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Posts Tagged ‘Summer’

Project Angel Raid

June 19, 2014 | by

Sleep-away camp revisited.

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From the cover of Alexandra G. Lockwine’s Camping by Biddy, 1911.

Five miserable summers straight, I made the trek to Camp Saginaw, a.k.a. Camp Saggyballs. The cornpone setting in Oxford, Pennsylvania, was the backdrop for my induction into the myth and ritual of the camp, whose songs and traditions served mostly to perpetuate the philosophy that this was the best place on Earth. It was not—what with the mediocre campfires, the soggy waffles, the deflating banana boat on the murky lake.

Still, I attended until I had earned the only slightly coveted green Old-Timer shirt, affixed with an Indian chief insignia; until I’d scraped my knuckles raw enough times at the gaga court to develop permanent scars; and until I no longer became teary-eyed when “Total Eclipse of the Heart” played at the roller rink while the girl I crushed on slow-skated by with another boy.   

Most important, I attended until, at long last, I successfully snuck to Girls’ Camp at midnight.

How many nights over multiple summers my bunkmates and I had stayed up plotting Project Angel Raid! We dressed in all black or navy blue, talking with our flashlights pointed up to the rafters, only to fall asleep in our sweatpants and hoodies. Come morning we hit our mattresses with a heavy fist—yet another failed mission …

But there was an added incentive the summer I turned twelve: I met Jill, she of the freckled cheeks and strawberry blonde hair. So what if she wore corrective glasses because she was slightly cross-eyed? She had taken a shine to me, and it was important for me to demonstrate my devotion with the type of bravado brandished only during a caper. Read More »

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Swat with Scruple

June 3, 2014 | by

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Balthasar van der Ast, Flowers and Fruit, c. 1620

From “Why We Hate Insects,” an essay by Robert Lynd, collected in his 1921 book, The Pleasures of Ignorance.

It has been said that the characteristic sound of summer is the hum of insects, as the characteristic sound of spring is the singing of birds. It is all the more curious that the word “insect” conveys to us an implication of ugliness. We think of spiders, of which many people are more afraid than of Germans. We think of bugs and fleas, which seem so indecent in their lives that they are made a jest by the vulgar and the nice people do their best to avoid mentioning them. We think of blackbeetles scurrying into safety as the kitchen light is suddenly turned on—blackbeetles which (so we are told) in the first place are not beetles, and in the second place are not black …

There are also certain crawling creatures which are so notoriously the children of filth and so threatening in their touch that we naturally shrink from them. Burns may make merry over a louse crawling in a lady’s hair, but few of us can regard its kind with equanimity even on the backs of swine. Men of science deny that the louse is actually engendered by dirt, but it undoubtedly thrives on it. Our anger against the flea also arises from the fact that we associate it with dirt. Donne once wrote a poem to a lady who had been bitten by the same flea as himself, arguing that this was a good reason why she should allow him to make love to her. It is, and was bound to be, a dirty poem. Love, even of the wandering and polygynous kind, does not express itself in such images. Only while under the dominion of the youthful heresy of ugliness could a poet pretend that it did. The flea, according to the authorities, is “remarkable for its powers of leaping, and nearly cosmopolitan.” Even so, it has found no place in the heart or fancy of man. There have been men who were indifferent to fleas, but there have been none who loved them, though if my memory does not betray me there was a famous French prisoner some years ago who beguiled the tedium of his cell by making a pet and a performer of a flea. For the world at large, the flea represents merely hateful irritation. Mr W. B. Yeats has introduced it into poetry in this sense in an epigram addressed “to a poet who would have me praise certain bad poets, imitators of his and of mine”: Read More »

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Coming of Age

February 7, 2014 | by

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Valenciennes lace of Ypres, 1875

The summer before I started college, I worked part-time in an antique linens shop in an East Coast vacation town. The owner, Theresa, was a warm, elegant woman who taught me not just how to do bookkeeping and how to tell the difference between point lace and Valenciennes, but a great deal about how to treat other people, too.

The rest of the time, I worked as a waitress at a nearby restaurant. My fellow employees included a shifty-eyed Hare Krishna named Heather, a bartender called Kenny who liked to try to shock me, and a thirtysomething bodyworker, Julia, who had the unfortunate habit of telling people on the slightest pretext that she had attended “a little school in New Haven.”

At the linens shop, I helped iron and fold the stock and assisted customers. Mostly, Theresa and I would talk: about her family leaving Havana after the revolution; about the history of the town; about her dashing husband and how they met when she was a receptionist at a clinic. (He’d had a dislocated shoulder and she let him jump the line.) “Always spend more on flowers than on food,” she once told me. “Good for the soul, better for the waistline.” Read More »

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Henri Cole’s “Self-Portrait with Rifle”

July 2, 2013 | by

Abraham Hondius, The Deer Hunt, ca. 1650–95.

Abraham Hondius, The Deer Hunt (detail), ca. 1650–95.

Henri Cole contributed two poems to our Summer issue, “Self-Portrait with Rifle” and “Free Dirt.” They pair well; both wrestle with the baseness humanity is capable of, and particularly with the surprise we feel when we find such baseness in ourselves. “Self-Portrait with Rifle” illustrates this shock with a jarring scene: a man holding a gun, indignant at his victims—innocent deer—for yielding their lives to his misplaced violence.

 

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Getting Caught

January 31, 2013 | by

toilet-paperBefore our fathers lost their jobs, before the kid at school collapsed on the practice field, before our grandmothers forgot our names, before the first big uprooting, the tug of bourbon, and the crises of faith, there was a shameless season along the cattail-flanked pikes of northeast Nashville, a season as tough to fathom now as it is mortifying to confess, when our biggest concern, at least on weekend nights late, was whose house to roll with toilet paper.

We were restive, brother. We were hemmed in by hills. There were no wars to fight. High-speed Internet had yet to invade the South. So under cover of catching a movie or playing pickup in the church gym, we pooled pocket money and raked the grocery clean of twelve- and twenty-four-packs of tissue. The cashier women could have tipped off the cops. There was no mistaking our intent for a collective case of irritable bowel syndrome. Still they shooed us through the sliding doors, perhaps wagering we might repay their clemency by passing over their cul-de-sacs.

We rolled Laura, the sweetest girl you ever met, and Tyler, the most likely in our class to find a cure for cancer. We rolled whole blocks of strangers. We rolled our next-door neighbors. We rolled Laura again. And in one ballsy feat not likely to be bested this millennium, we rolled our high school basketball coach, a Brobdingnagian who, when he got to shouting, sounded like Darth Vader passing a kidney stone in an echo chamber. Read More »

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The Jewish Vicar

September 26, 2012 | by

An old Jewish man is hit by a car. As he lies in the road, dazed and bleeding, a woman rushes over, takes off her jacket, folds it, and puts it under his head.

“Are you comfortable?” she asks.

“Meh. I make a living.”

I was eight when my father told me this joke. I wasn’t sure I understood it. Jews worried more about making a living than being run over. Was that it? One thing I was sure of was that the road was in Golders Green, in northwest London, where I grew up and was bar mitzvahed.

Golders Green made me. Jews made me, with their jokes and their food and their pride and their warmth and their anxiety and their love of scholarship. I cannot be unmade, even though I haven’t been inside a synagogue since my bar mitzvah.

How far can you go from Golders Green and still be Jewish?

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