Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why I Hate Summertime

Okay, maybe hate is too harsh of a word. I should really say: I strongly dislike Summer. There (lol).

Anyway, in response to a comment I made on my crit group friend Ian's blog, I decided to once and for all examine what it is about the hot months between June and September that I loathe so much.

I realize the strong emotions come from an early time in my childhood, as well as from the inhospitable environment I grew up in. Summertime for me growing up in the South Bronx during the crime- and drug-infested late 70s and 80s was never a happy time. I mean, sure, school was out--an event I celebrated with something akin to Tom Sawyer levels of unmitigated glee--and theoretically I as a young, strapping lad should have had the time of my life during these carefree months between school years. But, see, for us this wasn't as attractive a prospect as it might seem.

In other parts of the country, sure, summertime for kids means camping, baseball, swimming, Disneyland, and all around general merriment that never seems to end. But for a poor kid living on government welfare in the ghetto, summertime simply means staying home ALL DAY LONG and doing nothing but lying stupefied on the floor as countless Tom & Jerry reruns play out on our floor model 13-inch tv set. No, I mean seriously, this is mostly what my brother and I did for the summer. We played with our toys, read what few books were available . . . but the boob tube is what took up the lion's share of our solstice recess. Honestly, we had little alternative.

I don't know how many of you remember the city back in those days, but it was not pretty. And no place was this more apparent than in the South Bronx. The phrase "the Bronx is burning", unfortunately, was a very literal one in the 70s and early 80s. On the street where we lived, I can clearly remember at least three abandoned and burnt-out husks of buildings nearby, as well as one weed-infested empty lot across the street closed off by a rusty gate that we were told never to climb.



Farther down the street, where the school was located, we had a sorry looking children's play lot where, in lieu of grassy playing fields, we had concrete, asphalt, and broken bottles to contend with. I scraped my knees many a time on that glass-strewn playground, let me tell you.

Also, in addition to the bleak picture I just painted for you, let us not forget the crack epidemic which gripped the city in a stranglehold during this time. This, of course, meant plenty of crack- and meth-heads running loose in the streets, and used dope needles thrown carelessly about everywhere. The homeless were rampant and the police were doing nothing about it. In that same children's park I mentioned above, I have clear memories of hobos warming themselves to leaf fires contained in upended trash bins. To this day, the smell of leaves burning always bring back memories of the hard, mean streets of the slums where I grew up.

So, I tell you all of this for what reason? Well, to point out why, for us, playing outside in the park until the sun went down was not an option. And since we lived in a 6-story, 30-family apartment complex, needless to say we had no back yard. Unless you counted the garbage dump area behind the building. My mother didn't. So this meant my brother and I were confined indoors during the hottest months of the year. And mind you, this is long before the age of the air conditioner. Hell, we were lucky to even have a powered fan running.

Once in a while the neighborhood kids--under the watchful eyes of volunteer parents who sat on their stoops gossiping--would get to venture out and have a sort of block party that lasted all day long. We'd play our games literally in the street: tag, jump rope, Red-Light Green-Light, stick ball, hide and seek, hop-scotch (yes, even the boys). And all the while dodging cars whenever the designated look-out yelled out in warning of an approaching automobile. Now, while we didn't know better at the time, this was indeed a glorious event--the days that we were allowed to do this, I mean. For whatever reason, they were few and far between. And, when they came, only on Saturdays. The rest of the week during the long summer months would find us kids holed up inside our homes watching more tv.

Can I just tell you how unimaginably painful it is to have the hot summer sun streaming in through the windows and blanketing you in heat as you lay there in a pool of your own sweat, slack-jawed, while watching endless reruns? Can you imagine if you have to do this almost every single day for 3 months?

If you can, then you know the private hell I called summer recess for the first 14 years of my life.

So there you have it. Now you know why to this day I associate hot weather and abundant sunshine with intense, listless boredom. If I grew up in the countryside, or in a privileged family, no doubt my feelings would be the exact opposite. I used to daydream about living in the suburbs, riding my dream bike all over the place with my dream dog lapping at my heels. I wanted this SO BAD, I remember. I used to stare at the Boy's Life magazines in our home and *wish* I could be doing the things these outdoorsy and adventurous peers of mine were doing in other parts of the country. But such was our life in the South Bronx. Lots of dreams . . . very little realization.

Now, curiously, the same rules don't apply to winter time when we were also holed up inside our apartment during the colder months. And the reason why is two-fold:

1. We had to go to school. And even though I hated school with the burning hot passion of a thousand suns (no, seriously, I really despised school work), at least it gave us an opportunity if not an excuse to venture outside 5 days a week and do something other than watch tv; and

2. The school year--particularly the first half--was filled with fun holidays to look forward to. Even as prisoners of the welfare system, kids will always get giddy for Christmas time. The world seems so much brighter . . . so much happier and full of hope for little kids around the end-of-year holiday season.

So, although my life still comparatively sucked in relation to kids living outside of the ghetto, the cold months somehow made it all okay. You know, the first real snow is just as beautiful in the hood as it is out in the burbs. For a moment, you can look out your 6th story living room window and almost believe that you're in the North Pole, or that Santa is for real. All the bad parts are covered up down there on the street, and very few people are roaming about. It's almost serene. This illusion doesn't last long in the 'hood, true, but the cold and snow and holidays combined does damper the fatalistic edge that would otherwise sharpen one's perceptions growing up in such a neglected and depraved environment.

This is why I've always liked winter time. When it's that cold, people don't have the energy to roam the streets and cause trouble. Going away to college in the frozen northern wilds of Vermont certainly did nothing but enhance this affinity for snow and ice even more. Which is why now . . . the moment the days start getting shorter and the skies more leaden and overcast . . . I rejoice at the death of summer. If I could, I would dance on its grave while playing a fiddle.

So, in other words, I'm in grand anticipation of the return of my favorite season. Sure, it doesn't get truly frigid the way I like it around here until late December, but that's okay. My merriment begins the day everybody hangs up the sandals and pulls out the light jacket. From that moment forward -- it's so ON, baby!

Yes, I'm very weird. I would hope you've figured this out by now.

3 comments:

Ian said...

Oh man, David, that is one sad story. It makes me remember and appreciate how lucky I've been in my life. It also reinforces our decision to emigrate, which was motivated largely by a wish to ensure a good environment to bring our children up in.

David J. Batista said...

I know. I hadn't intended when I set out to write this to make it a sob story . . . but unfortunately the early years of my life growing up here in the Bronx was very rough. I used to get called out a lot by my teachers for constantly daydreaming in class. And what I would be dreaming about was hopping on a train and just going somewhere--anywhere!--so long as it wasn't this scary, violent place where kids couldn't be kids. Believe it or not, I wanted to live on a farm. That's immensely funny to me now that I'm looking back on those years. I forgot about that. :)

Ian said...

Well, I didn't really look on it as a sob story, more as a slice of grim reality. What I find sad about it is that there are kids anywhere growing up in conditions like that.

And the saddest part about it is that none of it is necessary. Natural disasters cause havoc around the world every year, but the biggest cause of misery to people is people themselves. All it needs is a change in behaviour, a decision, a choice, and the world could be a paradise. Starting tomorrow. What a shame that tomorrow never comes, eh?

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