Saturday, August 30, 2014

Labor Day Blues

On paper, it’s a holiday that pays homage to the American labor movement. Nevertheless, I’d venture to say that most of us aren’t giving “labor” all that much thought on what is the unofficial ending of Summertime 2014. Summer’s “last gasp,” as it were, has mostly been about barbecues, beaches, and beer.

I’ve attended a fair share of Labor Day events through the years, and the differences between them and the month of May’s Memorial Day festivities was always stark. After all, one national holiday signaled a beginning and the other an ending—and an abrupt one at that. As a general rule, beginnings are more celebratory than endings. Life is about both, I know, but Labor Day has the unenviable task of marking the end of a lot of good times for a lot of people; the gradual diminishing of daylight, too; and, from a school kid’s perspective, the start of yet another protracted educational slog.

Although I’m long removed from my formal educational odyssey, Labor Day—replete with the sun casting its signature autumnal shadows—always brings me back to my youth. There was no more melancholic time than this particular end. Or, to be technical, this non-celebratory beginning. Yes, the school year commencing with carefree summer memories still seared on the brain—and vestiges, too, of the waning season’s hot weather—was difficult to stomach. From my perspective, there was no worse feeling than attending school in oppressive heat, which happened quite frequently in the month of September. Sans any air conditioning, school and high temperatures were about as depressing a one-two punch as one could imagine.

Despite preferring the cooler climes of fall in my advancing years, I still feel a little blue at this latest ending—one more summer in the books. It’s a reminder of time’s passage, I guess. and for some of us, that we've experienced more summers than we've got left. In my Bronx high school, all boys were required to wear jackets and ties. We got to forgo both sartorial expressions, though, in the month of September. This was the “freakin’ bone” tossed our way. It was intended, perhaps, to slightly lessen the pain in what was post-Labor Day culture shock. At least I don't have to attend high school orientation this coming week.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

August Body

One of my favorite scenes in the musical 1776 is when the Second Continental Congress debates the verbiage of Thomas Jefferson’s just completed “Declaration of Independence.” Suggestions for changes and deletions are bandied about in rapid fire. One member suggests eliminating a line that he feels unnecessarily takes to task the esteemed British Parliament. “Do you think it wise to alienate such an august body?” he asks. To which John Adams replies: “This is a revolution, dammit! We’re going to have to offend somebody!”

Anyway, this is my August body in blog form—reflections on happenings this month and in past Augusts. Looking on the bright side of things, the summertime weather for both July and August has been as tolerable as I’ve ever experienced. Not a heat wave all summer with largely bearable temperatures and reasonable levels of humidity. New York City summers can be brutal with their disagreeable combinations of heat and humidity.

An August anniversary was duly noted this year. Forty years ago, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in the wake of the Watergate scandal. I was a mere lad when he departed the Washington scene—eleven years old—but I remember where I was on the night of his resignation speech. I was in Bangor, Pennsylvania. While my grandmother was away visiting relatives, my mother looked after my grandfather. After our new president, Gerald Ford, was sworn in, my mom informed her dad that the pair resembled one another. There was a bit of resemblance, I suppose. In August 1974, my grandfather also tasted lentil soup for the first time—my mother’s homemade version—and offered his opinion on the fare. “I’ve tasted worser soups,” he said.

Suffice it to say, August 1974 was a little bit different than its progeny: August 2014. I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but kids don’t seem to play much anymore. Our every youthful waking hour was spent outdoors in those bygone summers. Now, nobody’s playing wiffle ball, which I loved doing more than anything else as a young boy. Even though there was no such thing, I dreamed of being a professional wiffle ball player some day. Then stickball came along. In fact, we played every conceivable version of baseball from box baseball to punch ball to curb ball to kick ball. The boxes on the concrete sidewalks and the curbsides are still around, but one would be hard-pressed to find a solitary soul utilizing them for sport anymore.

We have become a zombie-like society. Every day, I see mothers pushing their children in strollers who are completely preoccupied with their iPhones, even when crossing heavily trafficked streets. Fathers are equally oblivious. What, pray tell, are these folks checking out every single moment in time? That’s what I’d like to know. It’s both creepy and dispiriting. Exactly how is this sort of behavior going to impact future generations? Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun in August 1974, even if we were in the midst of a “national nightmare,” as newly sworn in President Ford termed it in his first speech to the nation. “Our long national nightmare is over,” he said. I didn't get sidetracked—even for a second—during that protracted nightmare. I was too busy playing wiffle ball.

(Photo 1 from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)