BRONX, NY – For New York City Public School kids, classes finally came to a merciful end yesterday. I think we are the last city on the planet to release youngsters from their academic obligations… by a LOT. And I’m not one of those parents who wish the year ran longer for these kids. Strangely enough, I was young once too, and summer vacation was massively important to me. It’s a time for kids to cut loose, swim, eat fistfuls of junk food, run, play a whole mess of games, and even get into a little trouble. But, times have changed. A lot of the summer activities I had as a kid have either been altered dramatically or disappeared altogether. Here’s what I mean.
The Beach. Sun, surf, sand and silent body shaming. Then: Sunscreen optional, kids play in the rip currents, parental supervision also optional. Back then I guess the thinking was, “We lose a kid, we got plenty more back home.” Now: You’re pretty much not going to the beach unless you live near the beach or have friends who invited you to their beach house. If you do make it out, kids are slathered up with SPF 5000 until they look like Johnny and Edgar Winter and adults are in the water at all times. Overall, it seems like this middle-class summer day trip staple has gone by the wayside.
Baseball Game. “I don’t care if I never get back.” Then: You could get tickets to a game by saving up milk bottle caps and proofs of purchase. Concessions were cheaper and there was thankfully no cotton candy. Doubleheaders (two games for the price of one) were an actual thing and they were awesome. Players were real characters. Now: You have to take out a second mortgage to take a family of four to a game. Concessions are outrageous and feature things like craft beers and sushi. Even the crappiest players make a fortune and Westworld Robots have more personality.
Playing Outside All Day. Friends, ice cream trucks and street games galore. Then: We’d leave our apartments and houses in the morning and be expected back for dinner. Wiffle, round-up, baseball, frisbee, and blowing up dog sh!t with fireworks were just a few of the rewarding pursuits of our unaccompanied mayhem. Now: Someone will have to tell me how it goes in the suburbs, but kids on their own in the boroughs of New York doesn’t appear to be a “thing” anymore. And I can’t even find so much as a sparkler for my kid to light up around the Fourth, let alone a pack of firecrackers. It’s important to keep kids safe, but equally important to let them push the envelope. I’m, admittedly, still trying to find the right balance.
Movies. Free air conditioning! Then: No one cared what was playing, because it was cheap, there were snacks, and the a/c was cranking. But still, you had neighborhood theaters that obliged by playing Disney double-features all summer long as a sorta de facto day camp. Now: Catching a movie on a hot summer day is still a pretty good option when you’re out of ideas. Forget the double features though. And, unless you live in the middle of the city or on top of a mall, neighborhood theaters that kids can walk to aren’t that readily available. Still, get into a multiplex and sneak into other theaters! That this is still happening, warms my heart.
Waste the Day Away. Boredom can breed genius. Then: Throwing water balloons off your roof, setting things on fire, seeing how many Mountain Dews and Flavor Ices you can consume in one afternoon, shoplifting… you could go as far or as painfully unambitious as your imagination could carry you. Now: It’s up to older generations to, as Royal Tenenbaum said, “breed a little recklessness into these kids.” The playing field has changed, for sure, but don’t let that stop you from playing by your own rules.
Come back tomorrow for Buddy Diaz, a guy who knows that the Supreme Court Travel Ban ruling definitely doesn’t apply to LeBron James. Now here’s Side 1, Track 1 to the Soundtrack for the Summer of 1978.