25 July 2011

Endless summer

It was a beautiful day on Sunday, so I joined literally hundreds of my fellow San Franciscans in the sun at Dolores Park. I saw a group of kids - early-20-somethings - with a few bottles, an old school boombox, some food, some blankets, a surfeit of time and a seeming dearth of responsibilities, having an unbelievably great time.

I'd seen them when I was at the park the week before - same group, same boombox, same blankets and bags, same summertime mode. I hope every day this summer, every single day they can, they are in the park. And I hope they don't realize how fleeting it is, or realize that they are innocent in a way they are unlikely to ever be again.

When I was their age, the summer of 1990, I was taking a summer and fall semester off from school to complete an internship and make some money so I could finish, so I had fewer responsibilities than usual. Yeah, I was working two or three jobs - 40 to 60 hours a week divided between Banana Republic, Kinko's and Marquette - but they were part time and ended when I walked out the door. It was easy. And despite all the time spent working, time didn't seem fleeting. The summer months passed by, but those days seemed not to, like they were enervated by the heat, passing as languorously over me as I moved through them.

I lived at 21st and Michigan that summer (the one with the hydrant in front), in the unairconditioned upstairs of an old house that had been chopped into student apartments. My room had "balcony" access - a door to a rickety porch roof (since wisely removed) with a view of the industrial Menomonee River Valley and I-94 - and I would sit out there in my boxers any spare hour I got, reading Pope or Gide or contemporary queer fiction, working on my tan during the day and listening to the neighbors' ska or reggae at night. In the fall my "six straight roommates," as I described them (inaccurately, as it turned out), would be moving in, but that summer it was me and Tim, and he had a day job downtown with regular hours and a girlfriend. Really, it was just me.

I was far enough along in my drinking career that I didn't need to go out every night, since I'd been served at many spots around Milwaukee for a good two years, but I liked to drink and I went out the two or three nights a week when I could afford it or when I'd get that occasional, random $20 that my mom had snuck into a letter. Bus passes were cheap and I had a bike, so basically all of downtown Milwaukee and the lakefront was my hinterland. If I had to work 3 - 11 at Kinko's or was closing Banana, I'd call friends until I got a hold of one - or didn't - and go to Bradford Beach for an hour or two, watching the volleyball players, if they were out, and then for lunch go for Mexican food and margaritas, and then go to work for eight hours. And maybe after work I'd head up to the East Side and go to the Landmark and shoot darts and play pool til I ran out of quarters or until the 30 bus was about to stop running.

If I worked 7 - 3 at Kinko's or 10-5 at Banana, I'd go the Union or Hegarty's and have lunch (June is National Dairy Month so all sandwiches with cheddar were $2.95), shoot some pool, play Firehouse or Nelson or Skid Row on the jukebox, go home and nap and write a letter and then get ready to go out, listening to the Vogue CD single over and over.

Time didn't matter.

Those days on the beach with Jason, my first boyfriend (and by then my first ex), and his friend Jeff, and Julie and Mike; those nights in the Landmark with Gail and Robert and Marty; those afternoons driving around Milwaukee with Erin; those shifts folding clothes in the back of Banana; those hours on my balcony, smoking, thinking, writing - time was frictionless, and its passing was undetectable. We had to set alarms and be places at designated times, and I had to punch in and out, sometimes as many as eight times a day. I don't mean that we didn't know that time was passing - we did - but its passing had no weight or presence in our lives, perhaps because it was not - because we didn't realize that it was not - a scarce commodity. We - at least and certainly I - didn't know it was finite. There was just too much of it for me to truly know this.

There were things on the horizon. Eventually, there would need to be a trip to my parents' in Indiana navigated as a newly cognizant queer; there would need to be money saved for rent, for grub, for gas, for pitchers of beer, for tuition for the spring semester; there would need to be fall travel planned for work; and beyond the horizon there was a mountain of books to be read and understood, and papers written.

But as I recall the moments of that endless summer, I don't remember them being touched by any of that. None of that was present, nor did it have any implication for the present. I didn't wake up and find it was over - I woke up and it was still summer, still me on that single bed in a blazing hot room in Milwaukee. Still pool to be played and shirts to be ironed and music to be listened to. Still a full day of heat and sunlight and work and friends stretching out in front of me. Still a new queer identity to investigate and to stretch out in front of me.

I'd wake up on that narrow bed in that narrow room, lean across to my boombox, and press play - Depeche Mode's "Violator" was probably already loaded - and just listen to music, lying under that one sheet, watching the light edge across the cieling, oblivious to the passage of time, not remotely cognizant of how stunningly luxurious that was. Or at night I'd sit on the balcony and play "Listen Without Prejudice" on repeat, as I wrote letters to friends from high school, coming out to them ("Freedom '90", especially, was written for coming out: "I think there's something you should know/ I think it's time I told you so / There's someone deep inside of me / There's someone else I've got to be..."), taking all the time I needed to get it right, because I had all the time I needed.

I hope those kids at the park have an endless summer like I had. I hope their soundtrack means as much to them, and I hope they have the time to just lay in bed and listen to it. I hope their moments with their friends and exes and coworkers glide frictionless through their days, not snagging on the present or the demands of their futures.

And I hope they don't know it. The consciousness that you will never again be this unburdened, or this young, or perhaps this handsome or innocent or carefree, is one way to look at a loss of innocence: cognizance destroys it. I know I was innocent, that time was languorous and frictionless, but I didn't know it then. That was part of its gift.

I hope they have it, and that they don't know it. Not until their autumn, whenever that may come to them.


KenAnselment said...

B, this is, I don't know, beautiful, sad and wonderful. That you manage to foretell the burdens that come with older life without actually writing it (absences can be just as powerful) is authorial magic. Think about publishing this--or excerpts of it--elsewhere. Like the San Francisco Chronicle. It's a love letter to the luxury of youth.

Pete Martin said...

What a great expression of so many people's youth!! I think you have a great talent, and it was nice to get a glimpse into your past. Talk to you soon, Sash!

ekshaughn said...

OK, so I just found this.... today.

I was looking at your Bangladesh photos and got to clicking through other posts. So wonderfully written. So thoughtful. So Brennan. I catch myself sometimes, centimeters from drowning in my current sea of responsibilities, wondering what the heck I thought/worried about when I was 19 or 20. We worried about who we were and whom we might become and if we were figuring it all out with some sense of intelligence, decency, and humor.... didn't we?

Sorry it took me so long to find this. It made me really miss you and those lazy afternoons driving around the city in the red Sundance. Sigh.