Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Smell Marking the End of Summer

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

During my impromptu sojourn to New York City, I was confronted by a bittersweet smell... the smell of late August in the city.

If you have ever lived in New York, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. The late night air in late August has a distinct aroma. I've lived in many cities and have traveled the world, but nothing matches that muggy end of summer smell. I immediately got flashbacks of my youth. Whenever your brain conjures up memories of summer, it's a an instant flashback to your lost youth. That's the one thing you lose when you become an adult -- the summer fun. I was never much a fan of school and the holiday season was always rough for me, so the summers where my favorite time of year. My parents couldn't afford to send us to sleepaway camps upstate, but they managed to scrounge up enough to send us to basketball camp for a week or two. The financial strains almost meant a limited vacation lasting about a week. We only went as far as my old man can drive us in a day, but we covered lots of ground visiting different parts of New England and Canada.

Last week, I got blindsided by the smells of late August in NYC and that struck a nerve with me the most out of all the other memories I encountered on my travels through Northern California, Colorado, Indiana, Wisconsin, and New York. The floodgates opened. The stroll down memory lane was bittersweet. On the good side, the memories were what Bob Dylan descried as a "road map to the soul" as I re-traced many of the pleasant summer memories that helped remind me who I really was as a person. I grew up in the late 1970s and early 80s before we got addicted to video games and were influenced by VCRs and cable television. We were kids at a time when you could ride a bicyle without a helmet. My brother and I roamed our Bronx neighborhood freely with other feral kids from different buildings (including Vinny the Barber's kids who lived across the street).

I don't have kids, but these days, I would never think about letting them out unsupervised in New York City. Alas, I grew up in a halcyon era. My brother and I played lots of baseball or variations. We played hardball in the local park that had ballfields. We also played a lot of ball in the schoolyard of our Catholic elementary school using recycled tennis balls and a bat that we acquired from Bat Day at Yankee Stadium. Other times, we played stickball (also using a tennis ball) or a derivative of the game Stoop in the back of our apartment building. When we got bored of those games, we'd stir up a bee's nest by fucking with Boris, the angry old Russian guy across the street who always screamed at us, or we'd wreck havoc on the bitter old Jewish lady who lived on the 5th floor. She always complained about us playing in back of our apartment building. She was an old school racist from the Archie Bunker Finishing School of Hate for sure, because our playmates were the only people of color in our building -- two kids from Kenya.

Memories of a lost youth. That smell of late summer was bittersweet. The good memories included the play time with my brother and getting to stay up late or heading to the library on the really hot days to cool down and check out books. The bad part was thinking about those utterly disgusting sticky sweaty humid days, not to mention counting down the days until school began on the Wednesday after Labor Day.

Over 25 years later, I stood on the same street that I rode my bicycle up and down thousands of times. I took a deep breath and inhaled every memory, both good and bad. The goosebumps that sprinkled my arms were a sobering reminder that I also experienced the same bittersweet feeling -- I had a balls out fun the last few weeks on Phish tour, but all of that fun was coming to an end. Once I returned to LA, I would have to return to real life, whatever that is. I was fortunate enough that I put myself in a position to take the time off to have a "summer vacation" (e.g. embedding myself with hippies on a cross-country Phish tour). However, a tinge of depression tried to drag me down because I did not want the summer to end. We always chased that endless summer as a child. I still chase that as an adult.

Although the primary focus of my quick trip to New York was Jones Beach out on Long Island, I found myself soaking up a few moments of different parts of the city when I could. I spent more time in Brooklyn than I thought when I crashed with Bruce in Bay Ridge at the last minute one evening. I also had to drive Matt back to Park Slope both nights after the show. I lived there many moons ago and got flooded with a different set of memories as crawled along the streets at 2am being ambushed by memories of seeing brownstones and a few old haunts. On the afternoon before the concerts began, I took a stroll on the Upper West Side and popped into Central Park for a brief moment before I grabbed a burger at one of my favorite joints. I didn't get a chance to visit the Greek diner in the old hood that I always go to, but I snagged an Everything bagel earlier that morning for breakfast. Savory.

I also drove over the Manhattan Bridge one night as I departed Brooklyn. I made the wrong turn and got lost in the part of town where Chinatown bled into hipsterville. That wasn't the only wrong turn I took. When I picked up Bruce in Bay Ridge, I made a crucial error on the BQE and failed to get off at his exit -- the last one in Brooklyn. I drove over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge while screaming, "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!" The rookie mistake was a costly one... $11 toll. Fuck me. I made a quick turn around and spent less than a minute in Staten Island before I returned to Brooklyn. I started that day in the Bronx, picked up a rental car in Manhattan, and then drove through Brooklyn, got lost in Staten Island, before I returned to Brooklyn to pick up Bruce and later passed through Queens on my way to Long Island. A rare treat -- all five NYC boroughs in one day.

I was relatively sober during my time in New York while I logged designated driver duties for both concert nights. A decade ago, I would have gotten snookered without any qualms. But, I'm wiser now and I really needed to ease off the pedal after pushing myself to the limits for two weeks in a bender that started out in Berkeley, moved to Telluride, then spilled over into Indiana and Wisconsin. Since this part of the trip was a bonus, I didn't mind the opportunity to be sober and responsible.

However, one night I wished that I was shitfaced because I went on supreme traffic tilt one night due to construction on the Belt Parkway. Friggin' night construction cost me 40 minutes of my life -- at a time when all I wanted to do was get back to Brooklyn safely so I could start partying for a bit before I wrote a review of the concert that I had just seen.

My tiny travel laptop has many advantages but the biggest disadvantage is that it's not as easy to write as my other regular sized laptop. I have two older laptops in NYC (including my old Apple notebook) and a British version that I purchased in London a few years ago during a business trip. My laptop died and luckily my client split the cost of a new laptop with me so I could finish the assignment. The British keyboard is slightly different -- the QWERTY is fine as far as the letters go, so that aspect is fine, however, all of the special characters are in different spots! That initially tripped me when I tried to use that laptop to write the other night. I got tired of writing on the small laptop and wanted a larger keyboard.

I booked a 7am flight out of NYC in order to get me back in LA way before lunchtime. Early flights are a bitch because of the time, but the good news is that there is no traffic at 5am. I got a car service around 4:45am and the city was empty. The airport was a different story. JetBlue scheduled all of their flights to the west coast starting at 6am and heading out just as the same time as the flights to Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. I got caught up in the log jam with only two security lines running. As soon as I cleared security with my tiny backpack and laptop bag, I avoided the long lines at the main food court area and walked to a semi-secret bakery at the far end of the terminal. All I wanted was a chocolate croissant, but I got caught up in a youth group ordering food just before their flight departed. I thought I made the vet move, but got screwed. I finally put in my order, grabbed a water for the flight, and popped the last of my pharmies for a very long time. I needed something to take the edge off on a six hour flight to the left coast. Besides, I also had a window seat and wanted to knock myself out in an attempt to get a few batches of slumber. I can't sleep for more than twenty or thirty minutes at a time on a plane, but I was exhausted and only thinking about my bed back in LA.

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