the bottle of pop for us, the man behind the counter put it into one of those one of those tall thin “there is a bottle of liquor in here” paper bags.

As I got on the bus clutching the bag the bus driver gave me a funny look. As we walked to the back of the empty bus I came up with a great idea. My brother, sister and I would pretend we did have a bottle of liquor in the bag. We would pass the bag back and forth and each time one of us took a drink we would first duck behind the seatback in front of us. So we did just that, giving the bus driver a quick peek before ducking behind the seat. The bus driver kept eyeing us suspiciously through the rear view mirror. Finally, he pulled the bus over to an empty bus stop and told me to bring the bag up to him. I walk up to him and gave him the bag with what I thought was an innocent look on my face. He took it, looked inside, and with a small smile on his face handed it back to me, telling me to go sit down. When I reached my brother and sister we all broke out in laughter. The driver was watching us again but this time his eyes were dancing in amusement.

By midsummer we would be bored with the normal summer things we did and would try to think up something new. One night a group of seven of us neighborhood kids were sitting on the grass strip out in front of one kid’s house. We were just hanging out watching the cars and people go by. The street we were sitting beside was also the street that the Number 11 bus came down. Somebody came up with the idea of seeing if we could get bus driver to stop the bus by faking a beating. We all agreed this would be fun so we picked the one kid in our group who wore glasses to be our victim. Then he and five of us went behind the house and waited as one boy stood in the street watching for the bus.

When the boy in the street yelled, “Now!”- our victim ran toward the street and a couple of seconds after that the rest of us chased after him. When he reached the grass strip the boy who was watching for the bus grabbed him and “threw” him to the ground. The rest of us formed a circle around him and started pretend-kicking the crap out of him. Our victim covered his head with his arms and rolled around screaming, “Mommy! Mommy!” We all started laughing at this performance. In fact, we were enjoying it so much we forgot about the bus. Then the sound of bus brakes squealing brought our attention back to the reason for all of this. We all looked in the direction of the street and then froze, shocked by what we saw.

Not only had we got the bus driver to stop the bus, he was so upset by what he thought we were doing he had stopped the bus right in the middle of the intersection, opened the door, leaped off, and was now running toward us while screaming obscenities at the top of his voice. And he was big. Nobody moved until our victim broke the spell by voicing what we were all thinking, saying, “Oh shit.” We exploded in to action like a covey of flushed quail. Seven kids took off in seven different directions, all running for their lives. Later, we decided that bus drivers did not have the sense of humor we thought they did.

Sometimes I really miss those days.

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