Sum­mer days just made for wast­ing

Los Angeles Times - - HOME & DESIGN - CHRIS ERSK­INE chris.ersk­ine@latimes.com Twit­ter: @er­sk­ine­times

How to kill a sum­mer af­ter­noon. Vol­ume 1: I am tu­tor­ing the lit­tle guy on the fine art of wast­ing a sum­mer day. No video games. No Net­flix. Just the beach and the open wa­ter, “all sur­face and twin­kle, far shal­lower than the spirit of man,” as Henry James once purred.

In a world that’s al­ways try­ing to sell you some­thing or push you to be skin­nier or bet­ter look­ing, more pro­duc­tive, more prodi­gious, we are salut­ing the restora­tive pow­ers of idle time on a sum­mer day so per­fect you’d like to fold it five ways and tuck it into a pic­nic bas­ket to be used over again.

We are mak­ing the most of no sched­ules, no prac­tices, no home­work, no nothin’, baby. To me, Amer­i­can chil­dren are abu­sively over- pro­grammed. I think a busy kid is a happy kid, but there’s a fine line. Par­ents’ neu­roses over the fu­ture have grad­u­ally be­come our kids’ neu­roses, steal­ing grand chunks of child­hood. Wit­ness the poor kid who f led her SAT test­ing re­cently and dis­ap­peared.

Look, Fer­ris Bueller needs another day off. It’s one of the small ways we can gift our chil­dren.

“You know who you should be read­ing at your age?” I ask the lit­tle guy. “Who?” “Von­negut,” I tell the 12- year- old.

Down to the Santa Mon­ica Pier we go, talk­ing of Von­negut, the Dodgers, the woody cologne of an old wharf on a warm day.

“We used to call it dirt-bag­ging,” my buddy Verge said when I told him we’d de­voted an en­tire day to wast­ing it.

“We didn’t even have a towel,” he re­mem­bered of a boy­hood by the beach. “You’d jump in the wa­ter, then lie down in the hot sand to dry off ... dirt- bag­ging.”

I firmly be­lieve that the right cheese­burger can change your life. The kid? He wants a corn dog at that iconic lit­tle stand at the base of the pier.

So be it, Fer­ris. Go get your corn dog.

As he eats, we lis­ten to the street mu­si­cians, drop a buck or two in the bucket, then turn to watch the slack- lin­ers on Mus­cle Beach.

A few min­utes later, we take out small con­sumer loans and hit the roller coaster, then ( ap­pro­pri­ately) the Fer­ris wheel, which seems to want to javelin riders out over the hori­zon.

At the end of the pier, a sea lion is per­form­ing some sort of lounge act in hopes of get­ting hand­outs from the fish­er­men lin­ing the rail: Take my squid please. Splash.

Off we head to the Third Street Prom­e­nade, which the boy doesn’t re­mem­ber, though I brought him here when he was 4 so he could feed scraps of pizza to pi­geons. At the time, pi­geons were his fa­vorite wild an­i­mals.

“You re­mem­ber this place?” I ask. “No.” We’re sev­eral hours in now, and he’s start­ing to get the idea — this con­cept of do­ing ab­so­lutely noth­ing and do­ing it well. At a stop- light, I hold a con­ver­sa­tion with the recorded voice in­side the cross­walk box.

“Sir, do not panic!” I tell it. “Help is on the way. We will have you out of there in no time.”

“Pre­pare to cross,” the recorded voice says.

“He sounds de­mor­al­ized,” I tell the kid.

“Hang in there, dude!” I say as I pound the cross­walk box.

Com­edy doesn’t get more so­phis­ti­cated than talk­ing to ran­dom light posts.

Fathers have al­ways been some of our best co­me­di­ans. A whole genre — the Amer­i­can sit­com — was built around a fa­ther’s abil­ity to do asi­nine things in amus­ing ways, at the worst pos­si­ble time. Then, in an at­tempt to fix things, make them even worse. The way our na­tion once had cir­cuses, we now have fathers.

I loved my fa­ther. Now there was a guy who could waste a sum­mer day. He worked his tail off, but he was still a master at killing a per­fect June af­ter­noon.

His fa­vorite hobby: not catch­ing fish. And he made the most of it with long trips into the Up­per Mid­west, where he would not catch fish in some of the most glo­ri­ous, wall­eye- filled lakes you could imag­ine.

Sure, once in a while a fish would ac­ci­den­tally snag it­self on his hook, which my dad had baited with cigar stubs and bar re­ceipts. Never f lus­tered, he’d just shake it loose and light another sto­gie.

“Your grandpa is here,” I tell the lit­tle guy. “He is?” “Yeah, he’s you,” I say. “Re­ally?” Yeah, he’s you and me and ev­ery other over- mort­gaged schmo who saw a per­fect sum­mer day and pledged to own it.

Tom Thumb. Huck Finn. Fer­ris Bueller. Walk­ing tributes to the spirit of man.

Pre­pare to cross.

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