Cruisin' Part 4 

Overheated

Overheated

Impossible Dreams

Tecumseh: A Life, by John Sugden (Henry Holt & Co.)

Even today, his innate generalship earns the Shawnee war leader Tecumseh an unchallenged reputation as the native Napoleon of North America. Sugden’s new biography tells the story of aboriginal North Americans’ last best hope to weld their interests into a common cause against upstart trespassers from a fledgling United States. Like Hannibal some 1500 years before him, Tecumseh was both beneficiary and victim of providence; and he bore his stern fate with such honor and resolve that his memory may finally be said to have vanquished even his most obdurate enemies.

Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer, by Michael White (Addison-Wesley)

Because he is today’s paradigm of genius, Isaac Newton is thoroughly unapproachable. But because he is Michael White’s magical alchemist, Newton comes to life in this latest biography as never before. Rarely has the line between genius and madness appeared so fragile. Although Newton’s most influential bequest to later generations is the predictability of a rationally ordered world, it’s clear that randomness and chaos had an even greater impact upon his own life and work. That makes him no less admirable in White’s sympathetic and enlightening treatment, but he is certainly easier to engage and understand as a fellow human being.

Picnic, Lightning, by Billy Collins (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Rent bikes for the kids and send ’em packing. Stack two beach chairs, and ask your wife to join you down at the water’s edge. Ask her to bring along the copy of Billy Collins’ wry poems, Picnic, Lightning. Read the poems aloud to one another, alternating as you go. Re-introduce yourself to fine, fun poetry that makes no other demand beyond, “Isn’t this nice?” Collins isn’t beyond sharing insights; but you needn’t go digging for them. Eventually it dawns on you that there is poetry in clever conversation and that Collins is talking to you in an utterly charming way. One moment you are reading to one another at the edge of the sea; the next moment Collins slyly suggests, “I am a lake, my poem is an empty boat, and my life is the breeze that blows through the whole scene stirring everything it touches—the surface of the water, the limp sail, even the heavy, leafy trees along the shore” (from “My Life”). And for a while longer yet, perhaps the vacation spirit remains aloft. subhed2:

Find your own whereabouts; look to the sky

I certainly do not know the face of God, but I have seen the face of his watch. A most miraculous watch it is. I have decided to spend my summer learning to tell time again, and I am borrowing this watch.

Six months ago, I was scarcely aware such a watch existed. During the winter, a matter of professional research introduced me to the methods early explorers used for making the first, rudimentary maps of uncharted North America. Specifically, I chanced upon the trail of a few lost European souls who preceded Lewis and Clark into the Dakotas at the close of the 18th century. The maps of one of them, John Evans, actually guided the Corps of Discovery up the Missouri River to the settlements of the Mandan Indians.

Evans, and a decade later Meriwether Lewis himself, depended primarily upon “dead reckoning” to track their progress. With some surveying skills and proficiency using a compass, they estimated their changes of location with remarkable precision. Daily, they audited their plottings to detect and then to compensate for errors. For this task, they resorted to a set of skills and traditions identified generally as “celestial navigation.”

Suddenly I found myself adrift in a rolling sea of arcana, surrounded by ancient mariners serving as priests of the sky. For celestial navigation—the process of locating heavenly bodies at a precise spot in the sky at a specific moment in time—is perceived today as an exclusively nautical skill, and a declining one at that.

The sailor has it easy in at least one respect. Given a technique that depends upon measuring the exact “height” of the sun, moon, planets, or stars over the horizon, the open sea affords the purest horizon line on our globe. For the celestial navigator on land, the purple mountain majesties of the far distance are just so many devilish inconsistencies bent upon provoking error.

Nothing could be more simple in concept and more painstaking in the execution than the “reduction of sights” for celestial navigation. Armed with scarcely more than a protractor and a timepiece, the navigator traces the elaborate choreography of mysterious heavenly bodies, interpreting the complex spaces between them until they divulge simple, elegant lines upon a map.

Celestial navigation as practiced today requires two deceptively simple instruments and two obviously complicated books. The sextant is essentially a protractor wearing mirrored sunglasses. When the navigator looks through a dark sunshade at a direct reflection of the sun and brings that brilliant circle into tangent with the straight line of the horizon, the sextant records the precise angle at which the sun hovers momentarily overhead. The timepiece freezes that precise moment for all eternity. For the landlubber, a simple device called an “artificial horizon” substitutes a reflective surface of water for the true horizon line. Because water always finds its own level, this flat, still surface is as trustworthy as a true meeting of sea and sky.

A Nautical Almanac contains the precise locations of heavenly bodies above Planet Earth for every fraction of every second of every day for an entire year. The other book, actually a set of volumes called The Tables, is as permanent as pi. The Tables represents literally millions of precalculated trigonometric equations, resulting in row upon row of decimal numbers. Hidden within these furrows of figures are the answers to when and where. These unwieldy tables are nothing more than a precursor to the modern handheld calculator. A single set of them will serve the contemporary navigator as well today as they will serve his seventh son’s seventh grandson.

For the precise moment at which the navigator “captures” the position of a planet or star, the almanac provides an exact reference to that body’s heavenly address. The process of “reducing a sight” is actually a matter of working backwards, using geometry to deduct the precise triangle at whose third corner the navigator happens to be standing. In theory, it takes two distinct “sights” to fix the latitude and longitude of the observer anywhere on the globe; in practice, three different sights will achieve a bare minimum of reliability when they are transposed to a map.

Ultimately, however, it is not so important where my sextant finds me in the summer of 1998. I prefer to ponder when it will find me—at dawn or dusk, at sparkling noon or inky midnight. For just one moment I happen to be here, now here; in a blink I am there. I am riding through the heavens in the palm of the sweep second hand of Time. This summer, I am learning to tell Time face-to-face with an amazing watch and its maker.

They rolled by night

No one is really innocent.

Even the most rule-respecting, line-toeing, goody-two-shoes has stories. He just might not tell. At one time or another, everyone has committed at least a small act of vandalism, out of either boredom, curiosity, rebellion, or just the ebullience of youth. Summertime, in particular, always seems to bring out the vandal in teens. There’s no schoolday or homework to give structure, and many parents are working, leaving teens to their own devices or in the care of older siblings who have devices of their own. Summer is the perfect time for idle young minds to dream up the silliest, most obnoxious pranks.

My best friend, Eric, lived in a subdivision a couple miles’ bike ride from my family’s house. A lot of the kids in our school lived out near him, so we had plenty of friends to hang out with—and get into trouble with. We were curious know-it-alls, and in the summers before serious girlfriends, jobs, drugs, or sex, vandalism was enough to keep us amused.

