Cardella: Summer Sketches

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(Personal reflections…some happy, some not…of summers past)

Getting something to eat at a Phillies game can be an adventure. My barber told what happened to her one night at a game…

“Two chicken cheese steaks, please.” A sharp reply comes from the woman behind the counter. “Only got one chicken cheese steak.” (it’s 7:30, not even an inning gone by yet). “And we don’t have cheese…” Of course, it could’ve been worse. They could’ve gone to that new joint at the ballpark, PASS AND STOW, and paid 18 bucks for a cheese steak.

Sometimes, the problem at the park isn’t food. It’s people. Like the two guys who sit behind us at a game one summer night yelling encouragement to the players, whom we all know can’t hear them anyway. That doesn’t bother me so much because I’m half-deaf in my left ear. I guess it’s when one of the guys decides he’s Barry Gibb. Starts doing a falsetto impression of the Bee Gees singing STAYIN’ ALIVE. That bothers me, a man of considerable musical taste. Besides, I prefer the older Bee Gees stuff. Being half-deaf is only half-good enough sometimes…

Wanna know what the loneliest feeling is? It’s when you’re a teenager…You find yourself walking the city streets on one of those summer nights when the odor of despair mixed with sweat is rising off the asphalt. That was me this one summer night. I was looking to hang on the corner of our neighborhood luncheonette, corner-hanging being an art form perfected by urban teens. I just wanted to talk with the guys. Chase away my loneliness. Talk about nothing in particular the way young guys do. Mostly about girls and how crappy the world is. I get to the corner, and there’s nobody there. That’s when you really feel all alone. Like you’re the only person in the world who has nothing to do. No connection to anyone or anything. No reason for being. So you slouch away, hoping no one has seen you. Almost like it’s a sin to be 16 and not have a reason to exist…

You’re a family man. It’s Saturday night around 10 o’clock, and you’re chatting with your wife and mother-in-law. The coffee pot is on. A percolator. Your 13-year-old daughter comes into the kitchen all dolled up. “I’m going out,” she announces. Some boy is going to come by for her, and she’s going out to wait on the porch. Does she realize it’s 10 o’clock? How old is this guy, etc., etc. The answers are vague and full of attitude. So it’s me — not her — who goes out onto the porch to wait for the guy. He pulls up in a big-ass car with the radio blasting. Asks where my daughter is. I tell him he’s not going out with my daughter because that’s a privilege he hasn’t earned. Who was he to pick her up at 10 o’clock at night. And not intending to bother to ring the bell for her like a gentleman. Oh, and dial down your radio while you’re at it. I didn’t bother being nice about it. Most of us fathers are men of even temper, except when it comes to our daughters. The kid drives off like a scared rabbit. I have to admit it brought a smile to my face.  Still does…

It was something I had not thought I could pull off. Getting dates wasn’t easy for me, and getting a date with the prettiest girl I’d ever seen seemed impossible. But I had been goaded into the task by two guys at the office where she and I worked, so I couldn’t back down. It was July. I knew she spent weekends at her folks’ place at the shore. She comes by my desk one day wheeling a cart containing files piled a mile high. I’d never said more than “hello” to her in the three months I worked there. This time, I stop her and blurt out my request for a date. Is there any time in a young man’s life when waiting for that answer seems to encompass several lifetimes? To my shock, she says, “Yes.” We are to meet at the Wildwood beach that weekend. She shows up with a girlfriend. My heart sinks like I struck out with the bases loaded. But I surprise myself. Drew upon some courage I didn’t know I had (raging hormones are a wonderful generator of courage). We go to dinner that night — without her friend. I splurge. We catch Brook Benton at the HURRICANE EAST. We have our first kiss in a misty rain in the front yard of the R AND T APARTMENTS. Fifty-five years later, I still have a soft spot for misty rain…

My wife invites my brother-in-law for dinner. He brings a hotshot lawyer friend with him. It’s August 1968. The last night of the Democratic Convention. The night they are to pay tribute to Bobby Kennedy, who’d been murdered two months before — the night I stopped believing that good always triumphs over evil. Turns out the lawyer’s a bigot. Keeps saying the “N” word, despite my repeated warnings. I normally am not rude to guests, but I ask him to leave.

A law degree is no guarantee of wisdom.

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