Monday, June 21, 2010

61 days to Bar Mitzvah: day one

Day One of the First Day of the Rest of My Life went like this:

Woke up at 7:45 to the sound of frozen waffles ejecting from a toaster, with a little bed of Bakugon cartoon soundtrack underneath. Squirmed a little bit in bed because my back wanted to remind me that spending three hours a week on an Elliptical machine doesn't make your 45 year-old back any happier after 165 golf swings.

Got up, threw on some workout clothes. Now even in middle age's sweet spot, I still like to pretend I'm not part of the old guy demographic at 24-Hour Fitness. They wear small cotton shorts? I wear giant shiny ones. They throw on whatever t-shirt they got at last year's company picnic? I go with the long-sleeved Nike one made out of some synthetic fiber that didn't even exist when I was in my physical prime. The spots where the clingy fabric is supposed to be flat instead of bumpy? We call that "incentive."

This morning marked not only the First Day of the Rest of My Life but also the first day of Surf Camp; three days from nine until noon, the Jawa will meet other Jawas at foggy Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica. By Wednesday, the brochure promises, he will know how to surf.

Where I come from, surfing carries with it a very large and very specific kind of cache. You don't just surf; you are A Surfer. Would that the Jawa could emerge from this week A Surfer? How would that go over at Brandeis Hillel Day School? Totally tubular, dude.

How to feel like an old man: drop your child at Surf Camp. We got down there about ten minutes early, which gave us plenty of time to wander around, looking for the clump of surfers who seemed most likely to be the nurturing type. Those guys over there, changing out of their wetsuits on the beach? No. That very large group sitting in the back of a van with "PACIFICA SURF CAMP" written on the side? You'd think they'd be our surf camp, but they were not.

Our group was smaller. Only two adults and three kids. Is it strange that I felt slightly ripped off when it turned out that the head of Surf Camp had a New York accent?

What's strange about our Jawa is the unpredictability of his social skills. For six months he's been coming home complaining about how everyone makes fun of him, how he doesn't get invited out with everyone else. This morning, as I turned from his little Surf Camp group, I caught out of the corner of my eye this very same Jawa walking boldly up to a nervous-looking kid about his size, sticking out his right hand and saying, "What's your name?"

(Shakes head in confusion and continues rifling through the sofa cushions until he finds his copy of "Raising Your Erratic Teenager.")

Three hours later, I returned to Linda Mar Beach, having just spent 90 minutes at the gym, looking like a much younger man, thank you very much, as long as I keep my baseball cap on... and speaking of baseball caps, don't believe it when Adidas claims to have invented a baseball cap that wicks away sweat. If by "wicking" they mean "encouraging the production of," then they're on the level. Otherwise, their claims are fraudulent.

The rest of the time I spent at a coffee shop in Pacifica, cranking out a story about a house in San Carlos and doing all I could not to jump up every five minutes and shout, "HOORAY FOR ME! I AM DOING MY JOB, FOR WHICH I WILL BE PAID THE SAME AMOUNT I HAVE BEEN PAID FOR THE PAST YEAR, HERE IN THIS COFFEE SHOP INSTEAD OF AT A CUBICLE DOWNTOWN!" Some have predicted that within a month I will be pining for my old commute. Maybe. Until then, I'm going to enjoy myself.

Back at the beach, the Jawa was effortlessly cool in a pair of gray Walton's Grizzly Lodge sweatpants, some flip-flops and my Mariners hoodie. His hair was tousled just so. The transformation to surfer had already begun. "He got up (on a board)," said one of the counselors. She adopted a grave expression and added, "He was really stoked."

"I'm going to be a surfer now," the Jawa said calmly after we'd settled into the car. "It's really easy. Easier than Boogie Boarding."

"Is life really better when surfing?" I asked, parroting a nearby bumper sticker.


Then we returned home and retreated to our respective neutral corners; that is, he fired up his computer and I sat down at the kitchen table and started typing.

Five hours later, thirty minutes since I told him to turn off his computer, he just called out to me from his room. "Do you have any idea what I'm supposed to be doing right now?"

"That's kind of up to you," I said.

Around here we like to pretend that there was no equivalent to sitting for hours on end in front of a computer when we were kids. Back then, we reason to our child, we spent summer running unfettered through empty fields, playing kick the can until dark, walking down to the corner store and flagging down the Good Humor Man for an ice cream sandwich.

In my case, that scenario is partly true. Before we moved to California, I did spend most summer days outside. When we weren't at Hammond's pool we actually were out somewhere, picking blackberries or playing baseball until our parents called us in for dinner. Every parent on the block had their own unique calling card. Ours was a cowbell. Your hear the cowbell, you come in for dinner.

Two other families on the street, I can't remember exactly who, had almost identical-sounding bells. They could always tell them apart.

Once we moved to California, though, my summer days became every bit as aimless as the Jawa's, minus Surf Camp. Or any other camp. My post-1976 childhood setting was about as far from Hannibal, Mo. as anywhere.

So we didn't have laptops. We had TV. You think it's through osmosis that I developed a love of 1960s episodic television? Those weren't first-run episodes of "The Twilight Zone" I was watching every weekday from noon until one. We watched TV. In a truly sad and pathetic, now that I look back at it from the distance of 30-plus years, attempt to continue my life the way it had been in Pennsylvania, I rode my bike -- alone -- to Ralph's to buy candy.

Several years later I started taking the bus to Newport Beach with my friends. It was an all-day affair and by no means something we did every day. So there was plenty of time left over for gaining encyclopedic knowledge of "The Bob Newhart Show."

The Jawa just marched past me toward the front door. "I'm going to go skateboarding," he said. "It's supposed to help your balance for surfing."

"Okay," I said. He walked out the front door. I waited a minute or so before walking into the living room and looking out the front windows to satisfy myself that he wouldn't be kidnapped within five minutes of leaving the house. That, as much as anything, is why he doesn't spend his summer days running through empty fields. Not only are there no empty fields; if there were any they'd have homeless emcampments in them. City living. All so he can blow his freshman roommate's mind when he asks him where he's from. "San Francisco? Wow! What was it like growing up there?"

Good that he took the initiative and found something to do instead of standing here, looking over my shoulder and driving me insane. Too much of that and you've got a real long summer and a non-productive freelance writer.

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