Wednesday, January 19, 2011

the summer of dirt


You may have noticed that I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the past. It's always been this way for me, and it's why I'll never be a leader of men. People like myself who are habitually backwards looking can never be more than moderately successful at anything we do. Wildly successful leaders of men feel comfortable in the present and look forward to the future. I feel out of place in the present and spend much of my time trying to protect myself against the nasty things I'm convinced the future will bring, all the while clinging to some pathetic insistence that everything used to be better than it is now. I'm old school, meaning I can't or won't adapt to the way things are done today, can't break free of familiar patterns...











Ten years after the summer of Helene, and Sharon, and Mike Vail, and the house in Wingdale, and Green Knoll Day Camp, and my dad's music room... Ten years after all that stuff was the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. When you're a kid, ten years feels like a century. But then when you're 40-something, ten years feels like a mere blip. I can't believe it's already been almost ten years since 9/11, ten years since I could at least entertain the idea of transporting a few joints in my coat pocket through an airport. Time seems to accelerate with age. It's been ten years since I started my current job, more than ten years since the hanging chads, since the Subway Series, since the dot-com bust, since none of my friends had kids yet, since I believed I could achieve something more meaningful in my career than simple survival. Time is a constant, and yet subjectively it gets more and more compressed with the attainment of perspective. Time doesn't heal all wounds. On the contrary, it becomes increasingly punishing as it picks up speed. And it doesn't spare anybody...





There's a splinter in your eye and it reads 'react.' I associate the summer of '85 with REM. I had become a 'New Music' devotee by then, spraying Sun-In in my closely cropped hair, sporting Chuck Taylors with rolled-up jeans, and basically dressing myself up like a Nancy boy. But it was cool to look a little bit androgynous and to live life with REM and Husker Du blasting through your Walkman headphones. My friend Drew had introduced me to REM the previous summer, and it was love at first listen. The chiming jangle of Peter Buck's Rickenbaker hooked me right in. I spent hours upon hours alone in my room, trying to decipher the cryptic meanings behind Michael Stipe's lyrics. I never did figure out what he was on about, but I knew the words somehow applied to my life, expressing all the promise and freedom of youth, and the loneliness and pain as well. REM was the perfect thing for me at the perfect time. Their music still makes me feel so damn good. It's mysterious and familiar at the same time...











































Nowadays a lot of music from the 80s sounds horrible. It's not that the music itself was all that bad, but the in-vogue production style - tinny and brittle - has not held up well. REM was certainly not immune to this. Fables of the Reconstruction is one of their best collections of songs, but it sounds absolutely awful, buried under turgid layers of 'atmosphere' that only serve to make everything sound muted, distant, cold. But the biggest casualty of the way records were produced in the 80s was Prince. He was/is an amazingly talented little fellow, an incredible songwriter and performer with an amazing feel for melody, right up there with Paul McCartney in his ability to pack so much sweet stuff into 3 or 4 minutes. But try going back to a Prince record now, say Dirty Mind, or 1999, or Purple Rain, or Sign 'O the Times. Personally, I can't sit with those albums for more than a few minutes. They sound so murky, as if Prince is covered in thick tar and playing inside a small aluminum shed. The stuff's horribly overproduced and corporate sounding, lacking of any real warmth to latch onto. Perhaps the production value merely expresses what the 80s were all about? ...I'll have to think about that one...





Apologies for the long digression there. Sometimes my mind wanders. During the summer of 1985, I worked as a counselor at Camp Greylock in the small town of Becket, Massachussets. I had been a camper at Greylock for eight years and now returned as an employee. Having the tables turned in this way did not agree with me. As much as I loved the camp as a paying customer, I hated now having to deal with spoiled Jewish punks from Long Island and New Jersey as a worker. But there were some good times here and there... Baseball was, as ever, my constant companion. As a Met fan, one of the things I remember most about the ’85 season is Keith Hernandez testifying in a Federal case against several guys who had for years been supplying Major League ballplayers with cocaine. His testimony included an admission of his own cocaine use while he was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, including during the 1979 season, when he was elected the NL MVP, and during the 1982 season, when the Cards won the World Series. With hindsight it seems that uppers came into the Major League Baseball in the 60s and early 70s, and then were replaced by coke in the second half of the 70s and the first half of the 80s, which was then replaced by steroids and HGH in the second half of the 80s and 90s… I remember Keith testifying in ’85, and I remember the Mets not having quite enough to get the job done. They really should have won it all in ’85 and ’88, along with the championship the won in ’86. They could have been a dynasty...








At Greylock that summer I became friends with Rod, an arts and crafts couselor from Baltimore. We bonded over our mutual love of REM and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. Some nights when we'd have nothing better going on, the two of us would sit in his little Honda Accord, listening to music and drinking Schaefer Beer. Do they still even make that stuff? They had the best advertising jingle ever. 'Schafer is the one beer to have when you're having more than one.' Genius. Rod and me usually had quite a bit more than one, as I remember it...











During the previous school year I had developed a lust crush on Adelle, a sexy and totally unattainable girl in the same grade as me. I call it a lust crush as opposed to just a crush because I think by then I was walking around with an image of myself as some kind of unlovable loser. I didn't really think about romance. I just thought about getting my cock sucked, though that never happened, of course. I didn’t have a lot of self-esteem, but you don’t need self-esteem to be horny, and I was very, very, very horny. All the time. All day long, every day. A veritable jizz machine was I. Many years later, a friend of mine told me that he had had sex with Adelle a few times back in the day, and that she never bathed or groomed, and that she smelled like rotting garbage, and especially that her privates smelled like throw up, and that he could barely concentrate on what he was doing at the time because her personal hygiene was so incredibly awful. This pleased me a great deal, needless to say.


I like having my illusions shattered, as long as they’re illusions attached to memories of things I wanted but couldn’t have…I mention all this because, during that summer of ’85, somebody other than myself or a doctor actually touched my junk. There was a girl’s camp affiliated with Greylock called Camp Romaca, which had lots and lots of Jewish girls from the Tri-State area, and especially from Long Island, with their accents that would hit you like a battering ram. A great many ugly girls went to Romaca and one of ‘em got her hooks into me, literally, if you get my drift. It happened behind the rec hall, on some balmy night, under cover of darkness. You could not imagine a more loveless, pointless encounter if you tried. I remember almost nothing about her, except that she was overweight and that I closed my eyes and imagined that it was Adelle’s hand. I don’t even remember where she was from. The only thing I can recall clearly is what she said to me upon completion: ‘You got your dirt all over my shirt.’ My dirt. I still love that. For many years afterwards, it became code for masturbation between me and my friend Charlie.

'Hey, what are you up to?'
'Not much, I just unleashed some dirt.'


I think this is how I will always think of the summer of '85. If 1964 was Freedom Summer, 1967 the Summer of Love, 1977 the Summer of Sam, then 1985 - well, how else? - 1985 was, at least for me, the Summer of Dirt...

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