Prying parents were easily dodged. We all knew we were loved, but we also knew they didn’t really want to be bothered with having to punish us. They expected us to entertain ourselves and stay out of trouble while they worked at keeping a full fridge and a roof over our heads. So we never breathed a word of our marauding. It was easy for Eric and me to sneak out at night, undetected. His parents both worked year-round, unlike mine, who were teachers and home in the summer. His folks were usually in bed by the time The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson came on. It was then we were able to begin.

Knowing Eric’s parents had retired made my blood pump with excitement at the thought of our impending adventures. Our favored target for supplies was the Kroger near his house. It was less than a mile away, and being the badass bicyclists we were, we could ride no-handed the whole way back while carrying shopping bags filled with toilet tissue and shaving cream. Upon our return, we hid the supplies quietly in his garage.

Many nights we would make plans to go out with friends and make several hits. If chased by cops or irate homeowners, we could fan out in all directions to avoid capture. Preferred targets were girls whom we liked, or boys we didn’t. Like all good little sociopaths, we selected our victims as some kind of ill-defined, yet personal, revenge.

We had heard that rolling a house was a misdemeanor, each roll of toilet paper bringing a $75 or $150 fine, but no one really seemed to know for sure. Faced with the potential for great economic risk, we almost never hit the house of anyone we didn’t know. It wasn’t worth getting caught just hitting someone with whom we had no beef. Besides, we could never know how crazy or defensive a homeowner would become faced with a half-dozen middle-school-aged boys armed with a supermarket aisle’s worth of toilet supplies. We had to be especially careful not to trip the sensors on any outdoor lights. A roll of toilet paper held by a kid in black catburgler threads still shows up very clearly in the blinding white light of outdoor halogen bulbs.

One particular night run involved about six of us strapping young vandals, making several stops and using different types of ammunition. First, we ran through backyards to an unfamiliar house and pelted the porch with eggs. Lights came on outside, and we ran for our lives. The thrill of the chase made the sprint easy, and the cool night air filled our young lungs with mischief.

Once clear, we were all standing together in front of the house of a girl we all knew. Boys being boys, it didn’t take much time for a contest to start. We all tried to throw a toilet paper roll over the 100-foot-tall oak in her front yard. The arc of the sailing Charmin was a strange beauty to behold—like the smoke streaming from the engines of a supersonic jet. Once the tree was covered in flimsy white garlands, we began a game of catch, throwing rolls over the house’s pitched roof until it was covered in white. We finished the job by writing obscenities in exquisite shaving cream scrawl on the cars, the driveway, and the mailbox. (We read on the outside of the mailbox that we were committing a federal offense. It only heightened our fervor to a fever pitch.)

When the deed was done, we were all dead tired. We’d been gone from home for over an hour and had wreaked havoc on two separate residences. We shared a laugh at our handiwork, and agreed to meet the next afternoon to survey our latest installation in the early afternoon light. The next morning at breakfast over the sickly sweetness of Honeycombs, Eric’s dad mentioned he’d seen a house that had been hit the night before.

“You boys don’t know anything about that, do you?” he asked.

“No, sorry,” we replied.

I’m not saying what we did was right, but it taught us more about how to be good politicians than all the history lessons in the school system. Sneak out late, behave like boors, and the next morning, if the subject comes up, deny everything with a winning smile.

Our system only backfired once, when Eric’s dad’s bright-orange Econoline sidled slowly up to us as we rode our 10-speeds no-handed, each arm loaded down with brown paper bags filled with Kroger Cost Cutter Toilet Tissue.

“So what are you doing with all the t.p., guys?” he asked.

“Oh, there was a sale,” we said. “We just wanted to take advantage of it.”

He smiled and rolled his eyes knowlingly. The jig was up. “Uh, Eric, I think you’re grounded,” he said sternly, “and it’s time for your friend to go home.”

A summer's worth of things to see, things to do

Classes/Camps

All summer

“Archaeology Adventures,” The Hermitage, 4580 Rachel’s Ln., Hermitage. Hands-on history/archaeology workshops for ages 8-12. Call 889-2941, ext. 243, for details.

Studio Workshops, 3375 Fairfield Pk., Bell Buckle. Various art workshops including beginning mosaic, stained glass, woodcarving, and tool making. Call (931) 389-9649 for schedule and prices.

June/July

Summer Camp at Owl’s Hill Nature Center, 545 Beech Creek Rd. S., Brentwood. Four-day Screech Owl Camp for grades K-2 (June), and NatureQuest Camp for grades 4-6 (week of July 13). Call 370-4672 for dates and registration information.

June 8-July 24

The Summer Session, University School of Nashville, 2000 Edgehill Ave. Courses, camps, workshops, seminars, and travel experiences for grades 7-12 and adults. Call 327-8158, ext. 369, for complete schedule.

Festivals

May 25

Montrose Avenue Alliance Neighborhood Block Party, Montrose Avenue, between 10th Avenue S. and 11th Avenue S. Entertainment, storytelling, games, prizes, giveaways, food. 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Free. Call 297-9294 for details.

June 7

Second Annual Palette South Food, Wine, and Art Festival, 20th Ave. S. Noon-10 p.m. $10. Street festival featuring local artists, culinary demonstrations, live music, and food and drink seminars.

June 13

River Sounds Traditional Music Festival, The Homeplace 1850, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, Golden Pond, Ky. Call 1-800-LBL-7077 for details.

June 15-21

Fan Fair, Tennessee State Fairgrounds. Call 862-8993 for tickets to the annual event for fans of country music. Country Fest at the Nashville Arena on June 20 is the big wind-up concert.

June 19-21

The 28th Annual American Artisan Fair, Centennial Park, West End Avenue. Sale exhibition of work by over 150 craft artists from around the nation. Fri. noon-7 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Free. Call 298-4691 for details.

June 21

Celtic Music Festival & Summer Solstice Picnic, Travellers Rest Historic House Museum, Farrell Pkwy. (832-8197). 5-8 p.m. $8 adults, $5 children.

July 10-12

21st Annual Uncle Dave Macon Days Old-Time Music & Dance Festival, Cannonsburgh. A three-day family festival held in a pioneer village, featuring old-time music and dance, competitions, a juried arts and crafts show, “shaped-note” singing, and heritage activities for children. Free. For information, call 615-893-2371.

Aug. 15-16

Southern Folklife Festival, Historic Carnton Plantation, 1345 Carnton Ln., Franklin (794-0903). Festival of 19th-century arts and crafts, highlighted by bluegrass concert and picnic.

Outdoor Theater and Movies

All summer

Murder Mystery Evenings, Two Rivers Mansion, 3130 McGavock Pk. Dinner theater productions include Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. 7 p.m. $45. Call 871-4852 for complete schedule and reservations.

