Sadly, summer is coming to an end as it always must. However, in the interest of full disclosure, it’s actually not really coming to an end, since it doesn’t really end until September 20th. While summer may seem shorter than the other seasons, I assure you, we receive on this planet an equitable number of days for each season. However, when you reside in the Capital Region, for some reason winter seems as if it lasts about 10 years, while summer seems to hang around for just a few scant weeks.
As a teacher, the end of summer is far more dramatic than it might be for the rest of the population. I have already heard from friends and family who are not in the business of educating America’s youth that they are ready for fall. They are looking forward to the changing of the leaves, the cooler air, and of course football. Teachers look forward to these things as well, it’s just that their joy is tempered with the thought that they are going to be talking to a classroom full of children who may not be enamoured with the idea that “x” is a derivative, or that Samuel Gompers was one fellow who knew how to rock a labor union. Of course, as everybody remembers, it’s actually much worse for the kids who have to go from doing whatever they want to sitting quietly and listening to something that may very well be boring them to tears. Everybody knows the queasy stomach that envelopes all living beings ages 5 to 17 come late August. Teachers simply embody the grown up version of this phenomenon.
Different areas and regions throughout New York State, or throughout the country have their own so-called end-of-summer traditions, customs, or natural occurrences that demonstrate to one and all that summer is in its death-throes, and fall is beating on the door. For example, when I was a freshman at SUNY Oswego, there was a frost warning during my first night there which took place in late August, 1982. Nothing like a four week summer that turns immediately into a pre-climate change Greenland for the inhabitants of Oswego, New York. On the other hand, for my wife’s sister and her husband who live down in New Orleans, the end of August signifies that the weather in the “Crescent City” is going to drop from 98 degrees with 100% humidity, to a cool crisp 95 degrees, with well, 100% humidity. (Fear not, November is just around the corner, and there’s plenty of alcohol in the French Quarter to make you forget.)
Here in the Capital Region, there are several different events and traditions that can mean only one thing, summer is almost over, the cool weather is arriving, and school is about to begin. As each one of these events and traditions gets ticked off, all of the area educators, myself included, and of course the children, (Won’t anybody do something to help the children???!!?) all begin to get the old butterflies in the “tum-tum.” Inversely, there are also events and traditions that take place at the end of June and in early July that remind one that summer has a nice long way to go before you have to start worrying about fall’s inevitability. For example, when I see fireworks go up for sale, I know that summer is in its infancy. The Major League Baseball All-Star Game lets you know that it isn’t even the trading deadline yet, and you have nothing but time. The Saratoga County Fair is a carefree gala that allows one to stroll in transcendental bliss, whilst they ponder life’s biggest conundrum: Deep Fried Twinkie or Deep Fried Oreo? (The true Zen-master knows this and says “screw it, eat them both, you have weeks and weeks to work off your summer paunch.”)
Of course, I can’t speak for everybody, (Although I am qualified, and if people had any sense they would let me.) but I would imagine that not every teacher and child has the same marking point in the summer where they begin to realize that the clock is now beginning to tick. However, as we meander our way through the heat, rain, and humidity that is a Capital Region summer, there are certain signs here in Albany and the surrounding areas that July is about to become August, and August can be quite cruel.
In my 25 years in this part of the state, I have definitely picked up on a pattern of events and occurrences that let me know, I better look into purchasing my prerequisite two new pairs of shoes (One brown, one black) in preparation for another school year. I’m not sure if these are in exact order of occurrence, but they stand as the markers of time, and they alert the body and its senses that something’s happening here, and what it is, is remarkably clear.
Capital Region Signs that Summer is Waning, and School is about to Start
- The Track – Each year track season at Saratoga begins a little earlier, and each year it means the countdown to school does as well. At first it seemed harmless enough. Hey, if everybody loves the Saratoga track season so much, let’s extend its life out a few more days. All you’re really accomplishing is shortening July, lengthening August, and bringing a hatchet to your summer break.
- The Schaghticoke Fair – I don’t know why they wait this long to put this one on, and I’m not sure why anybody would want to revel in the fun that is the fair on a school night, but every year they advertise this thing just as I’m beginning to realize that I”m going to have to start getting up very early in the morning, and I know the last thing I’m going to be thinking about is deep-fried butter on a stick. By the way, where exactly is Schaghticoke? (For what it’s worth, the good people of Schaghticoke are claiming that this is their 199th fair. That means that President James Monroe could have easily been indulging in a snow-cone as he strolled about the fair pondering his “Doctrine.”)
- Political Ads – Oh my there’s going to be a lot of them this year in particular. My wife and I allow ourselves a news blackout of sorts once summer begins, but whenn I go back to work, I begin to watch the news in order to stay a little bit more informed. Let the nonsense bombardment begin!
- Halloween Candy in the Stores – Price Chopper and Hannaford have had their Halloween candy out since around the middle of August. I haven’t even had the opportunity to ponder whether I want to wear white after Labor Day, and now I have to deal with bite-size Snickers? Let me breathe people, let me breathe.
- Halloween Costume Stores – Every available abandoned retail space on Central Avenue, or in the Clifton Country Mall, begins to hawk Halloween costumes while we all still reek of sun block. I’m not sure I want my pirate costume to carry the odor of Coppertone 50 Sunblock.
- Farm Fest – Even though it’s not really harvest time just yet, the farms of Clifton Park embark on their fine tradition known as “Farm Fest.” While the “Fest” itself doesn’t run until after the school year begins, the signs go up in August, and you know that other than the promise of fresh apple cider, and cider donuts, things are about to take a turn for the worse.
- Farm Stands – First it’s the peaches, then it’s the corn. Finally, tomatoes, peppers, and squash. While some stands are quite expansive, such as the one right up the road from the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library, others are just a table with produce, and a small lock box where the honor system prevails.
- Back to School Ads – Well, everybody who calls themselves an American knows this. That first pang of queasiness that one feels the first time Walmart or Target run their back-t0-school ads is one of the few things that truly unify us as a species.
- Are You Ready for some Football??? – NFL training camp opens, and for all that is enyoable regarding professional football, the new school year must begin as well. You can’t have one without the other. Good Lord, could I actually face a school year without football to look forward to? When the Giants used to hold their pre-season workout camp at SUNY Albany, the big news of their arrival was also a sign that your summer fun was about to become undone.
- The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon – Jerry is gone, the telethon lives on, but it doesn’t dominate the airwaves like it used to. I’m sure many of you are old enough to remember when the only thing that seemed to be on your three or four channels from Sunday night to Labor Day night was the Labor Day Telethon, starring Jerry Lewis. Of course Jerry had to rest a lot, so instead we were fed a steady diet of Tony Orlando, and whichever local news or weather guy they could bully into appearing. By the time the Telethon was half way over, you wanted a telethon for yourself. Somebody should raise money for all of those poor kids and teachers who don’t want to get up early on Tuesday.
As for Labor Day itself, it is the ultimate Sunday. Every Sunday is a little nerve-racking and depressing for the majority of the workforce in this world, and right after that four o’clock football game comes to an end, and the inevitable ticking of the stopwatch that signals another episode of 60 Minutes is about to commence, the work week has essentially begun. Imagine all 52 Sundays in a given calendar year coming together in one very unspectacular cosmic collision, and you have Labor Day. New Year’s Day for what it’s worth is a distant second.
Most teachers will tell you, it’s not the teaching or the kids, or any of the other aspects of the job that throws our bellies into bedlam, it’s simply the change in routine that makes most teachers a little bonkers. Remember, our day is organized around a clock and an accompanying schedule. Summer means you really don’t have a schedule, but now that September has arrived, it’s time to jump back into your time-tested routines. Once we get in the flow we’ll be just fine…until we look at the calendar and realize that Columbus Day is over five weeks away. Aaaggghh! What are we? animals?