Another season, another reason to vacate Florida for the cooler climes of the northeast. As lovely as it is to have the good fortune to spend the winter months where scarves and gloves are not required, I feel equally fortunate to be able to leave when the temperature and humidity are responsible for an unending succession of bad hair days. I’m happy to say we survived another transition, arrived safely, and have been busy resettling, and wondering why we keep shlepping all this stuff back and forth! Oh, well. So, you now have my excuse for not coming up with a new essay at this time. But here’s one from 2016 that’s as true today as it was then with a few updates. And the grandkids referred to below? They’re now driving themselves to the beach, hopefully with a tube of sun block.
Summer Is a Bummer
Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of nostalgia. My capacity for fondly recounting the good old days is about half a cup. Sure, I have pleasant memories of growing up in the 40s and 50s, but I’m not about to initiate a petition for the return of Howdy Dowdy or lobby the fashion industry to bring back poodle skirts.
And, while I do miss Archie and Jughead, I don’t get sentimental when reminded of what the price of gasoline used to be, or that a movie ticket used to cost 25 cents.
While I pride myself at being a forward-thinking kind of gal, I must confess that this past Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of a new season, and the hot weather, did combine to trigger images of childhood, and a good, old-fashioned, unfettered Summer!
Whatever happened to the summers of my youth?
I really do miss them. I miss the anticipation of them. The arrival of June, the end of school, the extended hours of daylight, more time to spend outdoors.
While I still enjoy the extended hours of daylight, my appreciation is now more often from behind a screen door. Summers used to be carefree. Now they are hazardous to your health.
It’s hard to enjoy summer when you are repeatedly reminded of all of the risks that come with warm weather. How can I possibly find the same pleasures of the season when I feel I must carry my garbage to the outdoor bin wearing a hazmat suit?
When did summer become dangerous? Blame COVID-19, global warming, or the thinning of the ozone layer, but daring to walk out the front door unprotected feels like extreme risk-taking behavior. Perhaps that’s why I experience an adrenaline rush if I go to my mailbox without a hat on.
And the beach? A real downer. My inner child longs to run freely in and out of the water, and build elaborate sandcastles complete with moats. But my outer older person threatens with more age spots and/or a trip to the dermatologist if I don’t remain under the umbrella. Among my beach equipment is a tape measure to ensure that I am at least six feet away from the nearest beach blanket. And mask-wearing does result in a weird suntan.
Would I consider a drive in a convertible? Never. At least not until the sun goes down. And even with the top up, one is not safe. I’ve learned that bad rays can penetrate glass. Therefore, I’m seriously considering window treatments for my car.
And when it comes to applying sun protection, perhaps someone can help me with the proper protocol. Do I apply my sun block before or after I rub on my skin moisturizer? If I apply my moisturizer first, will that prevent my sun block from working? But if I apply my sun block first, will that prevent my moisturizer from plumping up my wrinkles?
In any event, there are now two layers of lotion on my face before I even put on my makeup. It’s no wonder that I walk around for the rest of the day feeling like a stick of butter.
And remember when mosquito bites were simply that? Annoying little itchy bumps that would subside in a couple of days? Since malaria was not a serious threat for those of us growing up in Bensonhurst, mosquitoes, while never our friends, were not to be feared. And insects did not dictate how we dressed.
But in summer I am told that I must be cautious about the Zika virus. I have been warned to cover up and use insect repellent. Tell me, do I spray this on before or after sun block and skin moisturizer?
One expert even suggested we wear mosquito netting to cover our faces. Hey, why not? It’s the perfect fashion accessory for the surgical mask worn to protect us from air pollution and Covid.
And in the good old summertime, who ever heard of ticks? Ticks were a sound made by my grandfather’s pocket watch. But I must also cover up and spray to prevent Lyme disease. So that’s me, in 90-degree weather, walking my dog in an outfit that looks like I’m about to embark on a ski vacation.
Maybe I should invest in that hazmat suit after all. I wonder, is it a one size fits all, and does it come in a choice of colors?
