We’re always amazed when July 4th rolls around. So soon? No one ever says, “I can’t believe it’s June 4th; where is this late-spring early-summer going?” But July 4th is like a bell struck hard, a reminder that summer doesn’t last forever, and you’d best make sure you’re going to get it all in. Because if you don’t get it all in, you’ve wasted the summer.
Oh, nonsense. If you do nothing else but enjoy the warm weather and bright skies, the occasional drama of a thunderstorm, the (slap) peace and ease (slap) of a night sitting out(slap)side watching the light fade in the (slap) west, you haven’t wasted a thing. But since we’re all busybodies who can’t wait to tell you what you should be doing — or at least what all the vibrant, active people who hang-glide to brewpubs are doing — here’s a list of summer activities you may want to add to your list.
(You don’t have a list? Quick! Sign up for a papermaking class and carve a quill pen and boil newspapers to get soy ink. Then start making a list.)
1. Go up to the lake. You have to go up to the lake. Unless you’re already Up North, and then you have to go down to the lake. Or over to the lake. It doesn’t matter. Just hurry! Take the kids on a trip they’ll never forget — except, of course, they will forget if they’re too young. If that’s the case, if the kids are under 5, say, put some moss in the tub, fill it up and dip them until their feet touch the disgusting stuff. That’s what they’d remember if you’d gone to an actual lake.
No, that’s not entirely true. I remember lots of things from childhood trips to the lake, although most of them seem to revolve around a mishap: Getting the prop stuck in weeds and shearing off a cotter pin, swallowing half the lake when I fell over on water skis and held onto the tow rope, stepping on gross weeds, hotfooting it across the concrete to the car, the dank aroma of fish and lavatories in the crumbling pavilion, the flesh-searing metal of the slide that felt like you were riding a steel beam fresh out of the blast furnace.
I’m glad I have those memories, because otherwise I would have bought a boat.
2. Go skeet shooting with Grandma’s old china. No one bought it on eBay. It has a pattern that looks like garden snakes on their wedding night and it’s chipped. You’ve been carrying it around from house to house, thinking, “I should save this for the kids so they’ll be cursed with the obligations of their ancestors.” Forget that. Take the family out to the range and blast away.
3. Go to Valleyfair. It’s like the State Fair except the rides weren’t assembled three days ago by guys who level them up with wood shims and don’t confuse “painting” with “maintenance.”
OK; just kidding. The rides at the fair are perfectly safe, but they are the same year after year after year. I mean, one of them has a painting of Tom Selleck, for heaven’s sake. It used to be called Magnum but now they’ve updated it; I think it’s called Numgam and it has a Ninja theme.
Valleyfair is where they have the really terrifying rides, because nothing says summer like “involuntary bowel loosening.” The rides have colorful names which all say, more or less, “Instant regretful pants dampener.” I love those rides. At the State Fair you look at the Zipper, throwing around people like loose stones in a tumbler, and think, “Nope, not going on that one.” At Valleyfair, you think, “This is a whole new level of ride I’m not taking.”
4. Enjoy the Aquatennial. It’s scaled down again this year. “The Best 10 Minutes of Summer” kicks off — and concludes — on a Monday afternoon. The Torchlight Parade will consist of one guy running down the Nicollet Mall with a Bic lighter. The Milk Carton Boat Races have been replaced by the Lactose-Intolerant Awareness Event, where people gather on the shores of Lake Calhoun and explore soy options.
5. Go to a small-town festival. There are approximately 693 such events, ranging from Raspberry Days to Rhubarb Fortnight to Bemidji’s annual sacrifice of a maiden to appease the spirit of Paul Bunyan while Whoopee John Wilfahrt Jr.’s polka band plays Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” (No cameras.)
Or you could just let it all happen, and not worry about whether you were having the Perfect Summer. They’re all perfect, because it’s summer. Some people recall with a shudder the year when it was dank and cool and gray for weeks. Worst summer ever. To other people who regard the heat and humidity as a hellish interval of unremitting personal moistness, it was the best.
At the end of this bright blue interval, you will remember one or two things, and perhaps 10 percent of you will take the pictures off your phone, give them names, file them away. All the days will join the vague recollections of summers past, which are always somehow better than the one you’re having.
Two final points: If you say, “It’s just a season. There’s no reason to think it’s more special than the others,” ask yourself when you ever heard someone say, “I feel like I’ve wasted the winter. It’s just slipping away.”
Also, back-to-school merchandise appears in stores this week. If that makes you want to break something, well, there’s always Grandma’s china.