I just got off the phone with a woman who operates a combination dog training class/day camp in Noe Valley. This kids/dog training camp (her words, not mine) is kicking off its inaugural year, so the woman running it is forgiven if she's much longer on enthusiasm than she is on organization.
"I know everyone plans out their summers in February," she breathlessly told me. "I'm coming in a little late."
Today is April 15. Summer is two months away.
We slotted ourselves in for the week of June 28 - July 2, the third week of summer. Dog camp will follow JCC Theme Park Camp (June 14-18) and Surf Camp (June 21-23). It's safe to assume that Thursday and Friday of the second week will become de facto at-home Computer Camp.
The week after Dog camp, we go to Cayucos, a small beach town north of San Luis Obispo, for four days. Then comes TechKnowHow camp, followed by the summer's big-ticket item, two weeks at Walton's Grizzly Lodge, up in the Sierras, about 45 minutes north of Lake Tahoe.
After that, we have a week off, then USF Tennis Camp. For those of you keeping score at home, we are now one week away from the Bar Mitzvah, which is then succeeded by a non-planned week. School starts August 31.
This schedule might seem hectic to anyone with fond memories of summers spent watching "Twilight Zone" reruns and bouncing a tennis ball off of the garage doors. In our world, it is a source of concern: we've got almost four empty weeks in there.
This is the point where we lament the loss of childhood, forgetting how excruciatingly boring an unscheduled summer can be.
I remember summers as blocks of free time, stretching out into infinity. Maybe we'd have swimming lessons for a week in July, but otherwise, we were pretty much on our own. Certainly there was no computer camp, as there were no computers. Nor were there camps focused on Legos, Shakespeare, fencing, robotics or surfing.
Before we moved to California, my family spent 75% of all summer days at Hammond's pool. You want to talk about your fond childhood memories? My older sister and I offer you Hammond's. (my little sister was only five when we moved)
My parents must have joined Hammond's when I was a toddler, because I can't remember not belonging. If I remember right, Jews weren't allowed to join the Scranton Country Club. I went there once, when a recently widowed neighbor took all the kids on our street there in appreciation for the bake sale we had to benefit cancer research.
There was golf at the country club. At Hammond's, there was only the pool. It was -- in my memory -- huge and L-shaped. The water temperature seldom rose above 78 degrees, but we plunged in anyway, begrudgingly leaving only for the hourly "adult swim" sessions, which we spent perched poolside, sneakily dunking ourselves in the water when the adults weren't looking. Or to run through the grass between the pool and the snack bar, making car engine noises with our mouths.
Even when it rained, which it does periodically and without warning in the summer in Pennsylvania, helping formulate my answer to people who complain about the weather in Seattle, which is rainy for nine months out of the year, but predictably sunny from July to September, we would stay in the water until the lifeguards kicked us out. Lightning, you know. It travels well in water.
Hammond's was located a few miles from our house. To get their you either drove down Northern Boulevard, passing Carvel and the school that hosted the annual Lion's Club carnival every July, or went up South Abington Road, where my grandfather and I used to take walks but not with our hands clasped behind our backs like that old guy on TV. You parked in a gravel lot, checked out the cool white MGB driven by Mark Morris, who had a moustache and was the best diver among Hammond's members.
Joe Hammond, who owned the place, was an old guy. He spent every day sitting on a lawnchair between the snack bar and the playground, wearing a pith helmet, greeting people as they arrived. Back then I had a choice: weekly allowance of 60 cents or ten cents a day to buy a Milky Way from the snack bar. I usually went for option #2.
You always sat in the same place at Hammonds. At the beginning of the season, you brought your chairs and set them up. We sat between the kiddie pool and the main pool.
It wasn't until much later that I realized we were self-segregating ourselves with all the other Jews. I'd just sort of accepted that the Stroneys sat up on the bluff that overlooked the pool and we sat down below. I'm not saying there was any kind of hierarchy -- I've never given it that much thought -- but we didn't sit near people who lived in our neighborhood. We sat with the other Jews.
There we'd be, Monday through Friday, from June until September. We'd swim, or play shuffleboard, or mess around on the playground. Sometimes we watched the teenagers play volleyball. We were all too small to join in. On the rare occasions that we'd find the volleyball court empty, we'd play something called "newcomb," which was more like throwing the ball to each other across the net. It's your best guess where the name came from. I've never heard of it anywhere else.
Most of the time, we were packed up and heading home by four, but there were rare, magical days when my dad would join us after work. We'd burst through the invisible barrier that separated Just Another Day at Hammonds from A Memory-Worthy Day at Hammonds, Including Barbecue. Dad would park whatever unusual car he was driving that month -- the one I remember best was a BMW 2000 CS, controversial in our house because he sold our beloved Plymouth Barracuda convertible to get it, then spent a ton of money restoring it. To a six-year-old's eyes, it was a lousy business deal, but boy, once he had that thing done, did it look cool -- and join us poolside. Sometimes, we stayed until dark.
There is no Hammond's in Orange County. I doubt there's one in Clarks Green, Pennsylvania anymore, though I did just Google "Hammond's" and found that there is a Joe Hammond, CPA, on Layton Road, right about where Hammond's would have been.
Once we moved, I had the "Twighlight Zone," a bucket of tennis balls and our garage door. Entire fake baseball seasons happened there, and I developed a false reputation among baseball coaches for having "soft hands." Once I got too old for the garage door, the "soft hands" disappeared.
Between you, me and the fly on the wall, I don't know which is better -- an over-planned summer or one full of unscheduled sloth. Every summer I argue that my son should have a few blocks camp-free time; every summer I regret winning the argument when faced with the reality of a bored, electronics-addicted child who has no better options than "Roller Coaster Tycoon III."
I wish he had a Hammond's, but they don't exist in San Francisco. Maybe across the bridge, where the Marin contingent enjoys lazy days at the Tiburon Peninsula Club, or in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where his pre-school friend Axel once took us to "the pool," only to have it rain after a half-hour, which I secretly loved.
No, my child will once again dive headlong into a summer as organized as his mother's Bar Mitzvah budget spreadsheet, his only glimpse of the Huck Finn lifestyle happening during the two weeks he spends at Walton's Grizzley Lodge. That's the way it goes in San Francisco, circa 2010.