Through mid-summer

Nashville Scene Movies in the Park, Centennial Park Bandshell, Centennial Park, West End Ave. Tuesday-night drive-in movies without the car. Titles to be announced. Dusk. Free. Call 244-7989, ext. 340, for details.

June

Comedy in the Park, Centennial Art Center, Centennial Park, West End Ave. 7 p.m., Fridays through June. “Bleu Plate Special” comedy sketches and improv for all ages. Call 862-8424 for details.

Aug. 14-September

Shakespeare in the Park, Centennial Park Bandshell, Centennial Park, West End Ave. This year’s production is Twelfth Night. 7 p.m. Free. Call 862-8424 for complete schedule.

Music/Dance

/Concerts

All summer

Big Band Dances, Centennial Art Center, Centennial Park, West End Ave. 7:30-10 p.m. Dancing to the big bands, including the Nashville Jazz Orchestra (June 6); Radio Daze (June 20, July 11); and the Paul Ross Orchestra (Aug. 1). Call 862-8424 for complete schedule.

Nashville Symphony concerts, Centennial, Shelby, and Riverfront Parks. Call 862-8424 for dates and times.

Nashville Symphony concerts at Cheekwood, 1200 Forrest Park Dr. Call 353-2163 for complete schedule.

Hadley Park Summer Concerts, 28th Ave. N. & John Merritt Blvd. Series begins June 14 with “Gospel in the Park.” Call 862-8424 for complete schedule.

The Uptown Mix, 20th Ave. S. (in front of Bound’ry & South Street restaurants). Live music, dancing, & food. 4:30-8 p.m. Wednesdays July 15-Sept. 16. Call 321-3043 for details.

June 7

Concert in the Park, Crockett Park Amphitheater, off Crockett Road, Brentwood. Bring a blanket and a picnic for these family concerts. Series begins June 7 with the Jack Daniel’s Silver Cornet Band. Other performers will include Riders in the Sky, The Tams, and the U.S. Navy Steel Drum Band. 7 p.m. Free. Call 371-0060 for details.

July 24-25

Bluegrass Along the Harpeth Fiddlers Jamboree, Jim Warren Park, New Highway 96 West, Franklin. Bluegrass festival with instrument contests, bluegrass and old-time string-band competitions, buck dancing, team square dancing, and more. 7-10:30 p.m. Fri.; 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat. $3 Fri., $4 Sat. Call 790-8616 for details.

Aug. 1-2

Franklin Jazz Festival, Franklin Public Square, Franklin. Weekend-long celebration of live jazz. Free. Call 790-7094 for details.

Nature/Sports

All summer

The Hermitage, 4580 Rachel’s Ln., Hermitage. Guided walking tours, and observation of archaeology excavation work. $9.50 adults, $4.50 children. Call 889-2941 for hours.

Brooks & Dunn Summer Legends Shootout Racing Series, Nashville Speedway, Tennessee State Fairgrounds, Wedgewood Avenue at Nolensville Road. June 2, June 30, July 7, July 21, Aug. 4, Aug. 18. Call 726-1818 for details.

Classic Rock Gym, 121 Seaboard Ln., Unit 10, Franklin. Includes beginner lesson, all-day climbing, and gear. $18.50 Call 661-9444 for hours.

Warner Park Nature Center, 7311 Hwy. 100. Nature activities for kids and adults. Offerings include the Bison Meadow Stroll (June 6), Junior Naturalist Hike (June 10), a Spider Walk (July 21), Insects of the Night VI (July 31), and Wonders in the Stream (Aug. 5). Call 352-6299 for reservations.

Nashville Zoo & Nashville Wildlife Park at Grassmere, Joelton/Nashville. Various summer activities for kids and adults, including a summer family camp-out (May 30 & June 27), a summer safari (June 13-Sept. 6), and “How to Be a Nashville Zoo Keeper” (June 7). Call 370-3333 for complete schedule.

Stones River National Battlefield, 3601 Old Nashville Hwy., Murfreesboro. Living-history demonstrations, national cemetery tours, and lectures. Call 893-9501 for complete schedule.

June 20

Franklin Civitan Sixth Annual Antique Tractor Pull, Jim Warren Park, Franklin. Antique tractors pull weights to compete for prizes. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. $3. Call 776-2791 for details.

June 27

Exchange Club Charity Walking Horse Show, Old Fort Park, Murfreesboro. 366-6945. 6:30 p.m. $5.

Kids' Activities

May 29

Stories Under the Stars, Bellevue Community Center, Red Caboose Park. “Juniper Junction” is the last in a series of stories told with music, puppets, and dance. 7-8 p.m. Free. Call 862-8424 for details.

June-August

Summer Splash Theater Camps, Murfreesboro/Rutherford County Center for the Arts, 110 W. College St., Murfreesboro. Monthlong arts camps for ages 5-18. Call 904-ARTS for complete schedule and registration information.

June 8

Summer Day Camp, sponored by Williamson County Parks and Recreation. Eight-week camp for ages 6-12 begins June 8. Activities include field trips, theme days, athletics, arts and crafts, and tournaments. Various locations. Call 790-5719 to register.

June 15-27

Summer Youth Conservatories, The Arts Center of Cannon County, 1424 John Bragg Hwy., Woodbury, Tenn. Two theater conservatory day programs for grades 1-6 (June) and grades 7-12 (July). Call (615) 563-ARTS for details.

July 7

Tales From Two Rivers, Two Rivers Mansion, 3130 McGavock Pke. Opening day for series of stories told through music, history, and puppets. Opener is “Chester of Two Rivers” with Barry McAlister. 10-11 a.m. Free. Call 862-8424 for complete schedule.

July 4th Celebrations

Brentwood’s July 4th Celebration, Maryland Way Park (lawn of Brentwood Library), Brentwood. Live music, food booths, and fireworks. 6:30-9 p.m. Free. Call 371-0060 for details.

Franklin on the Fourth, Public Square, Franklin. Patriotic musical extravaganza featuring 40-piece orchestra, 100-voice choir, and activities for all ages. 4-8:30 p.m. Free. Call 771-5500 for details.

Franklin’s Official July 4th Fireworks Show, Williamson Square, Franklin. 8:30 p.m. Free. Call 794-1594 for details.

4th of July Celebration with the Nashville Symphony and Nashville Ballet, Riverfront Park. Entertainment begins at 4 p.m.; symphony and ballet 8 p.m.; fireworks 9 p.m. Call 862-8424 for details.

Independence Day at The Homeplace 1850, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Golden Pond, Ky. Call 1-800-LBL-7077 for more information.

