I write this every year. Someday they’ll listen.
Someday things will change, and July will come and go, and people will say “Summer seems longer. The children are happier. Could it be? Did one man really make a difference?”
And the answer will be yes. That man was me. Or the senior executive in charge of seasonal marketing, which could be a woman, I don’t know. But possibly me.
On the third of July I went to Target for one of those boxes of fireworks — you know, $1,237 value! Only $16.99! (The greater price is what it would sell for on Mars, what with shipping and handling.) I noticed that the summer section had been gutted and shelves set up in Seasonal for Back to School. Because everyone wakes on July 5th and prints off the supply list and heads out — Lord knows they might run out of glue sticks this year, and then nothing would stick together for the whole school year! Say goodbye to Harvard.
Target’s not alone. All the stores are ramping up the BTS, which either means Back to School or Bring the Sorrow, depending. But there’s something about that enormous pencil hanging over the Seasonal department that looks like the No. 2 Sword of Damocles, and there’s just no reason for it.
On the other hand, we were late shopping last year — second week of August — and all the good lunchboxes were picked over. I was at Target on Wednesday and texted Daughter (TM) a picture of one she might like.
NOOOOOOOO was the response. OK, this one? NOOOOOOOOOO! Ah. Not an aesthetic evaluation, but a cry of despair over the very idea that school is nigh. Got it.
Does this make sense? Is this helpful? Let’s say you think “Either I left my gardening gloves out in the rain and they shrunk, or I am retaining water like the river after they built the Hoover Dam.” You realize the gloves are also disgusting sheaths encrusted with muck, and while that’s good for digging, a new pair for light duty would be nice.
Well, YOU SHOULD HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT THAT LAST APRIL, because that shelf is now devoted to pencil erasers that look like Angry Birds dressed up like Star Wars characters, and right now there’s a cargo ship chugging from China loaded to the gunwales with plastic pumpkins and those suckers are going up the moment the State Fair shuts down. Move it! Move it! Schnell!
It makes you think it’s over. But it’s not. There’s time.
There is time to put everyone in the car and drive north and have your picture taken with a Paul Bunyan statue, and to confuse your kids by heaping offerings at his feet and speaking in a strange, archaic language, then backing away and saying, “We’re good for a year” to your spouse under your breath.
There is time to take the Lake Harriet trolley and dress up like it’s 1941 and bring a typewriter, radio, record player, telegraph key and television set on board and glare with envy at the people who have smartphones.
There’s time. There’d better be.
We had the worst spring any of us have ever known. It’s said we forget our winters like women forget the pain of childbirth, especially if the baby melts away after a few weeks, but the memory of that injustice is still fresh.
Weather people on TV actually uttered the words “the latest in a series of May blizzards” without laughing hysterically, then running off camera screaming. June — a word we speak with awe and love, a month of soft warmth and bright fresh days — turned out to be three weeks of waterboarding.
It’s not supposed to be that way. June is a foal, prancing in the fields; July gallops away before we know it. The great long yawn of August is when summer bears down and bores us with its glory. Bakes you dry for a week. Swamps you with humidity the next. The droning sound of the cicadas is almost like a dentist’s drill toward the end; you want it to be over before the numbness wears off. Will. This. Heat. Never. End.
The Fair doesn’t tell us summer’s over; the Fair is the summer. It leaks into Labor Day, which is a wake for someone who’s still standing and talking and laughing. But then it’s done and we know it. The world is just as green and warm as it was when the calendar said August, but we all know better. The stage still has all the sets, but the play’s finished.
You’re shopping for groceries one day and something inside clicks and you think: Oatmeal. Cocoa. The green drains away. The waning light hits the trees just right one afternoon and you know it’s fall; it’s been fall for a while.
It’s all so short. That’s the lesson of summer. Not something they teach in school, but we all learn it anyway. Back to school? We never left. Summer is a classroom. And no one wants to hear the bell.