These Carefree Summer Days

By Chris Erskine
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES ~ By some accounts, it’s been a long summer. One week in, and Posh is ready to jump from a bridge (preferably one in Paris or San Francisco, where the shopping is decent and you can get a really good cup of coffee).

The other morning, the little boy’s first since school let out, he was playing with his trucks and singing his version of the national anthem, which is nothing like most versions of the national anthem. It has frogs in it. And dragons. The “rockets’ red glare” comes out “the rockets’ red hair.” You get the idea.

It’s more a medley of all the songs he has ever heard than the traditional “Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s like the ballads you hear at the Jerry Lewis Telethon.

He sings from his toes, this kid. At the higher octaves, dogs begin to keel over and kitchen lights flicker. The pilot goes out on the water heater. In the fireplace, mortar falls from between bricks.

“Come on, guys!” he yodels at one point, then makes the sound of a siren.

One week in, and already he has a summer face, freckles everywhere. It’s a fine face, if you like faces. It’s a face, to borrow from Lillian Hellman, “unclouded by thought.”

The little guy sits on the couch, watching a ballgame, the beagle and his glove at his side. He could hardly be happier, having accumulated these two great treasures at such an early age, a dog and a baseball glove. Really, what more does a man need?

You know, just when you think Norman Rockwell is a million years dead, along comes a summer like this, off to a rousing start, full of little boys and mayhem. I hope that Rockwell and Twain always will live on in our children and grandchildren, in faces unclouded by thought.

I’m not really a hot weather person, but I’m drawn to the carefree traditions of early summer, to this sultry period around the Fourth of July, before the back-to-school ads start to ruin everything.

Right now, summer seems indestructible and off the clock. It is all the good things and almost none of the bad.

It is noisy movies in chilly theatres. It’s hot convertibles and sweaty beers.

It is mulberries on the tennis court and a water glass on a backyard table, smeary with barbecue sauce.

Right now, summer is the roar of a lawn mower, a seventh-inning stretch. It is bikinis and floppy hats and brownies for breakfast because Mom slept in.

Summer is just getting started, but its activities and customs never fade. Kids grow up. Kittens become cats. But the innocence of summer returns, year after year.

Summer is croquet sets and badminton nets and fishing lines all tangled. It’s inflatable rafts. It’s children with Huck Finn feet and hair green with chlorine.

Summer is the whoooossssh from a new can of balls, the clunk of an oar against the side of a canoe, the snap-click of a good spinning reel.

It’s splinters from a boat dock. It’s musty towels. Killer sunsets. Daylight that lasts till almost 9.

A good summer – this summer – is leafy afternoons with Garrison Keillor or an anthology of old Red Smith columns. Summer is sand in your britches. It’s onion dip on your chin.

Summer is coolers strewn here and there. The sound of the ice cream truck. Summer is Popsicle juice, like movie blood, running clear down your elbows.

Summer is golf tees in your pocket, a dozen flip-flops by the door. Summer is falling asleep in your bathing suit. Summer is whipped cream riding atop blueberry pie.

Summer is light. Summer is sounds.

Summer is sunburn and grill marks – the hiss of a good steak, burgers buried in cheddar, the freshest tomatoes drizzled with oil.

Summer has its own time zone. It’s cocktails at 3 and dinner at 9. Crazy eights till midnight. Pancakes, on a camp stove, at dawn.

Summer is ghost stories and flashlights flickering inside old tents.

Summer is an umbrella that keeps falling over in the sand, beach toys and a radio that plays only static.

Summer is belly flops and Marco Polo and pool water in your frontal cortex.

Summer is watermelon. Bug bites. Bactine. Sparklers.

Summer is forgetting what day it is. Thursday? No, Friday? No, Saturday … oh, who cares.

Certainly not me. Because summer is back.

Erskine can be reached at

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