It’s finally arrived: Summer Vacation. (Necessary to slap capital letters on those words.) While I’m (not) busy this week sipping sweet tea on a South Carolina beach, three of my favorite people have graciously agreed to contribute their thoughts and discoveries to Belle Squeaks. It’s with the greatest pleasure that I introduce the first guest blogger this week.
Today’s post comes from Steven Garbin, who I first met a few years ago through the pages of a jaw-droppingly good first-week-of-school writing prompt, back when I had a “real” job, wore “real” clothes, and carried on “real” conversations that didn’t include the words “diaper,” “car seat,” “snack trap,” or “nap.” Since those first days of Honors American Literature, my esteem for Steve has only grown. I have met few writers, on the page or in person, who can equal his facility with language. (And by the way, he’s wicked smart, funny, humble, and an all-around class act.) Steve would like me to tell you that I was the first person to really encourage his writing. Since I have editorial rights over this blog, however, let me set the record straight: Pushing Steven Garbin to write is like pushing a fish into water. He was born to write. Read on, and you’ll see what I mean.
by Steven Garbin
I’ve never much enjoyed summer. Before college I spent summers with my grandma at the beach doing a lot of reading. I’d read thin soft kids books and she’d sit on the porch and read beach reads wearing her bifocals. She liked mysteries best usually – Mysteries and books about people who used to know each other and then fell back in love again after some years. I read a book once about a kid who moved into a house that was actually a lighthouse. A ghost of a kid just like him haunted the lighthouse, but they became friends once the living kid wasn’t afraid anymore. He was a brave kid I guess because the end of the book involved him rowing out in a boat and saving a friend of the ghost kid. I never saved anyone (despite spending some time – contributing to my dislike for summer – as a perpetually burned, singularly irascible lifeguard), but I do like lighthouses.
Lighthouses are quiet. Some lighthouses also have a fog horn in them, but quiet lighthouses strike me a bit better because they’re more true to being a guide. They show you where to go instead of telling you where to go. They listen. Of course what do I know, fog horns may be more appropriate if boats and sailors are auditory learners. I suppose that depends on the ship and her children.
Anyway, as I was saying I used to vacation with my grandmother during the summer when I was younger. She was warm, my grandmother, the type of woman that you could really hug without any remorse. Sometimes that’s what you’re looking for in a grandmother. She also taught me how to play gin rummy – because what are you going to do except play gin, sneak gin, and read when you’re spending an entire summer with your grandmother? So, I’d play gin with my grandmother at night and sometimes at lunchtime, but mostly I preferred solitaire, as far as card games go. I played when my grandma wasn’t around because I cheated. She probably knew.
Those were essentially my summers when I was young, and then not so young. I was a teenager doing these things, too. My face got pimply and my books got thicker – joyous. My grandmother remained the only woman in my life over my summers, not counting the waitresses. I used to eat lunch and dinner at a club that my grandmother belonged to for a while. It was kind of a fake club because there wasn’t any golf or tennis, but we still called it the club. I used to have one waitress every summer that I just knew I was going to marry. I’d sit with my hands sweating adolescently under the table, and politely – no, gentlemanly – say thank you for my glass of water and smile and then blush and be embarrassed. I don’t know if my grandmother ever noticed, but if I had to guess I’d bet that she did because she tended to perceive things about me that most people didn’t. Kind of like how a mom always knows, but since she was a grand – mom she had a heightened sensitivity to these things. My grandmother used to wear bifocals – I remember that.
Anyway this summer’s different than the old days – or so I thought. I’ve got a real job (8-4 Monday through Friday) spending quality time with an endless supply of files. Court cases, asbestos litigation, hearing loss settlements. The law firm that I work for seems to have its primary clientele based in the worst railroad company of all time. Literally every single employee of this Monstrous-Locomotive-that-Couldn’t seems to have sued the railroad at some point during his or her apparently painful career. My job consists of reading the numbers on these files, deciding whether or not I can destroy the files, typing the numbers into a spreadsheet, printing the spreadsheet, and typing the numbers on the spreadsheet into another filing program. To summarize, read, type, print, read, type, repeat. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I’m completely serious about the wash, rinse, repeat part, by the way. I don’t work in the actual law firm where the glass and marble desks look like they were laser cut and polished last night…and during lunch. No, I work in a warehouse far removed from the glitz of corporate law, a tin plated dungeon of a place that probably looks more like what those railroad workers saw (and smelled) on a daily basis – although hopefully devoid of the asbestos, though I would know just how to go about getting maximum compensation for some such work related ailment. The work is boring in this cinder blocked sarcophagus and the days can take awhile. I sometimes pass spare time with computer solitaire and it occurred to me during one particularly frustrating game (I needed that card underneath my immovable jack to win…) it occurred to me that this – summer – was still the same for me, and still my least favorite season.
There I was hitting the undo button on a game of solitaire in the midst of a hot, mindless day, imprisoned by my “vacation” and all but alone with my mind wandering all over and anywhere that wasn’t summer. Sweaty palms, annoyance, girls that I don’t know, friends I can’t see, places I’ve been or haven’t been and can’t be. It occurred to me that I can’t stand summer because of the impregnable constancy of the whole thing. One way or another it is always the same sticky, searing disappointment. I suppose that’s why some people love it though, for its monotony, its unoriginality. To be more pleasant, people love summer for its connection to the way things have always been. Returning to the same honkytonk beachville with family to review an endless stream of good old days (what did they talk about when those were happening?). Maybe it’s not that I hate summer, but simply harbor distaste for those things in my life, those things about myself that I keep returning to.
I turned this notion over in my rusty summer brain while aimlessly clicking my way through a few more games of solitaire before punching my timecard (into a computer) and heading home. Then, as I left the warehouse for the day and turned the corner for my jeep, the intolerable haze seemed to cool just enough to steer my glance upon cars and children playing beneath the sultry outline of a water tower down the street that was listening to my thoughts – full of desire for an autumn patch of hues dancing in some remembered breeze. Doubtlessly my grandmother was adjusting her bifocals, smiling and swinging her knowing eyes from my lighthouse to continue reading the caricatures of someone else’s good old summer days.
Steven Garbin is an English major (with an undeclared second major) at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who intends to continue writing as he advances through a promising career. His longer pieces generally start off as inspired poem fragments sketched in the corners of his academic work. As a result, his writing is largely detailed with his own idiosyncratic observations; his genius lies in his ability to focus on moments of brilliance. Steve’s favorite writers are Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, and Emily Bronte. To enjoy one of Steve’s favorite books, pick up a well-loved copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise.