The Middle Ages: When the cousins come to town, we sprint to the surf, laugh at the heat
Homemade berry pie split across the top. Hot dogs extra crispy, salvaged with a line of bright yellow mustard. And icy drinks, always icy drinks.
“You want salt on that?” the server asks.
I want salt on everything. On me and you, and him and her. I want a salty dog, a salty cat, a salty life.
As you well know, it’s been a brutal July so far, beach sand in your britches, damp towels in the car. As I write this, I find barbecue sauce on my keyboard, on the left-hand keys, particularly the Q and S, but also on the Caps Lock key, frozen in brown-sugar and a dash of bourbon.
Think it’ll help my writing? No. But it may help my life.
The other morning, the temps grew so hot that I started speaking in tongues. The disturbing part was that no one really noticed, such is the gibberish I often spew. My family just nodded and sucked noisily on plastic straws as they watched some dope on TV flip another house. So much love.
July is …
White sun and dark feet, the clunk of ice cubes in a heavy glass. It is leather soles and loose tongues… bare shoulders that look like smoked pork.
“The cure is salt water. Sweat, tears or the sea,” wrote Danish author Isak Dinesen.
We’re not much for sweat. Or tears. So we turn to the sea. We celebrate it with a bushel of Godmother sandwiches from Bay Cities deli, where they do something with the bread that borders on sin.
Then we head to the ocean, camping for a long day at my buddy Verge’s modest beach shack, the one formerly owned by a screenwriter, then a studio mogul. Purportedly, JFK and Marilyn Monroe once danced here, alone, in the dark back bedroom with the shower. Kennedy, a slippery sort, liked his showers, probably a rare chance to get away.
So the airy beach house has a little history, as do we. On this day, my sister is in town from the heartland with her six kids, four of whom were quadruplets. She didn’t have children so much as gardens of screamy daffodils.
Her kids are all in their 20s now — a stout son and five active daughters — healthy and loud, thirsty and appreciative.
“In summer, I don’t do days of the week,” one niece notes. “They’re just all the same to me.”
The more I see of millennials, the more I like them. No, seriously. They are better balanced than we were and collect experiences more than money.
Odd, right? They are wise beyond their years and prone to travel. Millennials may never have pensions or retiree medical. But they’ll have what’s left of their folks’ 401(k) and split the equity in the family house.
Inheritances are the final way our parents lift us: the dividends of their long, devoted lives.
Anyway, it’s a sparkly day here at the beach, a sandy Camelot, with the nuclear heat, the electric scooters, the Ferris wheel at the end of the Santa Monica Pier.
My sister trusts none of it, for California has already stolen away her oldest child, and with days like this, threatens to steal even more.
California – that kidnapper of bright and beautiful children.
The irony is that my sister’s husband, a diehard Chicagoan, might be her greatest flight risk. He is having a great time here at Verge’s beach shack, reaching into icy coolers, throwing Frisbees, then making his way to the ocean, where four-foot swells soothe and clobber us.
“Never turn your back to the ocean,” I warn. “And if a wave breaks white, duck under it.”
As if anyone ever listened to an uncle in a Cubs T-shirt and a beach hat with plastic bananas.
More than anything, July belongs to family, and that’s probably what I like best about it — the bonding, the bravado, the idyllic idle time. Didn’t Updike and Cheever place all their stories in the clammy, endless days of July?
Meanwhile, summer shines through my own fair-haired children like sunlight through lace. You can almost make out their internal organs — there’s the liver, there’s the heart. They are pink-eared and animated. Irish by birth, with a little marinara sauce mixed in, my kids seem to blossom best in summer.
And to see them splash around with their visiting cousins like this is the greatest mitzvah. For the summer days are getting shorter now, even as they seem to go on and on.
Before the back-to-school clock starts ticking again, we celebrate summer, when we bask in the sacredness of the ordinary.
And brine our children in the sea.
Chris Erskine will discuss and sign his new book “Daditude,” a collection of his favorite Times columns, at 2 p.m. Saturday, at the Barnes & Noble in Aliso Viejo. He will appear at the main library in Glendale at 7 p.m. July 18, and the main library in Pasadena at 7 p.m. July 19. He will also appear at Beach Town Books in San Clemente at 2 p.m. July 21.