These are the "dog days of summer," a phrase my dog Skipper takes offense at, so I sat down with him recently to clear the air a bit.
GW: So Skip, we are talking, right? This isn't just in my mind?
Skipper: Absolutely. You can tell because my little doggy lips are moving.
GW: Good, good. So what do you have against the phrase?
Skipper: "Dog days" are hot summer days, miserable days, and I just resent that people associate dogs with that. How would you like it if dogs referred to cold winter nights as "the people nights of winter?"
GW: That would make no sense.
GW: Wait, what?
Skipper: Words have power. Let me quote from one of our own recent interactions: "Oh, who's that stinky dog? Who IS that stinky, stinky dog? You need a bath, Stinky McStinkerton."
GW: I didn't think you could understand me if I said it in a high-pitched voice.
Skipper: I can understand you fine, falsetto-boy. What I don't understand is how you can criticize my scent when you are the one with the opposable thumbs which can open the dog shampoo bottle.
GW: You are trying to change the subject away from dog days.
Skipper: The Romans came up with it, best anybody can tell, because in summer, Sirius the Dog Star is the brightest in the sky. O.K.? It also probably refers to the fact that on hot days, dogs tend to lie around a lot. This ignores the fact that guess what? On cool days, guess what dogs do? When it's raining, can you imagine what activity is paramount on a dog's to-do list?
GW: Did I feed you today?
Skipper: NO, HOW'D YA GUESS?
GW: Here. Have a bully stick.
Skipper: Ohhh, this is delicious. What IS this made of, anyway?
GW: You don't want to know. Look, maybe "dog days" actually means "long, relaxing days." Did you ever think of that? As in, "I wish I were a dog just soaking up the sun. Lucky dogs."
Skipper: Nice spin. You should work in government.
GW: There are bigger problems in the world than ancient Roman phrases. Can we just let sleeping dogs lie?
Skipper: That sounds good. Snacks are tiring.
GW: Am I hallucinating this?
Skipper: You've been working very hard lately. My advice...
I recently attended my 30-year high school reunion, and was amused to discover that my former classmates and I now look like the teachers we used to have. (For the record, we had some very attractive teachers).
The night seemed to have a warmer ambience, now that we were all approaching 50, than it had 10 years ago, but maybe that is just because we can now afford a better quality of alcohol at reunions.
The affection with which I was greeted by several guys whom I had not seen since 1979 was genuinely touching. I could not help but notice our bellies were touching too. You have heard of the "freshman 15"? Call this the "thankful 30," compliments of a life well-lived in the land of the free. To be fair, some of us had lost weight since school, and many looked virtually the same, which was as astonishing as it was irritating.
You know you are pushing 50, though, when someone hands you a photo of his kids and you have to hold it out at arm's length to view it.
I noticed that people age at remarkably different rates. The woman for whom I carried a torch in sixth grade now has a doctorate and two college-age daughters, but looked as if she could have been attending our 20th reunion. In contrast, as another friend put it, leaning in to me conspiratorially, "There are some old people here."
There were probably two other guys across the room leaning in to each other and looking in our direction too.
Some of us, amazingly, have been with our spouses for over 30 years, others describe themselves as "happily divorced" or "very, very single." Some of us have 28-year-old children, and some have toddlers. A few have grandkids.
After high school, we joined the military, became "beach bums," lawyers, chemists, nurse practitioners, mail carriers, school teachers, pharmacists, librarians, homemakers, choreographers, screenwriters, ministers, dental hygienists, professors, jewelers, sheriffs, hay brokers and hair stylists.
One of us lost everything to a wildfire. Another lost a child to a rare disease. A surprising number describe themselves as "lucky" or "blessed."
Heading home, my wife and I picked up the kids from my mom, from the house in which I grew up. I passed under the tree which, 30 years ago, had often been festooned with TP, a white, fluttering testimonial to my popularity.
We backed out of the driveway from which I had launched myself to school on my ten-speed a thousand mornings, and to which I had returned a thousand afternoons, wired and triumphant, or tired and dejected, after track meets.
Driving home, I wondered if maybe we do not only go to high school reunions to see old friends, but to get a glimpse of our own teenaged selves reflected back to us by those who knew us when. I saw teen George in the eyes of guys who had watched me fly across finish lines, in girls who had bowed alongside me in curtain calls, in friends with whom I had dissected frogs in junior high or put on the circus play in kindergarten.
I think it is not so much that we want to remember our glory days as much as we want simply to be with our own kind, with people who actually remember what a typewriter was, and a rotary phone, and the secret knowledge, now lost to time, of how to slow dance to "Stairway to Heaven."
These kids today, god love 'em, they don't know what they missed.
- - - - - - -
Your head is humming and it won't go, in case you don't know.
The pipers calling you to join him.
Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know
your stairway lies on the whispering wind...
School is almost back in session and it's only August 10th, which I believe violates one of the commandments. Thou shalt not carve thine summer in twain? Or something?
I think it's one of those asterisk commandments. Thou shalt not shod thy feet before Labor Day. It's in the fine print, I've seen it, right after the stuff about pork.
When my kids started school a dozen years ago, school began right after Labor Day, same as when I was a kid, same as Moses. If God had wanted kids to go to school in full summer, he would have made beaches uglier.
My kids get out of school in late May, instead of the third week in June like civilized humans. I blame the Internet. Have you noticed all the civilities which have dropped by the wayside in the last dozen years?
It has something to do with broadband becoming widely available, and maybe boxed wine. One of those. I am building a case.
Late May! I mean, Alice Cooper did not sing "School's...out...for...Mother's Day!"
August used to be the time when families who had procrastinated taking a road trip could sneak one in. Now that gas money goes straight into three ring binders and gym shorts. (You would think you could use the same ones from the previous school year, but no. Some time in July they disappear, probably to the realm with all the un-paired socks.)
Here in Southern Cal, it was always hot going back to school even after Labor Day. In August it's brutal. I remember my 6th grade teacher would tell us that fanning ourselves with folded up papers caused us to burn more energy and just kept us hot. She said sitting still would cool us off the fastest.
I realize now she just didn't want to look out upon a sea of 30 kids flapping papers while she taught. In August we probably would have rushed her and taken our chances.
The pleasure of getting out of school early, in May, does not seem to make up for the pain of going back to school when the pool still beckons. But soon this will be the new normal, and all of us who remember the "right" way it was once done will eventually die out, and humanity will evolve into goose-stepping cyborgs.
What I wouldn't give for just one more whiff of Sea & Ski.