Labor Day

Sept. 4-6

Italian Street Fair, Centennial Park, West End Ave. Call 862-8424 for details.

Sept. 6

Jazz on the Porch, Two Rivers Mansion, 3130 McGavock Pk. Kicks off September jazz series. 5-7 p.m. Call 862-8424 for complete schedule.

Would the altar call ever end?

The shouting man with the shiny black hair wants to know where I will spend eternity.

“Are you ready to meet Jee-sus?” he thunders, his eyes burning holes right through me.

The Bible-gripping man with the blue suit strides across the stage, a thousand pairs of eyes fixed upon him.

“What if you died tonight?” he inquires, still shouting. “What if you were in a wreck on your way home from THIS VERY SERVICE, and you died tonight?”

The powerful man with the penetrating stare pauses and softens his tone. “What if you died tonight? Do you know for certain, do you know for absolute certain, that you would be with Jesus?”

I cannot tell him, or Jesus, precisely what would happen if I were in a wreck, or the football stadium collapsed from under us, or a meteor fell on my head.

I think I know. I know, probably. But the knot of doubt deep inside my stomach writhes and wrenches and grows into an enormous tumor.

Fear and terror apprehend me. My heart beats faster. What if, in spite of my faithful church attendance and public profession of faith as a 10-year-old, I am on a course for hell?

The man with the coal-dark eyes pulls a white handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his brow. He offers the invitation to come down the stadium aisle, to come down and receive the hand of mercy. Fear tells me to go.

I don’t want to go. I don’t want to expose myself, in front of all these people, as a rank, sad sinner.

But the man with the suddenly gentle voice will not accept no for an answer. Come down, he pleads softly. If sin is strangling you, come down and accept Jesus tonight as your personal lord and savior. Come down now. Don’t wait.

People stream down the aisles. Many are crying. Some appear entranced. I still hesitate.

The man with the searching gaze looks up and speaks only to me. “Come down. The counselors are waiting here to meet with you. The choir will sing ‘Just As I Am,’ for as long as need be, as long as people come.

“Jesus is calling you,” he implores.

“What if you died tonight?” my fear insists.

I stand up and walk uneasily down the stadium steps, looking at no one. The volunteer choir begins another verse: “Ju-ust as I a-am and way-ait-ing not/To ri-id my soul of one dark blot....”

It has been nearly 25 years, but I can still remember the hot June night when James Robison scared the bejeezus out of me.

The man with the shiny black hair and fiery presence conducted revivals all over, like a second-tier Billy Graham.

But Robison was more intense and frightening than Graham—more like Elijah and John the Baptist and John Brown rolled into one terrifying trinity. He was an exceptional practitioner of the old revival preacher’s art: Deliver the good news, but never before sowing the fear of hellfire.

In the tiny Texas farm towns where I grew up, summer was revival season. Perhaps ministers sensed that climatic doldrums opened the door for spiritual ones, and that preaching should heat up with the weather. In June, July, and August, the whole area became a battleground against Satan.

Revivals lasted five nights, Sunday through Friday. When a congregation would sponsor one, denominational lines blurred. The Baptists and the Methodists dismissed their own Sunday and Wednesday services to attend each other’s revivals.

Always there was a guest preacher. And, inevitably, there was a prolonged altar call, which often included two complete run-throughs of “Just As I Am”—12 verses in all. To me, the singing itself became a foretaste of everlasting torment; I wondered whether some tortured sinners finally straggled to the altar simply to get the choir to shut up.

The fieriest summer revivals occurred when Baptists and Methodists joined forces and attempted a spiritual arousal of the entire community. To accommodate the crowds, the proceedings invariably took place in the high school football stadium, with a makeshift stage on the field. Guest evangelists like Robison were traveling spellbinders who knew how to bring quavering listeners down the aisles.

With an expert in charge, a five-night revival comes at you like a tornado. The scariest preachers, like the scariest storms, begin with an eerie calm that fills you with tension.

I remember especially one preacher who presided over a community revival during a sweltering August week in 1973. He had a deep voice and the white presence of an angel. His hair was white; his suit was white; his shirt and tie were white; his shoes were white. Only his Bible was black.

On Sunday and Monday nights, the evangelist talked of God’s love and Jesus’ call and never uttered the word “hell.”

On Tuesday, he began stoking the furnace with warnings of fiery punishment. The August temperatures—that remained above 90 degrees long after sunset—made the threat of judgment seem more real.

On Wednesday and Thursday, hellfire raged. Like Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Future, the preacher painted a frightening picture of what lay ahead, unless....

He told of a visit to a steel mill and of his conversation with a God-fearing foreman. “Brother Preacher,” the man told him as they watched the pouring of molten steel, “they gonna serve that for ice cream in hell, ain’t they?”

By the time he issued the altar call, the preacher had shed his white jacket. “If you’re not saved, come down now. If you’re not sure whether you’re saved, come down now.”

“What if you died tonight?”

The choir began its inescapable refrain: “Just as I a-am witho-out one plea/But tha-at Thy blood was shed for me....”

The pious and prodigal alike came in dozens down the warped wooden stadium steps. The pious, who had volunteered to serve as counselors, conspicuously toted Bibles so that no one would confuse them for the heathens and backsliders.

By Friday evening, the preacher returned to a gentle message of love. He never even raised his voice. He extended an invitation of course, but almost no one ever came to the altar on Friday.

This revival, like Robison’s a year earlier, left fear in my heart, but I stayed in my seat. Especially in a small town, it doesn’t look right to repent too often.

After you’ve been singed by hellfire preaching, you develop a certain immunity to it. Fear, unlike love, possesses little lasting power.

You’d wake up and realize you didn’t die the night before. You’d realize you probably wouldn’t die tonight either.

Once I got over being scared, I started thinking about the preacher’s conspicuous omission. He never mentioned long-term commitment, only the need to say once that you accepted Jesus. Perhaps because I was a young teenager during the Vietnam years, I came to suspect that revival preachers, like the Pentagon, were preoccupied with “body count.”

Just as the network news broadcast weekly (and inflated) estimates of enemy dead, the evangelists tallied the number of newly saved. But no matter how many of them we killed, the Viet Cong kept crawling out of the rainforest to shoot us.

Even if scorched-earth preaching delivered impressive numbers, the war against Satan in Central Texas did not end. After the revival preachers left on Saturday mornings, sin grew back like dandelions. Its presence again became as enveloping as the jungles of Vietnam.

The storm would subside, fears would recede, and repenters would go back to backsliding. In my little towns, people turned their minds toward fall, football season, and a merciful end to 100-degree days. Life, at least until next summer and the next preacher, would slowly, inexorably return to normal.

