There are things unique to summer alone. You are unlikely to cook anything on a stick over a fire unless it’s summer. These are the only months in which you go grocery shopping with a bathing suit under your clothing. Your feet come out of hibernation.

My favourite summer things are the conversations distinct to the season. The rambling, disjointed discussions that can only be spawned by hours of complete and utter indolence. It affords us all the time for academic examination of the stuff that somehow never makes it on the agenda, otherwise.

You know: the Big Questions. Existential angst and random ponderings. All are the syllabus of our longer days. George Carlin famously posed the question, “So what was the biggest thing before sliced bread?” Inconclusively, I revisit this inquiry each summer. Comedian and summer philosopher Steven Wright sums up the culture of seasonal academe with his koan, “Why do we park in the driveway but drive on the parkway?”

Photo by Louis Hansel

Yes, Steven: why, indeed.I’d like to lubricate this inquiry with another Fresca but that would necessitate getting up.

Ahhhh … the scholarship of the chaise longue.

The semester is already in session. The lecture theatre is described by pretty much anything flat and in the open air.

Comprehension will be aided by the tang of salt air, pine-scented breezes, or the stupefying turquoise of a backyard pool. It can be any pool at all: Olympic, public, inflatable, kidney-shaped, infinity edged. Somehow, erudition is accelerated by the presence of water — shallow or deep, chlorinated or salty.

Oh, and a nice, cold drink helps, too.

As seagulls wheel above, Lin poses the first question of the season:

“What’s with the letter ‘P’?”

Whaddya mean?” I reply. Pretty much all replies will be garbled by the effect of lying face down on a seasonal contraption.

Lin clarifies:

“You know: words like pneumonia, psychopath, psylocibin, pterodactyl, pseudo. … If the government keeps threatening to remove the penny from currency because its redundant, why don’t they get rid of all the silent ‘P’s, too?”

“Yeah, good idea, Lin. You’ve got my vote.”

Half an hour passes.

“What is it with al-Qaeda?” I ask.

It’s Lin’s turn:

“Whaddya mean?”

“Why is it there’s no ‘U’ after the ‘Q’? Isn’t the rule in English that there always be a ‘U’ after a ‘Q’? I mean, it’s not like we even share an alphabet.”

The ever-affable Lin concurs.

Another half-hour passes.

“Remember that guy who brought that girl to that thing back in high school?”


“You know: the guy with the car who came with the girl with the hair to the thing that you had to buy tickets to …”

“Oh yeah. What about it?”

“I saw him last month.”

“What did he say?”

“Nothing. I was in a restaurant; he was driving by.”


Photo by freestocks

And on it goes. What these conversations lack in coherence, they make up for in eccentricity. We decide, given the British phone hacking scandal, that all rumours are true; that we will never truly comprehend the genius behind E=mc2; that insoluble political conflicts only get sorted out by demographic shift, not by politicians; that style trumps fashion; that contemporary art is half hoax, half genius; that Diana would have liked Kate; that the global recession was a heyday for money laundering; that black, green and purple are creepy nail polish colours; and that someone has to run out for more Fresca.

Last summer, I learned that it’s “righty tighty, loosey lefty” to operate a screw or lug nut; that baking powder is made from baking soda and corn starch; that, mathematically, Sudoku is the same thing as Latin Squares’ and that the distress signal, Mayday, came from the French for “help me” — m’aider.

There were a few parleys on divisive subjects: the HST, climate change, iPhones vs. BlackBerries. Happily, these rifts can be effectively shut down by simply nodding off. Which is not to say that these dialogues are trifles without their benefits.

There’s something comforting about these chats. Even when they don’t make perfect sense, these colloquies provide the interstitial glue to life. A friend once remarked that he loved maps. “Ahhhh, of course you do,” I responded, and though I had never given it a moment’s thought, that late afternoon nugget made him all the more fathomable to me. He told me some of the arcana associated with cartography and I learned something about the way the world came to be known. I also learned something about him, how his eyes always strain for the coastline, for the mountain range, for the horizon that makes sense out of the terrain underfoot. It was a fleeting moment, a snippet of conversation provoked by terry towel and sunscreen, but it wasn’t insignificant.

Anyway, if you’re up, could you bring me a Fresca?

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