Friday, June 22, 2018

Summer Daze

(Originally published on June 23, 2017)

Once upon a time, I relished summer days and nights. The heat and humidity didn’t faze me in the least. No temperature or relative clamminess was too high to prevent a stickball game of ours. In fact, playing on searing asphalt on a scorcher—without water—was par for the course. There was no such thing as bottled water in the 1970s! Sure, we could have brought along a cooler, thermos, or canteen to our games, but it just wasn’t on our radars in those days. Looking back, we sometimes played doubleheaders in ninety-five-degree heat without liquid pick-me-ups. After game two, we were a parched lot in a mad-dash search for a non-contaminated watering hole—tap water from the kitchen sink or powdered iced tea. What American TV western didn’t feature its protagonists short of water and in a do-or-die search for it in super-dry desert climes?

Ah, but summer days just aren’t what they once were to me. It's more like summer daze. This week, the calendar officially said that it was summer with the longest days of the year upon us. As a youth in the third week of June, I was uber-active in the great outdoors until the last sliver of daylight vanished. Now, I spend well-lit summer evenings inside and do all that I can to circumvent the infamous New York City heat and humidity. Air conditioning has its place. For me, there is no more stoop sitting and chewing the fat with neighbors on poor Air Quality Index (AQI) days. I don't recall whether or not the AQI was calculated in the good old days. However, I can say that the air quality in the 1970s was considerably worse than it is today.

Bad air notwithstanding, the summers of my youth found the Good Humor man turning up every night at around the same time. Good Humor’s cola-flavored Italian ice—a favorite of mine—was a rock-solid frozen block. In attempting to sliver off pieces of the ice with the tongue-depressor spoon supplied, its paper cup would get punctured beyond recognition. Actually, the only cola taste—if you could call it that—of their watery Italian ices was found at the bottom of the paper cups, which by then would be casualties of war. But what did we expect for twenty cents? They were worth every penny.

Summertime also meant a vacation on the seashore of New Jersey or Long Island. It meant day trips to the happening hot spots incessantly advertised on the New York City metropolitan area airwaves, like the Brigantine Castle—a haunted fortress on the Atlantic in Brigantine, New Jersey. A three-hour drive trip from the Bronx to the Brigantine Castle was a memorable summertime adventure. The equivalent for my peers’ kids today—on the satisfaction front, I'd say—would be two weeks in the South of France or Swiss Alps.

A final summertime footnote and memory from forty years ago. It’s the solitary snapshot kind not associated with anything monumental. I had completed a high school final exam during my freshman year. It was an afternoon in mid-June, 1977. I was alone and on my way home via mass transit—from the East Bronx to the West Bronx. Standing at a bus stop on Jerome Avenue across the street from two of the ugliest-looking buildings in the borough—Tracey Towers—I patiently waited for the BX1, which would take me on the last leg of my journey home. It was overcast, terribly humid, and I remember seeing lightning on the distant horizon—heat lightning, I think. This far-away hot flash nonetheless signified so much to me—school’s end, summer, and a couple of months of incredible bliss.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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