A speedboat and a girl in a bikini: a lethal combination

When the air gets thick in June, and our lungs strain to breathe, it’s dangerous to be a man. The human mind needs oxygen, and the less oxygen a brain receives, the closer a human is to being brain dead. Men have enough trouble as it is getting oxygen to their brains year round.

I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but thick air doesn’t appear to affect women at all. Over the years I have noticed that the summer months give the female of the species a certain power. They sense the male’s weakened state of mind and go in for the kill.

Plus, I think women derive power from the sun. That’s why they migrate toward pools, oceans, and lakes in the summer. There, in their bikinis, they reduce the blood flow to men’s brains, crippling the medulla oblongata even more. If you don’t believe me, maybe you need a prescription for Viagra.

I haven’t come to this theory by happenstance. I’ve seen it proven many times. During my youth, several of my friends had parents who owned boats. Our summer days were often spent on those boats, cruising, skiing, drinking beer, and smoking cigarettes. Except for the fact that we might have been laying the groundwork for emphysema or skin cancer later in life, I can’t remember anyone coming in harm’s way.

But talk often leads to thoughts of the other sex, so girls were eventually invited to partake in our boating afternoons. And that’s when things get treacherous for a man, because when women are around, a man becomes convinced that he has to prove something. A leisurely day of boating on the lake soon turns into a battle to the death for the possibility of nookie.

We jumped off the backs of moving boats, tried to swing from a rope onto a moving boat, and, more often than not, busted our asses skiing. Someone suggested that my friend Matt and I hook an inflatable bullet-shaped child’s toy to the back of the boat. Although it said plainly on the underbelly of the toy that it was not to be used as a flotation device, there was something about the way the girls smiled when we talked about trying it.

The boat started slowly, dragging us underwater. The girls frowned. Tom, our driver, turned up the speed, planing the hot dog out and skipping us along on the water. When we rounded a curve, we smacked the water like two flat stones. Still, we made trip after trip, each time smacking the water harder than the time before, until the hot dog exploded out from under us.

Calamities like that didn’t stop us; neither did they seem to concern the girls. Over and over again, we pulled asinine stunts. Like dimwitted mutts, we persisted until somebody needed stitches.

It was one of the summer’s most thickly hot days. We had gone to Lake City to use our friend Robert’s boat. When we arrived at the boathouse, there was a pleasant surprise—a double tube, an invention of pure genius. The pair of tubes was held together by a stiff nylon mesh, distributing two people’s weight evenly and making it harder for them to fall out. Robert’s boat was powerful, though, and it wasn’t long before a girl’s smile had us trying to throw each other off the double tube.

The challenge was simple. Robert would drive the boat in an erratic fashion, flinging us into his own wake and causing the tube-riders to bounce out. Of course, when the girls rode, he drove in a straight line.

We ignored the true sign of danger. Robert had a crush on one of the girls who was with us that day. Love is the final nail in the coffin for an overheated man; it cuts off all circulation.

Our good friends Tom and Sharif were the victims that day. They managed to hang on to the tube longer than anybody else, leading Robert’s would-be girlfriend to beam with admiration. Robert was infuriated.

As we rounded a corner, a yacht passed on our left. The size of its wake was enormous, at least six feet high. It has been contended since then, but never confirmed, that Robert’s crush winked at him at that point. That’s the only explanation for the final blurring of his logic as he steered Tom and Sharif right for the yacht’s wake, sending them airborne. Tom could be heard yelling, “You son of a b...,” before they both smacked the water. All of us on the boat leapt to celebrate his success. Robert’s crush was all smiles until we turned around to pick the guys up and saw the blood streaming from the top of Tom’s head.

I think Tom received five stitches in his forehead that day. But the one thing I really do remember is that we never again tried to impress our female companions. Lake days have been largely uneventful since then, and that’s probably for the best. subhed2:

It's summer—so what’s so hot?

Summer is vastly overrated.

It’s the season that has perhaps been the most romanticized in literature and in life. Summer is a season that “hath all too short a death,” wrote Shakespeare. Wallace Stegner described it as “days dripping away like honey off a spoon,” while Henry James said “summer” and “afternoon” were “the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

They obviously never spent a summer in Nashville. May—which doesn’t technically qualify as summer—is the only part of summer that meets our expectations. The next three months bring not only Fan Fair and out-of-town relatives, but unrelenting 90-degree temperatures coupled with withering humidity. It’s spring that brings excitement, marking an end to winter, while fall brings a sense of new beginning. Summer is merely about survival.

In theory, summers encapsulate endless, timeless stores of unforgettable moments, a reprieve from everyday life. The days are filled with watching your beautifully behaved children frolic happily near the water; the nights are spent dining over candlelight at a quaint outdoor restaurant where romance hovers on the cool breeze.

But in reality, summer is a time of unrelenting heat that drains you of all energy and patience. To enjoy a dip of Baskin-Robbins, you must first face the stifling heat of a car that has been parked for hours. As the sweat beads gather above your upper lip, a white circle forms around your mouth as the makeup comes off along with the sweat that you wipe away. If the seat isn’t burning your legs, the steering wheel is blistering your fingers. Endless summers are only for children, and even they get bored and whiny when they’re not allowed to go to the Wave Pool

There are no cool summer breezes here; only cruel gusts of hot air. Too tired after working to whip up something light and exotic, evenings are spent eating Domino’s pizza at the kitchen table. Only after 8 p.m. is it cool enough for the patio, where conversations are lost in the din of a nearby lawn mower and—an added treat this year—the constant hum of cicadas. As the sun sets, you can forget about romance. The last thing you want is to be touched by another sweaty person.

So how do Nashvillians reward themselves for surviving another season of purgatory? They wait until August and pile everyone into a packed minivan for an eight-hour drive to Destin, where it’s only hotter. Even there, you can forget about escaping from Tune Town. You’ll bump into half of Davidson County at the outlet mall.

Summer is for the young and thin, for the petite and tan. The trauma of shopping for bikinis and little sleeveless dresses is only worsened by pasty pale skin. We big white girls fade into the background, waiting patiently to reemerge in October.

The only adults who can truly enjoy the season are the rich, for whom “summer” is a verb. I’ve never “summered” anywhere in my life. My summer home is also my winter, spring, and fall condo. Each summer is a cruel reminder of the vacation I can’t afford to take—with the boyfriend I don’t have—to the beach I’ll never see to get a tan I could never achieve.

Summer is a shocking annual revelation of my inadequacies. Not only will I never be young again, but I’m another year older and still no closer to achieving success in work or love. At least for me, summer is the season of discontent.

