mint jelly

Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer Time

I’ve never been very good at summer. At a time of year when most people are planning vacations or packing picnics, I tend to be home. I tend not to leave the house.

Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to the summer even when the break is only imaginary. I imagine that I’ll have more time to finish projects, that I’ll have more time to read.

A number years ago, when I was far enough into adulthood to realize I wasn’t acting like other adults who made at least some plans to mark the summer, I realized this was a very old pattern with me. Summer was the part where I went off for visitation, and my friends got used to life without me. It was the part where I’d go away for a long time, and come home to things that had changed.

As an adult, I don’t want to go anywhere because I like to be home. I have traveled enough. I step outside and the air feels like the north-east without air conditioning, or the Caribbean in hurricane season. I don’t have wanderlust. Moving 35 times in 34 years has removed all that.

Until about second grade I simply got up and went to the pool every morning. I played all day, every day, in the water, the sandbox, the playground, the grass, and returning to adult supervision when I got hungry or tired or bored. The pool was pretty fabulous, and it was easy to pretend I was a princess, or a dolphin.


After this age began the traveling visitation. I’d be put on a plane in a special “young child traveling alone” category, and I’d find myself in a house on a street in say, Massachusetts, with a dog and a yard and big playground nearby — everything I fantasized about having that I didn’t have growing up in the condo. I didn’t know how to ride a bike.

For a month in the summer I’d be dropped back into my father’s care and into a different world. My oldest brother was just joining the Marines, and the next in line was in his teens, preoccupied with punk rock and skateboarding. His attention usually involved punching me in the stomach until I’d willingly perform a back-spin or helicopter on the bare hardwood floor of his bedroom, which he had waxed especially for that purpose. We were our own Chinese Opera Breakdancing Company. I would have performed the stunts without physical coercion, but probably with too much hesitancy to actually pull them off. This was how he’d been taught everything, so this was how he taught me.

The truth was I’d always been dying for my brothers’ attention and approval, and they were better than boredom, than loneliness. I couldn’t ride a bike, but I could breakdance. Back home, I owned a pair of parachute pants. I was already listening to The Art of Noise.

My stepmother was usually nice, and once or twice would take me to the beach or to the toy store. She bought Kool-Aid and Captain Crunch, and every form of real sugar unthinkable at my mom’s place back home.

I’d get in trouble if I used the word “home” to refer to the other place I lived.


More than anything, I just remember trying to fill hours and hours of empty time to stave off my homesickness. My mom sent me sticker books and tiny, packable trinkets, and I blurred time by sending away for cereal box toys that wouldn’t arrive before I was gone. Anything that glowed in the dark, shrank, oozed, or spun, I had to have.

The one mercy, the one bit of childish fun that didn’t involve as many sucker punches and charlie-horses was, ironically, playing with my brothers’ G.I. JOEs.

My unhappy punk brother still loved his G.I. JOEs, and he swore me to secrecy on this, on the off-chance of his friends finding out. In a very military family, playing war was something we just constantly did. I played dress-up in my father’s flight gear and helmet, and my brother’s camouflage pants.


The pear tree in the backyard didn’t grow pears — it made grenades. Pull the stem, throw the fruit, cover your ears and open your mouth while dipping gracefully into a crouch. Boom! Good times.

On the exciting occasion of a new G.I. JOE being brought into the house, my brother and I took a long time to savor the packaging. This could be worth something one day, we said to each other.

I liked the toys regardless of which side they were on. Cobra operatives usually had cooler outfits, and I was precociously hip to the romance between Scarlett and Snake-Eyes. It was impossible to tell from name or outfit whether a character was good or bad — which appealed to my sense of fairness. Behind every profile and every tough front, postulated so firmly on the package, I wondered about their private lives, their pasts. Weren’t they tired of fighting and wearing those clothes? Didn’t they want to go home?

Major Bludd looked sad. He was my favorite, and his handlebar mustache made him look like he was frowning. I was sad for Major Bludd.

Even the package he came in made fun of Major Bludd. He looked so tough, but they said he wrote poetry in his spare time — “badly.” I felt like I could tell that about him. He wrote bad poetry. So did I.

The original 1983 packaging featured a poem I still have committed to memory. Even G.I. JOE fans think I’m crazy, but it comforted me. I was grasping, I could empathize with linoleum. Major Bludd’s eyes, his pout — he was mine. He was my favorite. 

Later packaging changed the poem to something less fun, more Go Joe! but I liked the sad, bitter humor of the original:

When you’re feeling low and woozy
slap a fresh clip into your uzi.
Assume the proper firing stance
and make the suckers jump and dance.


I love that my husband and his friend made a pie-chart joke out of our G.I. JOE memories. I love that the t-shirt they’re selling is “fully wearable” just as the characters used to be “fully poseable.” Check out his great artwork, and buy that special someone in your life a present, especially if they’re feeling low and woozy. 

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