I admit summer still has some pleasures. I do look forward to fresh picked corn, luscious tomatoes, and
juicy summer fruit. However, please don’t mind if I graciously decline that outdoor picnic for the safety and security of a screened porch.
But as I watch my grandchildren from said screen porch thoroughly enjoying their summer, and their mother chasing them with a tube of sun block, another thought occurs to me. Summer hasn’t changed at all. I have. Summer has always had its perils, but to be concerned about them was the responsibility of the adults.
I can recall my own mother’s hesitance to venture out from under the umbrella when she reluctantly consented to go to the beach, something as I child I could never comprehend. Today, that shade-seeking grown-up is me.
It could have been worse. To arrive at my happy place, I could have turned to drugs or alcohol. Or consuming entire packages of Fig Newtons in one sitting. But instead, I was drawn to something far less expensive and much lower in calories. Over time, I’ve evolved into a crossword puzzle junkie!
We all need our moments of Zen, a time of peace and tranquility when we can make the world disappear. For some, it’s a warm bath with scented candles, or a relaxing massage. For others it might be meditation and\or yoga. Or any combination of the above, like meditating while immersed in a warm tub surrounded by scented candles and doing water yoga. Personally, I prefer showers, and not having to clean the tub after achieving the desired state of grace.
I’ve been drawn to word puzzles since I was a child. Growing up in cramped quarters with little opportunity for privacy, even back then it was a way to get lost inside my own head. I remember using my allowance to purchase books of rebus puzzles. You remember those, the brain teasers that use a combination of pictures and letters to arrive at the answer, usually a common phrase?
But since college, it’s been crosswords. I would hide the newspaper behind my notebook and work on the puzzle if I was bored. I did this until I was outed by my economics professor, who smirked at me, and then gave me the answer to 5 Down.
Since retirement, my appetite for solving crossword puzzles has increased proportionately to the additional spare time I now enjoy. I just love tuning out the world and focusing all my cognitive energy on the black and white squares of a fresh challenge. Even when I’m being tested to come up with the name of some obscure saint from the 11th century, I’m completely and utterly relaxed.
Crossword puzzles aren’t just recreational but are highly educational. Over the years, I’ve learned so many interesting things. For example, do you happen to know the national bird of Hawaii? Well, I do. Or the alternative to a truncheon? Or what to call a small whirlpool? Or a chalcedony variety? I know these concepts hardly ever come up in casual conversation, but I’m so much better prepared if they ever do.
Some puzzles are more difficult than others. For example, the New York Times puzzles increase in difficulty from Monday through Saturday. (The Sunday puzzle may be bigger, but equal in difficulty to, let’s say, Thursday.) The progression of difficulty in The Wall Street Journal is the same. Some Saturday puzzles can be particularly daunting. I’ve often put the paper down and returned to it later. Even the next day, at times. I stare with intense concentration at the blank squares, and it is then that some cognitive alchemy occurs. And suddenly, I know what I didn’t know before. It’s like staring at the pieces of a crime board in a police procedural. If the detective stares long enough, and hard enough, he will suddenly know who did it!
But inherent in not knowing an answer is an ethical dilemma. I have stared for two days, and still nothing. Is there any research regarding the maximal time for staring before it no longer produces a result? In that case, may I consult Google? Or is this (gulp!) cheating? At least when you look something up, you learn something. That’s what I tell myself, anyway.
Not all puzzles are fun. Some are downright annoying. Like the creator was trying too hard to be cryptic or clever. Too many cross references or overused reliance on Brian Eno. (I wonder how he takes to being a common crossword clue just because his last name conveniently has three common letters?) Those, I will give a shot, but if I’m really bothered, I admit I do walk away, silently chastising the author. Which is about as productive as yelling at the TV screen, but it’s all part of the game.
I don’t see my addiction to crossword puzzles abating any time soon. Nirvana is staring at a string of empty boxes, getting one or two letters, and suddenly being sure of something you know you didn’t know. That, my friends, is a crossword puzzle moment, and I’m always looking forward to the next one.