After exhaustive research, I have come to the conclusion that my summer happiness is in inverse proportion to the size of my stomach and wallet. The more broke and flat-bellied I was, the better my summer was too.

With the exception of a few sunburns that left me bedridden, my childhood summers were wonderful. Oblivious to my pale skin and undeveloped body, I ran wild through the neighborhood with my dirty feet and hand-me-down shorts. It wasn’t until eighth grade that I became painfully aware of my flat chest. Suddenly swimsuits became the enemy, and they’ve never gone back to being my friends.

To be honest, I’ve only had one really good summer in my adult life: the summer after my freshman year at MTSU. That was the summer when I gave up my part-time job at a clothing store and only accepted temp jobs sporadically through the summer, and then just to short-circuit my mother’s nagging. (See, it works: No money plus flat stomach equals great summer.)

I was mad for a boy named Kelly; I felt I would die if I didn’t see him. Since we went to different colleges, summer was the only time we could be together on a regular basis, so we made the most of it. It didn’t matter what we did, as long as we were together. I wanted summer to last forever.

I haven’t felt that way since—about a man or about a summer.

A great summer is but a distant, 13-year-old memory, and it’s likely that nothing I do for the rest of my life will be as exciting. As I reach for the SPF-loaded sunscreen that allows me to weather another summer, there’s only one thing that will give me the strength to survive the next three months: Fall fashions hit the stores in July.

July 24-25

Bluegrass Along the Harpeth Fiddlers Jamboree, Jim Warren Park, New Highway 96 West, Franklin. Bluegrass festival with instrument contests, bluegrass and old-time string-band competitions, buck dancing, team square dancing, and more. 7-10:30 p.m. Fri.; 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat. $3 Fri., $4 Sat. Call 790-8616 for details.

Aug. 1-2

Franklin Jazz Festival, Franklin Public Square, Franklin. Weekend-long celebration of live jazz. Free. Call 790-7094 for details.

Nature/Sports

All summer

The Hermitage, 4580 Rachel’s Ln., Hermitage. Guided walking tours, and observation of archaeology excavation work. $9.50 adults, $4.50 children. Call 889-2941 for hours.

Brooks & Dunn Summer Legends Shootout Racing Series, Nashville Speedway, Tennessee State Fairgrounds, Wedgewood Avenue at Nolensville Road. June 2, June 30, July 7, July 21, Aug. 4, Aug. 18. Call 726-1818 for details.

Classic Rock Gym, 121 Seaboard Ln., Unit 10, Franklin. Includes beginner lesson, all-day climbing, and gear. $18.50 Call 661-9444 for hours.

Warner Park Nature Center, 7311 Hwy. 100. Nature activities for kids and adults. Offerings include the Bison Meadow Stroll (June 6), Junior Naturalist Hike (June 10), a Spider Walk (July 21), Insects of the Night VI (July 31), and Wonders in the Stream (Aug. 5). Call 352-6299 for reservations.

Nashville Zoo & Nashville Wildlife Park at Grassmere, Joelton/Nashville. Various summer activities for kids and adults, including a summer family camp-out (May 30 & June 27), a summer safari (June 13-Sept. 6), and “How to Be a Nashville Zoo Keeper” (June 7). Call 370-3333 for complete schedule.

Stones River National Battlefield, 3601 Old Nashville Hwy., Murfreesboro. Living-history demonstrations, national cemetery tours, and lectures. Call 893-9501 for complete schedule.

June 20

Franklin Civitan Sixth Annual Antique Tractor Pull, Jim Warren Park, Franklin. Antique tractors pull weights to compete for prizes. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. $3. Call 776-2791 for details.

June 27

Exchange Club Charity Walking Horse Show, Old Fort Park, Murfreesboro. 366-6945. 6:30 p.m. $5.

Kids' Activities

May 29

Stories Under the Stars, Bellevue Community Center, Red Caboose Park. “Juniper Junction” is the last in a series of stories told with music, puppets, and dance. 7-8 p.m. Free. Call 862-8424 for details.

June-August

Summer Splash Theater Camps, Murfreesboro/Rutherford County Center for the Arts, 110 W. College St., Murfreesboro. Monthlong arts camps for ages 5-18. Call 904-ARTS for complete schedule and registration information.

June 8

Summer Day Camp, sponored by Williamson County Parks and Recreation. Eight-week camp for ages 6-12 begins June 8. Activities include field trips, theme days, athletics, arts and crafts, and tournaments. Various locations. Call 790-5719 to register.

June 15-27

Summer Youth Conservatories, The Arts Center of Cannon County, 1424 John Bragg Hwy., Woodbury, Tenn. Two theater conservatory day programs for grades 1-6 (June) and grades 7-12 (July). Call (615) 563-ARTS for details.

July 7

Tales From Two Rivers, Two Rivers Mansion, 3130 McGavock Pke. Opening day for series of stories told through music, history, and puppets. Opener is “Chester of Two Rivers” with Barry McAlister. 10-11 a.m. Free. Call 862-8424 for complete schedule.

July 4th Celebrations

Brentwood’s July 4th Celebration, Maryland Way Park (lawn of Brentwood Library), Brentwood. Live music, food booths, and fireworks. 6:30-9 p.m. Free. Call 371-0060 for details.

Franklin on the Fourth, Public Square, Franklin. Patriotic musical extravaganza featuring 40-piece orchestra, 100-voice choir, and activities for all ages. 4-8:30 p.m. Free. Call 771-5500 for details.

Franklin’s Official July 4th Fireworks Show, Williamson Square, Franklin. 8:30 p.m. Free. Call 794-1594 for details.

4th of July Celebration with the Nashville Symphony and Nashville Ballet, Riverfront Park. Entertainment begins at 4 p.m.; symphony and ballet 8 p.m.; fireworks 9 p.m. Call 862-8424 for details.

Independence Day at The Homeplace 1850, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Golden Pond, Ky. Call 1-800-LBL-7077 for more information.

Labor Day

Sept. 4-6

Italian Street Fair, Centennial Park, West End Ave. Call 862-8424 for details.

Sept. 6

Jazz on the Porch, Two Rivers Mansion, 3130 McGavock Pk. Kicks off September jazz series. 5-7 p.m. Call 862-8424 for complete schedule.

Would the altar call ever end?

The shouting man with the shiny black hair wants to know where I will spend eternity.

“Are you ready to meet Jee-sus?” he thunders, his eyes burning holes right through me.

The Bible-gripping man with the blue suit strides across the stage, a thousand pairs of eyes fixed upon him.

“What if you died tonight?” he inquires, still shouting. “What if you were in a wreck on your way home from THIS VERY SERVICE, and you died tonight?”

