Originally posted June 20, 2007
The solstice is upon us tomorrow, the longest day of the year – as measured by sunlight – in the Northern Hemisphere. That means those poor sods in Australia and Argentina and other southern places will stumble around in the dark for a longer period than normal, of course. It also means that the Druids – as I mentioned in Monday’s post – will gather at Stonehenge to see the sun rise over the stone called the Heel Stone as part of their annual ceremonies.
We don’t have any hoopla to mark the beginning of meteorological summer here, as far as I know. There’s no ceremonial dipping of the season’s first ice cream cone or anything like that. The fact that summer as a state of mind has already started likely has something to do with the absence of such things. Summer’s been here for a while, no matter what the calendar says.
Maybe it’s not the same now, but thirty-some years ago, for me and the kids I knew, summer – specifically the summer after high school graduation – marked our first real entry into the workforce. I imagine some kids had worked earlier, but I think that most of us in the Class of 1971 got our first real taste of the so-called adult world very shortly after we took off our caps and gowns. For me, that meant spending forty hours a week doing whatever it was the maintenance department at St. Cloud State wanted me to do. And I got the remarkable sum of $2.10 an hour for doing it.
I spent the first half of that summer mowing lawns, riding a huge roaring machine across the green expanses of lawn on campus. Quite honestly, the mowers were a little scary, requiring a fair amount of strength in order to mow anything but a straight line. As there weren’t any areas of lawn that didn’t require a turn now and then, I did not do well mowing lawn, and by mid-summer, I was transferred indoors to the janitorial corps.
And in the building that housed the art and industrial arts departments, I met Mike. A few years older than I was, Mike was loud, profane and funny. For a week or so, he and I filled in for the vacationing regular janitors in Headley Hall, and then maintenance management assigned me to Mike and we became a roving floor cleaning crew, moving from building to building with our mops and buckets and detergents and electric floor scrubber. The first time Mike turned the operation of the scrubber over to me, the machine – which glides along the floor atop a whirling scrubbing pad – deposited me on my rump on a slippery wet floor. Mike laughed, and all I could do was join in. By the end of the summer, though, I could scrub and polish a floor with the best of them, which pleased me a lot. (At the age of seventeen, one takes one’s accomplishments when and where they surface.)
In August, we switched to an evening schedule, 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., to clean the floors in Whitney House, the luxurious one-time private home that then housed the offices of the college president and several vice presidents. We were only allotted thirty minutes for lunch, but given that we had to spend a fair amount of time waiting for mopped floors and newly waxed floors to dry, that was okay.
One evening in Whitney House, Mike and I were lounging in the lower-level office of one of the vice presidents, sipping cola and waiting for the floor in an adjacent office to dry so we could wax it. As we waited, we amused ourselves by browsing through the vice-president’s collection of Playboy magazines (a collection that I imagine would get the vice-president disciplined for harassment these days). As we paged through the most recent editions – which were fairly innocent by today’s standards – we heard a scream upstairs. It was Betty, the nighttime matron!
We ran upstairs, and as we did, we heard a door slam. We saw that the closet where our supplies were kept was closed, and the knob was turning. “Betty, are you okay?” Mike asked through the closet door.
“No,” said Betty. She was a sweet lady, but she was, in today’s terms, developmentally challenged. “There’s a bat, and I don’t want him to get me!”
Mike and I looked around. There, flying up and down the grand staircase of Whitney House, was a small brown bat. “I’ll get him with a broom,” Mike said. But the brooms were in the closet with Betty. It took Mike a few minutes to persuade her to unlock the closet so he could get one. At length, the door opened, and Betty’s hand offered Mike a broom. He took it, and Betty pulled her hand back in and locked the door again.
Mike headed for the stairway with me in tow. The bat came toward him, its course parallel to the stairs, and Mike took aim. Three or four times, he flailed at the flying mammal. Every time, the bat wheeled in its flight and the broom went past harmlessly. We began to laugh, mostly at Mike’s futility but also at the moans and cries still coming from Betty in the closet. On his fourth try, Mike swung harder. The broom again missed the bat and then continued on toward me. I turned my back. The head of the broom struck me between my shoulder blades, and the broomstick broke neatly in two.
We laughed harder.
Mike slumped against the wall near the closet, laughing, and said to me, “You try it.”
I looked for a weapon. The broomstick was useless. I looked in my right hand, where I still carried the vice-president’s most recent edition of Playboy. As the bat flew away from me, up the staircase, I rolled the magazine into a cylinder. At the landing where the staircase turned, the bat reversed its course and headed toward me. I waited at the bottom of the stairs, and as the bat neared me, I rose on my tiptoes and delivered an overhead smash that Bjorn Borg would have envied, catching the bat from behind, where his sonar did no good, and driving him into the carpet.
Mike took a broom and dustpan from Betty’s cart, scooped up the creature and placed him under a tree outside. Evidently, I had only stunned him, for when we checked, half an hour later, the bat was gone. It took us about that long to persuade Betty it was safe to leave the closet.
And then we went back downstairs. I put the magazine back into the vice-president’s desk, and Mike and I waxed the floor of the adjacent office and then moved on to the next office, still laughing.
A couple of years later, when I was working for the library at a job that took me all over campus, I ran into Mike. He told me Betty had retired but that every time he saw her, she talked about the bat in Whitney House. Mike was still floating, filling in for janitors on vacation, but he no longer worked the floor cleaning crew or worked nights. And he missed that.
“We had a good summer that year, didn’t we?” he said to me. “That was a good one.” And he was right.
So, to celebrate the summer that technically starts tomorrow, and to celebrate as well all the good summers of the past – including the summer I spent scrubbing floors – here’s a Baker’s Dozen of songs with the word “summer” in their titles:
“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers, Imperial single 66267, 1967
“The Boys Of Summer” by Don Henley, Geffen single 29141, 1984
“Summertime” by Scarlett Johansson from Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars, 2006
“Summer Breeze” by the Isley Brothers from 3+3, 1973
“The Endless Summer” by the Sandals from The Endless Summer soundtrack, 1966
“Summer Wages” by Ian & Sylvia from Ian & Sylvia, 1971
“Summer’s Almost Gone” by the Doors from Waiting For The Sun, 1968
“Hot Fun In The Summertime” by Sly & The Family Stone, Epic single 10497, 1969
“Suddenly Last Summer” by the Motels, Capitol single 5271, 1983
“Fifteen Summers” by Gallagher & Lyle from Breakaway, 1976
“Summertime Dream” by Gordon Lightfoot from Summertime Dream, 1976
“Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” by Joan Baez from Diamonds & Rust, 1975
“Summer Wine” by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood from Nancy & Lee, 1968
A few notes about the songs:
This is a random selection. I sorted all the songs with “summer” in their titles or album titles, selected “Summer Rain” as the first, and then let the RealPlayer go. I then decided that the word “summer” had to be in the song title, not the album title. And I rejected Brewer & Shipley’s “Indian Summer” as not being quite in the spirit of things. So this is what we got.
A few songs missed the cut that would have been nice. Mungo Jerry’s “In The Summertime” comes to mind, as does Frank Sinatra’s melancholy “Summer Wind.” I love Seals & Crofts’ version of “Summer Breeze,” but it’s so well known that I was glad to see the Isley Brothers’ long version show up instead.
Johnny Rivers’ “Summer Rain” is one of my all-time favorite songs (it would make my Top Twenty for certain), and I was a little surprised to see that the single was not released in summer, that it was released late in the autumn, first making the charts in December of 1967. But then I thought about the last verse of the song, and that made sense. The song is from Rivers’ Realization, which was on my recent list of my favorite albums.
The album Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars, from which the Scarlett Johansson performance comes, was a benefit record for “Music Matters,” an educational program of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I thought that, for an actress not known for singing, Johansson pulled it off pretty well.
I wrote a while back about working at the state trap shoot for three summers when I was in high school and about how I heard some songs so frequently down in the trap pit that they became what I call “trap shoot songs.” “Hot Fun In The Summertime” is one of those songs, redolent of black dust and the smell of gunpowder and the sound of shotguns.
“Summer Wine,” as over-written as it might be – a condition not rare among songs penned by Lee Hazlewood – is nevertheless one of my favorite songs, no matter who sings it. The Nancy & Lee version is not the original – that showed up on a Hazlewood album a year or two earlier than this, I believe – but it is, I think, the best.