“That summer feeling will haunt you the rest of your life.”-Jonathan Richman
It’s a Monday in late August. I’m on the front step of my apartment sipping a homemade mojito and smoking a cigar, enjoying the cool evening and the interplay between the alcohol and the tobacco, which is making me pleasantly lightheaded. August can have a melancholy undertow, as you always feel the summer passed you by without so much as a “howdyoudo?” And fall’s already here, smiling like a goon, nudging you in the ribs, saying “Hey guy, want some cider? Check out this foliage!” It’s just another summer without that backpacking trip in Southeast Asia or that romance with a German exchange student or that perfect outdoor party that lasts all night.
Then again, summer is almost always disappointing when you hit a certain age; I’m 33 and haven’t had a summer off in six years. Summers become a lost, keenly felt and recalled country of swimming in rivers, tan girls in bikinis, family road trips, and great smelling cook outs.
The most fun I had this summer? Probably when our team, Monkey Knife Fight, finally won trivia night at Beulahland. Stephen Malkmus and two-thirds of the soon to be defunct Sleater-Kinney were there. Seriously. I couldn’t even fulfill my absurdly modest goal of taking a walk with a pretty girl wearing a sleeveless shirt or dress. It’s a low stakes game here in my soon to be mid-30s. I’m not complaining. My life is dull, but easy enough. I make enough money, I just bought a house, and I have cultivated numerous solitary pastimes, including crossword puzzles, unpublished comics about vampiric clams, single malt Scotch, ironic facial hair, and samurai films.
As I said, I bought my first house in North Portland, which is one of the most adult things I’ve done. I’ve been packing up to move and I realize I have a tendency to accumulate, not so much out of nostalgia as an inability to throw things away. There’s always the chance I’ll be able to sell my archives to a university for a tidy sum. A few years ago some big shot author included an old pair of shoes.
I came across a dusty box, with “kitchen” written in my mom’s handwriting, full of letters, many sent by my parents and grandparents when I was in college. There were some stray birthday cards (22. Wow.), foreign postcards from friends, etc. I found a packet of maybe a dozen letters, held by a rubber band that had decayed and stuck to the paper. They were from Emma Park, a girl I knew in college and a few years after. We had an enjoyable, regular, all too short correspondence during 1997-1998. I really can’t remember the last letter I wrote to anybody. I started to read them. There were a number references to a summer program we were on together, Wheaton in England.
It was the summer between my junior and senior year at Wheaton College and I had just turned 21 and was in England. I had been an Anglophile ever since discovering the Beatles in seventh grade. There was even an ill-advised period where I affected an English accent, which ended abruptly when Lance Rogers called me a fag and punched me in the mouth.
England was a long held dream, a country steeped in legend, history, and culture. Our group of 31 (plus teachers) had a close, somewhat tumultuous relationship-like a prolonged summer camp-exacerbated by the numerous relationships that quickly sprung up and often just as quickly expired. After all, propinquity and travel are two surefire aphrodisiacs. I was instantly, dumbly, smitten with a statuesque redhead named Holly Sawyer, and found myself in good company. Several of us futilely vied for her attention and affection. For a lovely, fleeting moment (we had just seen Twelfth Night at the Barbican), I thought I had it, but then she ended up with some 24 year old guy from Ireland that we all hated.
Still absurdly inexperienced in romance, I was shattered and proceeded to drag my tender, wounded heart all over Cornwall, Oxford, Cambridge, Dover, Stonehenge, and seemingly every ruined, picturesque abbey in the whole bloody country. Our final stop, before returning to London and then home, was the Lake District, famous for its association with Wordsworth and Shelley, among other literary heavyweights. At that point, I couldn’t care two figs for Wordsworth or any dead Limey poet. Everyone was tired and a little sick of traveling, mediocre food, sight seeing, and each other.
I had struck up a light friendship with Emma (we toured the Tate together, both awed by the Turner room), and appreciated her quick wit, unself-conscious good looks, and sardonic sympathy for my misanthropy and misogyny. On our last night by Lake Grasmere, some of decided to hike up a nearby hill and camp out. We smuggled out the hostel’s blankets and pillows and trekked up the hill. It was me, Emma, my friend Ryan and his fianc
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