Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Labor Day Blues

For me, Labor Day has always signaled the slipping away of another year. There is something about Summer - maybe it is the long days - that makes you think time is standing still. Even though you get a little sick of the mosquitos and the heat and humidity, and you are ready for some football or the beginning of school, to me there is a sadness that marks the end of summer that isn't there for the other seasons.

Fall blends into winter so gradually and so late on the calendar, that December 20th is more or less bureacratic excess - you already knew you were in Winter, and nobody needed to tell you so. Winter always lingers too long, and even if passage into another Spring means another wrinkle around the eyes, you gladly pay the price. And Spring, as good as it is, has as its main attribute the glimpses it provides you of the next season. As much as I love fall, I always enter it looking over my shoulder and thinking I'll never have that summer back; I'll have others, but not that one.

I remember two consecutive Labor Days in particular, one in the Summer following graduation from college, and the next the summer prior to starting graduate school. Having graduated from college, I had no job awaiting me in the fall. Late in the Spring of my senior year, I applied to some graduate economics programs, and subsequently took the GREs. I found out mid-Summer I had gotten into Johns Hopkins and Carnegie Mellon, the former of which offered me tuition, but because I had applied so late no other funding was available. I visited Hopkins, met with what faculty were hanging around on a random summer day, and decided to wait a year and re-apply to Hopkins as well as a broader range of schools.

What I didn't realize is this left my first Tuesday in September devoid of anything to do. For all the years within memory, I was off to school on that Tuesday; there was no need to think of something to do.

And there I was lifeguarding in Stone Harbor on Labor Day weekend, the last fling of summer. The summer rentals were packed with people, the island was as crowded as at any other time, and the bars were hopping from about 4 pm on each day. And then comes the actual Labor Day; all prior years as a lifeguard I had already returned to school, so this was the first that I had witnessed on the beach. Driving to the shack, where we met for roll prior to hitting the stands on the beach, there isn't a parking space to be found on any street on the island. The beaches were initially jammed, but the crowd waned over the day as I sat fixed to the stand. By the time quitting time rolled around, the island was practically deserted. O Death in life the days that are no more!

That fall I found a job through a headhunter with the Joseph Oat Corporation, a private company on the Camden side of the Delaware River, for $19K per year. I was in the sales department, cold-calling power and chemical plants to see if they were in the market for $200 thousand heat exchangers - not an easy job. There were three other guys in sales, headed by a guy named Ed Marinock.

At the first rather informal meeting of the sales team in Ed's office, he pulled open a drawer, grabbed a bottle of Pepto Bismol, took a shot, and then in all seriousness offered each of us the same. Quitting time was 5:00 pm, and was literally marked by a whistle that ended the shift at the adjoining plant, and I would be out that door faster than it took Fred Flintstone to slide down his brontasorous and out of the quarry. I lasted thirty working days, the minimum required for me not to have to pay the headhunter fee. And the maximum I could stand without taking a hit of the Pepto.

Most of my Fridays there were spent shaking off a South Street hangover that was made more severe by a cheese steak at Jim's that lay undigested in my gut through the night ; Dusty Eggs was the drinking partner, and I particularly remember going out on Halloween night in South Philly with him dressed as BuckWheat in full black face - and of course the brothers loved him.

The next year, I spent part of the Summer living in Seattle, and came back to Stone Harbor to lifeguard for the month of August. It was the summer prior to starting graduate school, so I felt some trepidation about a new beginning, and for that one month life seemed perfect. Relaxed days on the beach followed by miniature golf skins games played for beers and shots, free happy hour meals at Touche munching on shrimp cocktail and sipping 25 cent grapefruit and vodkas. Play, stop, rewind, play, stop, rewind. That is what I wanted to do - just keep replaying that month for the rest of my life - probably the first and last time I ever felt that way. But just like every other August, it led only to another Labor Day, and it was on with life.

I often find Sinatra's Summer Wind playing repeatedly in my head as summer unofficially ends. It captures the melancholy of summer taking its leave.


Blogger John Wolfram said...

Just of fun..!

5:44 AM  

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