Back in 1991, when DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince released Summertime, I’d splay out on the carpet under my purple plastic radio with my chin in my hands and daydream that that was my life. That song, to me, was everything summer was meant to be.
I imagined Philly as a city where the summer streets were luminescent with heat, the light was steeped in golden sun-yellow, and tracks of sweat glimmered across skin. During the day kids played and screamed in spurting, gurgling water plugs, and at night folks gathered under street lights and around porches, laughing and shouting. In the Philly of my imagination, people knew you everywhere you went, and greeted you like an old friend.
But as a kid living on a military base at the edge of Silicon Valley, my experience was anything but Summertime. The south bay was all temperate days and cool nights, and overhead the sun was a wary white dot in a pale wash of sky. We had a roving bicycle gang of Navy kids from whom us Air Force kids would vigilantly defend our turf, sure, but no water plugs to play in. For play instead I’d scramble atop the transformer box behind our apartment, buzzing loud enough to drown out the hum of the freeway, and jump off again. I’d sneak down into the concrete-lined creek with some other kids, strangers to me, and dare each other to pull things out of the murky water. At summer school I’d lace my fingers through the chain-link fence and gaze at the Santa Cruz Mountains to the south and west, carpeted in coastal green, then turn to the east at look at the Diablo Range, all dry straw brown and peppered with scrubby brush.
Nostalgic for something I never even had.
Yesterday the beau and I were eating dinner on the porch, slung low in pear-colored Adirondack-style chairs. The lit windows of the tall buildings of downtown Denver twinkled a bit in the near distance and the street lamps burned yellow. A breeze stirred the lazy air, a welcome respite after an 88-degree day. At the playground some kids were playing basketball, whooping with every shot. A neighbor hollered playfully at someone passing by just as a siren wailed to life a few blocks away. And then it hit me.
It ain’t Philly, and no one yet knows me as an old friend, but I finally got my summertime.
I love summer. I love the heat. I love the yellow light, and the sounds of a city. Give me a few more years of that, and maybe I’ll change my mind.
But for now I never want any of this to end.