School’s Out For Ever July 2, 2011Posted by The Typist in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
At Easter the horses left for other tracks, and with them the crows laughing at the sun I loved to follow in the morning. It was not long after the heat rolled in as if the loading of the thoroughbreds into trailers bound for Evangeline Downs were a natural migration, a signal that summer was imminent.
It came in May like a plague on Egypt, the high nineties and humidity the weathermen said felt like one-ten. It came like a tsunami with no warning, swallowing Spring and leaving us all wrecked on our porches, dripping. It came without afternoon storms of cold downdrafts and downpours to cool the concrete: hot and drought enough you could feel the trees dreaming of the Ozarks and Appalachians, shedding new leaves like Okies on the road to California.
I seemed to be the only person who didn’t much mind. True, I spent a part of that early onslaught mostly inside healing up from some minor surgery but every time I stepped out somewhere inside a clock turned back and I remembered the sweetness in May’s heat, the end of school and the summers to run the lanes of Lake Vista and City Park just across the street. I sweated like the rest of us but increasingly didn’t care. Because I worked from home I lived in shorts and flip-flops, bought another pack of wife beaters, showered twice a day (at least) as I did when I lived with Marianne who was violently allergic to the spores that grow inside the condensers of air conditioning.
The few times I felt compelled to appear in the office, I looked at the socks and leather shoes laid out and tried to remember the order of assembly, recalled teaching my children how to lace their shoes (cross the bridge and through the hole to see the rabbit). I pulled on the fine-spun golfer’s polyester pants I favor in the summer for their coolness, and wondered who decided men should wear an undershirt beneath a polo: some fool in New York or California who wears starched long sleeves and summer-weight wool in June out in the noonday sun and thought of Snoopy thinking to Linus who wondered about fur in the summer: some of us must suffer for fashion.
Perhaps I am finally re-acclimating to the climate after my long absence, in the same way I learned to haul the garbage out to the snowbank in leather-footed mukluk socks and shirtsleeves when I lived up north. When I step out into the dazzling morning, blinded by the heat, I don’t recoil but embrace it as the way of things, thinking sometimes of summer afternoons of blanket heat and cold swimming pool: the simmering afternoon, the icy water, the natural order of things.
Perhaps a part of it is my age, my children grown enough to miss the vicarious experience of childhood. And so my mind drifts back to my own youth. I live near the park and sometimes walk over or cutting through by the museum stop and park and walk around what they now call the Great Lagoon across from Christian Brothers School. I spent five years in that old mansion, playing water polo in the marble-lined pool, bats dying in the heat dropping out of the rafters onto the basketball court, searching for entrances to the catacombs rumored to run beneath.
On the last day of school we would eschew a ride from our parents and tell them we would take the Canal bus home. Released at noon, we would linger for a while at that lagoon when it was still part of a golf course, toss the odd notebook or two into the water, an offering to the landscape of summer in honor of our release from bondage. After a while we would make it to the Casino for ice cream-desert first–and wander dripping chocolate down our regulation chinos and colored shirts along the south lagoon, past the tennis courts toward the Peristyle, trying and failing to scale the low branches of the old oaks in our leather shoes.
Ice cream done and the park wore out (thinking of cane poles and dip nets and three point gigs with which we would return to torment the wildlife in days to come even as, at thirteen, we slyly watched the young mothers at the playground, the women in their short tennis skirts bending to return a low lob), we wandered slowly under the oaks of City Park Avenue toward Bud’s
Broiler, not so much from hunger (chocolate still wet on our shirts) but to go in and sit beneath the dripping air conditioners suspended from the ceiling, and eat a Number Four just for the savory barbecue sauce, the taste of summer in our mouths.
Our skin and clothes dry at last from the refrigerated air (thinking old tin signs with dripping cubes) and something freshly carved into the tables with the knives we had brought against all school rules expressly for the purpose, we would finish our amble down past the cemeteries, the marble and white wash blinding white against the carefully tended green, until we reached the Cemeteries stop. We would cadge a few STP stickers for our bikes from the old man at the gas station long gone from Canal Boulevard, and sit under the tin roofs waiting for our bus.
There is something of those days when I step outside my door now. At first blinding white, after a moment a golden glow settles over everything and the sauna-warm air slaps an instant coat of sweat on your body that catches the sight breeze. I am learning again to walk slow, to favor the shade, to leave the windows down until the air blows cold in the car. I’ve bought more handkerchiefs, and leave an extra bandana in the car. Its summer and there is no more point to complaining than there is about age, which means to say we will complain but settle in and live with it. Now that the rains have returned the trumpet flowers grow rampant on the racetrack fence. Picking my way over the broken sidewalks to Canseco’s grocery a few blocks over I am met in every block by some new scent, sometimes a garbage can missed (there’s a reason we have twice a week collection here) but more often some hidden flowers behind a fence, the Spring’s sweet olive succeeded by fragrant honeysuckle and nicotinia.
I am tempted to pick up a stick and rattle it along the fence boards, to pick some rock and kick it all the way to the store and back, but I don’t. Not yet. Instead I select a mostly flat rock and hum it sidearm at the Goliath light tower in the race track parking lot. I miss, but that’s OK. I have months ahead to practice.