The powerful man with the penetrating stare pauses and softens his tone. “What if you died tonight? Do you know for certain, do you know for absolute certain, that you would be with Jesus?”

I cannot tell him, or Jesus, precisely what would happen if I were in a wreck, or the football stadium collapsed from under us, or a meteor fell on my head.

I think I know. I know, probably. But the knot of doubt deep inside my stomach writhes and wrenches and grows into an enormous tumor.

Fear and terror apprehend me. My heart beats faster. What if, in spite of my faithful church attendance and public profession of faith as a 10-year-old, I am on a course for hell?

The man with the coal-dark eyes pulls a white handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his brow. He offers the invitation to come down the stadium aisle, to come down and receive the hand of mercy. Fear tells me to go.

I don’t want to go. I don’t want to expose myself, in front of all these people, as a rank, sad sinner.

But the man with the suddenly gentle voice will not accept no for an answer. Come down, he pleads softly. If sin is strangling you, come down and accept Jesus tonight as your personal lord and savior. Come down now. Don’t wait.

People stream down the aisles. Many are crying. Some appear entranced. I still hesitate.

The man with the searching gaze looks up and speaks only to me. “Come down. The counselors are waiting here to meet with you. The choir will sing ‘Just As I Am,’ for as long as need be, as long as people come.

“Jesus is calling you,” he implores.

“What if you died tonight?” my fear insists.

I stand up and walk uneasily down the stadium steps, looking at no one. The volunteer choir begins another verse: “Ju-ust as I a-am and way-ait-ing not/To ri-id my soul of one dark blot....”

It has been nearly 25 years, but I can still remember the hot June night when James Robison scared the bejeezus out of me.

The man with the shiny black hair and fiery presence conducted revivals all over, like a second-tier Billy Graham.

But Robison was more intense and frightening than Graham—more like Elijah and John the Baptist and John Brown rolled into one terrifying trinity. He was an exceptional practitioner of the old revival preacher’s art: Deliver the good news, but never before sowing the fear of hellfire.

In the tiny Texas farm towns where I grew up, summer was revival season. Perhaps ministers sensed that climatic doldrums opened the door for spiritual ones, and that preaching should heat up with the weather. In June, July, and August, the whole area became a battleground against Satan.

Revivals lasted five nights, Sunday through Friday. When a congregation would sponsor one, denominational lines blurred. The Baptists and the Methodists dismissed their own Sunday and Wednesday services to attend each other’s revivals.

Always there was a guest preacher. And, inevitably, there was a prolonged altar call, which often included two complete run-throughs of “Just As I Am”—12 verses in all. To me, the singing itself became a foretaste of everlasting torment; I wondered whether some tortured sinners finally straggled to the altar simply to get the choir to shut up.

The fieriest summer revivals occurred when Baptists and Methodists joined forces and attempted a spiritual arousal of the entire community. To accommodate the crowds, the proceedings invariably took place in the high school football stadium, with a makeshift stage on the field. Guest evangelists like Robison were traveling spellbinders who knew how to bring quavering listeners down the aisles.

With an expert in charge, a five-night revival comes at you like a tornado. The scariest preachers, like the scariest storms, begin with an eerie calm that fills you with tension.

I remember especially one preacher who presided over a community revival during a sweltering August week in 1973. He had a deep voice and the white presence of an angel. His hair was white; his suit was white; his shirt and tie were white; his shoes were white. Only his Bible was black.

On Sunday and Monday nights, the evangelist talked of God’s love and Jesus’ call and never uttered the word “hell.”

On Tuesday, he began stoking the furnace with warnings of fiery punishment. The August temperatures—that remained above 90 degrees long after sunset—made the threat of judgment seem more real.

On Wednesday and Thursday, hellfire raged. Like Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Future, the preacher painted a frightening picture of what lay ahead, unless....

He told of a visit to a steel mill and of his conversation with a God-fearing foreman. “Brother Preacher,” the man told him as they watched the pouring of molten steel, “they gonna serve that for ice cream in hell, ain’t they?”

By the time he issued the altar call, the preacher had shed his white jacket. “If you’re not saved, come down now. If you’re not sure whether you’re saved, come down now.”

“What if you died tonight?”

The choir began its inescapable refrain: “Just as I a-am witho-out one plea/But tha-at Thy blood was shed for me....”

The pious and prodigal alike came in dozens down the warped wooden stadium steps. The pious, who had volunteered to serve as counselors, conspicuously toted Bibles so that no one would confuse them for the heathens and backsliders.

By Friday evening, the preacher returned to a gentle message of love. He never even raised his voice. He extended an invitation of course, but almost no one ever came to the altar on Friday.

This revival, like Robison’s a year earlier, left fear in my heart, but I stayed in my seat. Especially in a small town, it doesn’t look right to repent too often.

After you’ve been singed by hellfire preaching, you develop a certain immunity to it. Fear, unlike love, possesses little lasting power.

You’d wake up and realize you didn’t die the night before. You’d realize you probably wouldn’t die tonight either.

Once I got over being scared, I started thinking about the preacher’s conspicuous omission. He never mentioned long-term commitment, only the need to say once that you accepted Jesus. Perhaps because I was a young teenager during the Vietnam years, I came to suspect that revival preachers, like the Pentagon, were preoccupied with “body count.”

Just as the network news broadcast weekly (and inflated) estimates of enemy dead, the evangelists tallied the number of newly saved. But no matter how many of them we killed, the Viet Cong kept crawling out of the rainforest to shoot us.

Even if scorched-earth preaching delivered impressive numbers, the war against Satan in Central Texas did not end. After the revival preachers left on Saturday mornings, sin grew back like dandelions. Its presence again became as enveloping as the jungles of Vietnam.

The storm would subside, fears would recede, and repenters would go back to backsliding. In my little towns, people turned their minds toward fall, football season, and a merciful end to 100-degree days. Life, at least until next summer and the next preacher, would slowly, inexorably return to normal.

A speedboat and a girl in a bikini: a lethal combination

When the air gets thick in June, and our lungs strain to breathe, it’s dangerous to be a man. The human mind needs oxygen, and the less oxygen a brain receives, the closer a human is to being brain dead. Men have enough trouble as it is getting oxygen to their brains year round.

I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but thick air doesn’t appear to affect women at all. Over the years I have noticed that the summer months give the female of the species a certain power. They sense the male’s weakened state of mind and go in for the kill.

Plus, I think women derive power from the sun. That’s why they migrate toward pools, oceans, and lakes in the summer. There, in their bikinis, they reduce the blood flow to men’s brains, crippling the medulla oblongata even more. If you don’t believe me, maybe you need a prescription for Viagra.

