Thursday, June 19

That Certain Summer

This is my favorite day of the year. I love the Summer Solstice, love it, love it, love it. It’s the longest day of sunlight and I love seeing the twilight at 10 pm ( that’s 9 pm in real sun time). I usually have a barbecue to celebrate and sit with a drink, enjoying the light. Ironically, I dislike summer. Historically they are a bummer. As a child they were spent with a dysfunctional family either camping or in my dad’s boat on Lake Erie. My teenage summers in San Francisco were completely forgettable as we were poor and I couldn’t afford to do much of anything.

The best summer I ever had was when I was seven years old and lived in Pittsburgh PA. Every day that summer , my brother Michael and I would walk to the zoo which was about a mile or so from our house. We had a membership so we could get into the Children’s zoo for free and hang out all day. We knew all the animals and their handlers. These were the days when animals were kept singly in pens or cages and some were pretty neurotic because of it. The elephant liked to smack people with his trunk and the older chimp was known to slug people without warning.

Mostly I remember the sense of fun and being around exotic creatures. I would hold a boa constrictor (we already had snakes at home) a parrot, various rodents or burp a baby lion, who promptly peed on me.

The zoo was huge, covering dozens of acres. I would wander across the street and ride the small scale train or check out the new aquarium and watch the dolphin swim in his large deep pen. I was distressed by him being alone in an empty, featureless pool. One day while watching him through the window that offered an underwater view I mentally asked him to jump out of the water and to my surprise he powered to the surface and did just that. He would swim past me and I smiled and clapped and motioned with my hand for him to do it again and we spent several minutes amusing each other. I swear dolphins are telepathic.

That summer ended and it was the last time I ever really had fun. Oh sure there were other summers of childhood fun but they never equaled the sense of joy I felt those days when I entered a stand of trees signaling the entrance to the zoo.

The animals didn’t judge me or think I was weird like everyone else. They ate and pooped and tended their offspring . They yawned and dozed in the warm sunlight after meals and sometimes observed us in fascination.

It was a time when everything was still new and exciting to me and I didn’t have to worry about the tension of school or bundling up against the cold harsh winds of fall and winter.

I never went to the zoo again.

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