Riding Shotgun: What I Did on my Summer Vacation

An argument for ex-patriotism.

You knew it was coming. It was as inevitable as death and taxes, although both of those were as alien to us as Venutians then. The essay.

Oh, you know which one I’m talking about. It was the one that teachers gave us to do the day we came back from summer vacation every year without fail from kindergarten until puberty. Sometimes it would already be written on the blackboard (that’s chalk and eraser for those who have seen nothing but E-Z Wipe marker boards): “What I Did During My Summer Vacation.”

I always suspected, even then, that this essay was the equivalent of the dittos that substitute teachers handed out when they didn’t want to fuck with the regular teacher’s lesson plan — busywork. I had a feeling that this was just a way for the teacher to put off for one more day having to sink herself elbows-deep into the muck and manure of molding young minds.

I know we, as children, didn’t appreciate it. We were still coming off the high of three months of freedom — the last two weeks of which were spent counting the days/hours/minutes/seconds/flashes-of-a-quark before we would be chained to our desks for the next three seasons.

The last thing we wanted to do was sit inside at tiny, wooden, uncomfortable desks, putting pen to paper to relive the wondrous joy of … well, of being anywhere but there. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I was one of those young kids who just loved school (until the horrors of puberty) and excelled accordingly. But even my enthusiasm on those first few days back was suppressed by the nagging notion that I could learn just as much with a book and the teacher’s manual sitting under a tree outside as I could within the confines of the hospital/urine-yellow schoolroom walls.

There were those who loved the essay. They were the ones who went to Disney World or the moon during their summer break. Their parents seemed to have the gumption of a young Mark Twain, dragging their young ‘uns from one end of the Mississip’ to the next and getting into adventures at every stop along the way.

We hated them.

If you didn’t hate them, you were them.

Most of us spent the summer digging in the mud building G.I. Joe forts (Barbie strongholds for the ladies) and watching endless hours of television. But if you wrote about that, the teacher would get pissed at you.

“Oh, surely you did something other than watch TV all summer,” she would say in that sing-song — eight more hours before I can grade papers, go home and have a stiff gin & tonic — voice. “Didn’t you go anywhere? Do anything?”

I just wanted to tell her, “No, you dumb bitch, I didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t do anything. I’m six years old. What do you expect me to do, hop in a Buick and tour the Midwest!”

Of course, I did not say this. I probably didn’t even think it. But, in my head, now, I picture a six-year old cursing like a Portuguese bordello master and flipping off the janitor. It makes me happy.

So, those of us who didn’t spend July in France started flexing those mental muscles that would grow to gargantuan proportions in college, turning our two-day stay at Grandma’s house into an epic adventure complete with mountain lions, fairies and a torrid love affair between He-Man and Strawberry Shortcake.

And we all got A’s. Why? Because she never read the fucking papers. It was the first day back, and she didn’t want to be there any more than we did. I have friends that are teachers now. I know this to be true.

If only we knew it then, how much smoother everything would have gone. We could have helped each other adjust. She’d let us spend the first few days playing kickball until lunchtime, and we’d look the other way if she were reading Cosmo instead of The Adventures of Huck Finn.

So, in an attempt to embrace the spirit of my childhood, here we go: What I Did During My Summer Vacation.

… And again, I find myself unable to write a damn thing. Not because I spent the summer loafing in front of the television, but because I’m an adult now and we don’t get summer vacations, damnit. We get jack shit. The only adults who get a “summer vacation” are teachers, and since they spend nine months out of the year “teaching” children, they usually spend their summers in rehab or therapy or both.

But I wasn’t bored. Nosiree. While I might have spent the warm months wallowing in 9-to-5 drudgery, our country as a whole was busy as a neurotic housewife on meth.

The Supreme Court knocked down a Texas sodomy law, and therefore made null and void similar laws in 12 other states. It’s a ruling about 20 years late, and combined with Canada sanctioning gay marriage, has a lot of people frothing at the mouth about the “disintegration of the American family.”

To understand this though, you have to realize that the concept of the “American family” has nothing to do with America and little to do with actual families, but is rather an ideology that may or may not have actually been realized sometime between August 1952 and June 1954, and has not been seen since. What protestors really mean to say is “redefining of the American family,” which to them is just as upsetting since their lexicon is already overtaxed with really complicated words like “sinner,” “unnatural,” and “the.”

Our esteemed president’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision was to declare that he would put White House lawyers to the task of drafting language making marriage exclusive to heterosexuals and said, and I quote, “I am mindful that we are all sinners and I caution those who may try to take a speck out of their neighbors eye when they got a log in their own.” Some more than others, George.

Speaking of logs: In response to a string of forest fires in the Northwest, Mr. Bush proposed reductions to logging regulations and environmental reviews required for the removal of timber, under the logic that, if a forest isn’t there, it can’t catch on fire.

But, more importantly, Arnold Schwarzenegger is running for governor of California. It’s an election debacle that makes the 2000 presidential vote in Florida look downright dignified. That the man who has become synonymous with film violence and crap one-liners is going head-to-head with Gary Coleman, a stripper, the owner of Hustler magazine, and 131 other lucky contestants for political leadership of the most populous state in the union doesn’t really bother me. I would expect nothing less of the state that brought us recreational colon cleansing and Tori Spelling.

You know, a bunch of conservative Californians signed petitions to move for this recall vote, probably envisioning an energetic but dignified ousting of Democrat Gray Davis by an experienced Republican candidate. Oh, the poor misguided bastards. Don’t they understand that, even in the best scenarios, democracy is still a noisy, messy clusterfuck?

I urge Californians when they head to the polls on October 7, to vote to keep Gray Davis. If just to give me the chance to laugh my ass off.

Meanwhile, what has really struck a chord in the hearts and minds of America is MTV’s Video Music Awards show late last month that culminated with a shared kiss between Madonna and Britney Spears. The cable network was inundated with calls from outraged viewers asking how they could stoop so low to get ratings … and wondering how to turn an MPEG into a screensaver.

Viewers found the tongue-wrestling peep show to be more titillating than shocking. It’s Madonna, for Christ’s sake. She could have ravaged Carson Daly with a studded strap-on and I would have yawned. Okay, actually I would have applauded and hidden the lube, but still … What was more shocking is that MTV is still giving awards for music videos when they don’t show them anymore.

So, to wrap up:

Ohio didn’t pay its electric bill, and New Yorkers were very pleased with themselves when they didn’t start gnawing on their neighbors’ entrails when they lost power because of it. The Episcopalians briefly eclipsed the Catholics as the Christian religion making the weirdest headlines.

When a fresh victim couldn’t be found in time, Strom Thurmond expired. The press called Ashton Kutcher “the funniest actor working in Hollywood,” and the next day Bob Hope died.

All in all, a shitty season for our country and one that will go down in the annals of history as something that shouldn’t have really been recorded in any sort of annal, historical or otherwise.

I, of course, plan to blame the French.

Article © 2003 by Steve Spotswood