The Ghost of Summer Past

…they came unto a land
In which it seeméd always afternoon.

—Tennyson, The Lotos-eaters

honeymoon-cottageOn Sunday, we attended a surprise anniversary party for our friends Craig and Ethel. They own and operate a summer resort known as The Cape on a lake not far from here.

We hadn’t visited the place for a long time. During the 80’s, however, we spent a week or two of nearly every summer at The Cape. In 1983, the year Elizabeth was three, we stayed in the Honeymoon Cottage. That’s where I took this picture on Sunday, and the sight and sound and smell of the place carried me back to that long ago summer.

The Honeymoon Cottage dates from a time when it was possible to build right on the water. The cottage is triangular and its narrow point actually extends over the water. The doorway shown in the picture opens to a small porch. Sitting on the porch is like being in a boat.

In the picture, the late afternoon sun streams through the windows, and that’s how I remember both the lake and the Honeymoon Cottage. No radio, no television, no telephone, no newspaper. We spent our days on the beach, or reading in the shade, walking in the woods or paddling a canoe along the shore.  There were long conversations, afternoon naps, and intimate evening meals with family and friends. At night we fell asleep to the sound of the lake lapping against the dock. In the morning, we lingered on the deck with cups of coffee.

When it was time to go home, we were never ready to leave.

An Evening at the Beach

Old Orchard BeachOn Saturday, we drove down to Old Orchard Beach, a place we visit every five to ten years. Geographically, it isn’t far away, but it inhabits a different reality. The town is an old-time summer resort destination of the honky-tonk variety—complete with sleazy amusement park and vendors selling things like death metal band T-shirts and tattoos. Years ago, “the pier” was a destination in itself, with a performance venue that attracted all the stars of the Big Band era. A fire, however, took care of most of the pier. What remains of it is tacky, crowded and generally depressing. Most of the summer businesses are run by people who work at Old Orchard in the summer and in a warm climate in the winter. In the past, many of them were Lebanese and Syrian, but I have no idea of the ethnic groups involved these days.

In recent years, year-round residents finally wearied of the town’s seamy reputation and have managed to corral the vice industries. Gone from the midway, for example, are the topless joints, the biker bars and the women willing, for a modest consideration, to make a boy into a man.

In the past, the hotels, motels and rental cabins of the town were filled all summer long with visitors from Quebec and New Brunswick, and you still hear a lot of French on the street. We ate beach pizza served to us by a Russian waitress, took a walk on the beach (seven miles of perfect sand!) and strolled through the amusement park.

Against her better judgment, Marge rode with Elizabeth and me on the roller coaster. Marge is a woman who does not enjoy carnival rides. She regretted her decision and began screaming almost from the moment our car began to climb. I used to like carnival rides in small doses and had expected to enjoy the ride a lot more than I did. As a matter of pride, I do want to stress that I didn’t scream or lose my pizza, but I was dizzy by the end of the ride. It just wasn’t much fun, and the damn tickets cost more than $4.00 each! It will probably prove to have been the last carnival ride of my life.

Elizabeth, who has always had the stomach of an astronaut when it comes to such things, was pretty disgusted with both of us. And only partly because she had bought the tickets.

In the past my association with the town was that I worked there as a bank teller during the summer of 1966, between my sophomore and junior years of college. The pace at the bank was frenetic. The days were long and the pay was low, but the job was the first “white collar” experience of my life.

I tried to be serious and professional at all times and had some modest success at it. Inside my conservately tailored suit and carefully knotted tie, however, I was a 20-year-old guy. Thus it was that on the day a young woman in a convertible wearing only the top of a bikini, presented a check at the drive-through window, I smiled (suavely, no doubt) and cashed that check.

When the check was returned to the bank as worthless a few days later, I learned that there were three things about it to which I had been temporarily blinded by the view from the high vantage of the drive-through window:

  • The “check” was a photocopy
  • The amount was payable in New Zealand dollars
  • The words “Not Negotiable” appeared prominently on the front

For the rest of the summer a teller named Linda covered the drive-through, and the office manager made a lame remark about New Zealand every time he saw me.

On the Whiteness of My Legs

A foot of snow still blankets most of our back yard, but I find myself already thinking about the spring ritual of opening the pool. I knew nothing about swimming pools when we moved into this house in 1996, but I had to learn fast. Here is the most accurate definition I know:

swimming pool n., a hole in the ground which you must repeatedly fill with money.

You can take a lot of that money out of the equation by doing your own pool work, and that is what I have learned to do. The summer sun is very, very bright in our back yard. And it’s hot out there. As the weather warms, I will probably find myself whining repeatedly about what a pain in the backside the pool is.

Our back yard is a great place to have a pool, however, and that’s probably why we’ve kept it going through the years. Without the pool, that back yard would be pretty much useless. And so I have learned the job of pool boy.

Yet the law of unintended consequences has dogged my pool maintenance efforts from the start. It’s my legs, you see, and the tiresome remarks about their color I am called upon to endure. It’s hot in the back yard. I wear shorts when I’m working on the pool and a bathing suit on those rare occasions when I actually step into the pool. When I’m in the back yard in the summer, people can see my legs.

Yeah, my legs are white. What do you want from me, people? I’m a white dude, OK? I talk like a white dude, I dress like a white dude, I look like a white dude. White man has white legs! Who knew? Hold page one above the fold!

The bleached and bloodless hue of my legs nonetheless draws repeated comment. And it’s not just family members and close friends. Several summers ago, I caught an African-American woman of my acquaintance staring at my poor, pallid limbs. Like a fool, I felt the need to confront her about it.

“Georgia,” I said, “why are you staring at my legs?”

“Don’t seem like even a white man need to be that white!” she replied, placidly.