Well, I may not be a young man, but I have headed West. My husband and I are in Los Angeles to attend the 90th birthday celebration concert for none other than Willie Nelson. How cool is that! And the best excuse ever for missing my April 30th deadline for posting a new essay.
So rather than leave a blank page, I’m reposting an essay first published in March 2014. (OMG, has it really been that long!) Not coincidentally, it happens to deal with “coolness” and singer-songwriters.
Uncool Is the New Cool
I was at a gathering the other day when I overheard a remark that caused me to commit an impulsive act. I shot out of my chair, ran over to a perfect stranger, and delivered a huge bear hug.
This very large man, who could have been Tony Soprano’s younger brother, was engaged in a conversation about popular music. His female companion, pointing a finger, had said in a mocking tone, “Don’t ask his opinion. He likes Barry Manilow.”
“You like Barry Manilow?” I repeated as I hugged him. “I love Barry Manilow. I have always loved Barry Manilow.”
There! It was out in the open. Finally, after all this time. The relief was enormous, and completely overshadowed the thirty-five years of derision, and the fact that we were now probably regarded as the two least-cool people in the room. Did I care?
Back in the seventies and eighties, rock ruled. You were supposed to like the Foo Fighters and Guns and Roses. If you were young, and a Barry Manilow fan, you kept it to yourself. That is, if you wanted to appear cool. Confessing that you liked his sincere ballads instead of angry lyrics condemned you to the purgatory of the terminally un-hip.
Among the uber-cool, Barry was regarded as a Las Vegas performer, a creator of songs to be played on elevators, and someone who sang to your mother. Does it get any worse than that?
But come on, people. It’s time to own up. How many of you, like me, sang along to “Mandy” at the top of your lungs, in the privacy of your car? Or “Copa Cabana” in your shower?
And as long as we’re on the subject, let me step out of the closet completely and confess to also liking ABBA (I dare you to resist dancing), The Carpenters (I chose one of theirs as my wedding song), and Kenny Rogers (“Lucille” was such a bitch!).
So, who determines what’s cool? Who’s the decider? Not just in music, but in all things?
Is it the “Meh” list in the New York Times Sunday Magazine? Personally, I don’t think that’s cool at all. I think the list itself is the epitome of “Meh.” And it certainly isn’t cool that the print’s so small! (For those of you not acquainted with “Meh,” it’s a lot like “Feh.”)
Looking back over the years, you realize that what’s cool is nothing more than a fad. Whether it was poodle skirts, James Dean, Mustang convertibles, or discos, every decade had its own coolness standards.
A membership in the Playboy Club was once considered cool. (How lame was that?) Being a Playboy bunny? I’m not sure that was ever cool. (Well, maybe.)
Gold chains on men were cool. So was Jennifer Aniston’s haircut. How about wearing sunglasses indoors? Remember man-bags?
The list goes on. Icons of hip are forever changing.
I wonder, do we finally outgrow the need to be cool, or, as we age, does coolness switch gears from conformity to being your own person? I sincerely hope so because I looked awful in a poodle skirt.
Besides, being cool is exhausting. I’m happy to skip right over all the information about what’s “trending.” Last year’s handbag will do just fine, and I’ll wait until the hot new restaurant cools down before making my scene. That is, if it lasts long enough.
I’m just happy that I know how to program the GPS in my car, and that I can text my grandkids. I think that’s pretty cool!
And as for Barry Manilow? I recently read somewhere that he was #1 on a list of “10 Pop Artists for the Terminally Uncool,” beating out the likes of Celine Dion and Cher. Way to go, Barry. As the song says, “Looks like we’ve made it!”
I’m proud to be uncool with you. I love you, Barry Manilow.
About the Author
Susan is the author of two award-winning collections of humorous personal essays: “How Old Am I in Dog Years?” and “How to Complain When There’s Nothing to Complain About.” Check out her Author Page HERE.