I haven’t come to this theory by happenstance. I’ve seen it proven many times. During my youth, several of my friends had parents who owned boats. Our summer days were often spent on those boats, cruising, skiing, drinking beer, and smoking cigarettes. Except for the fact that we might have been laying the groundwork for emphysema or skin cancer later in life, I can’t remember anyone coming in harm’s way.

But talk often leads to thoughts of the other sex, so girls were eventually invited to partake in our boating afternoons. And that’s when things get treacherous for a man, because when women are around, a man becomes convinced that he has to prove something. A leisurely day of boating on the lake soon turns into a battle to the death for the possibility of nookie.

We jumped off the backs of moving boats, tried to swing from a rope onto a moving boat, and, more often than not, busted our asses skiing. Someone suggested that my friend Matt and I hook an inflatable bullet-shaped child’s toy to the back of the boat. Although it said plainly on the underbelly of the toy that it was not to be used as a flotation device, there was something about the way the girls smiled when we talked about trying it.

The boat started slowly, dragging us underwater. The girls frowned. Tom, our driver, turned up the speed, planing the hot dog out and skipping us along on the water. When we rounded a curve, we smacked the water like two flat stones. Still, we made trip after trip, each time smacking the water harder than the time before, until the hot dog exploded out from under us.

Calamities like that didn’t stop us; neither did they seem to concern the girls. Over and over again, we pulled asinine stunts. Like dimwitted mutts, we persisted until somebody needed stitches.

It was one of the summer’s most thickly hot days. We had gone to Lake City to use our friend Robert’s boat. When we arrived at the boathouse, there was a pleasant surprise—a double tube, an invention of pure genius. The pair of tubes was held together by a stiff nylon mesh, distributing two people’s weight evenly and making it harder for them to fall out. Robert’s boat was powerful, though, and it wasn’t long before a girl’s smile had us trying to throw each other off the double tube.

The challenge was simple. Robert would drive the boat in an erratic fashion, flinging us into his own wake and causing the tube-riders to bounce out. Of course, when the girls rode, he drove in a straight line.

We ignored the true sign of danger. Robert had a crush on one of the girls who was with us that day. Love is the final nail in the coffin for an overheated man; it cuts off all circulation.

Our good friends Tom and Sharif were the victims that day. They managed to hang on to the tube longer than anybody else, leading Robert’s would-be girlfriend to beam with admiration. Robert was infuriated.

As we rounded a corner, a yacht passed on our left. The size of its wake was enormous, at least six feet high. It has been contended since then, but never confirmed, that Robert’s crush winked at him at that point. That’s the only explanation for the final blurring of his logic as he steered Tom and Sharif right for the yacht’s wake, sending them airborne. Tom could be heard yelling, “You son of a b...,” before they both smacked the water. All of us on the boat leapt to celebrate his success. Robert’s crush was all smiles until we turned around to pick the guys up and saw the blood streaming from the top of Tom’s head.

I think Tom received five stitches in his forehead that day. But the one thing I really do remember is that we never again tried to impress our female companions. Lake days have been largely uneventful since then, and that’s probably for the best. subhed2:

It's summer—so what’s so hot?

Summer is vastly overrated.

It’s the season that has perhaps been the most romanticized in literature and in life. Summer is a season that “hath all too short a death,” wrote Shakespeare. Wallace Stegner described it as “days dripping away like honey off a spoon,” while Henry James said “summer” and “afternoon” were “the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

They obviously never spent a summer in Nashville. May—which doesn’t technically qualify as summer—is the only part of summer that meets our expectations. The next three months bring not only Fan Fair and out-of-town relatives, but unrelenting 90-degree temperatures coupled with withering humidity. It’s spring that brings excitement, marking an end to winter, while fall brings a sense of new beginning. Summer is merely about survival.

In theory, summers encapsulate endless, timeless stores of unforgettable moments, a reprieve from everyday life. The days are filled with watching your beautifully behaved children frolic happily near the water; the nights are spent dining over candlelight at a quaint outdoor restaurant where romance hovers on the cool breeze.

But in reality, summer is a time of unrelenting heat that drains you of all energy and patience. To enjoy a dip of Baskin-Robbins, you must first face the stifling heat of a car that has been parked for hours. As the sweat beads gather above your upper lip, a white circle forms around your mouth as the makeup comes off along with the sweat that you wipe away. If the seat isn’t burning your legs, the steering wheel is blistering your fingers. Endless summers are only for children, and even they get bored and whiny when they’re not allowed to go to the Wave Pool

There are no cool summer breezes here; only cruel gusts of hot air. Too tired after working to whip up something light and exotic, evenings are spent eating Domino’s pizza at the kitchen table. Only after 8 p.m. is it cool enough for the patio, where conversations are lost in the din of a nearby lawn mower and—an added treat this year—the constant hum of cicadas. As the sun sets, you can forget about romance. The last thing you want is to be touched by another sweaty person.

So how do Nashvillians reward themselves for surviving another season of purgatory? They wait until August and pile everyone into a packed minivan for an eight-hour drive to Destin, where it’s only hotter. Even there, you can forget about escaping from Tune Town. You’ll bump into half of Davidson County at the outlet mall.

Summer is for the young and thin, for the petite and tan. The trauma of shopping for bikinis and little sleeveless dresses is only worsened by pasty pale skin. We big white girls fade into the background, waiting patiently to reemerge in October.

The only adults who can truly enjoy the season are the rich, for whom “summer” is a verb. I’ve never “summered” anywhere in my life. My summer home is also my winter, spring, and fall condo. Each summer is a cruel reminder of the vacation I can’t afford to take—with the boyfriend I don’t have—to the beach I’ll never see to get a tan I could never achieve.

Summer is a shocking annual revelation of my inadequacies. Not only will I never be young again, but I’m another year older and still no closer to achieving success in work or love. At least for me, summer is the season of discontent.

After exhaustive research, I have come to the conclusion that my summer happiness is in inverse proportion to the size of my stomach and wallet. The more broke and flat-bellied I was, the better my summer was too.

With the exception of a few sunburns that left me bedridden, my childhood summers were wonderful. Oblivious to my pale skin and undeveloped body, I ran wild through the neighborhood with my dirty feet and hand-me-down shorts. It wasn’t until eighth grade that I became painfully aware of my flat chest. Suddenly swimsuits became the enemy, and they’ve never gone back to being my friends.

To be honest, I’ve only had one really good summer in my adult life: the summer after my freshman year at MTSU. That was the summer when I gave up my part-time job at a clothing store and only accepted temp jobs sporadically through the summer, and then just to short-circuit my mother’s nagging. (See, it works: No money plus flat stomach equals great summer.)

I was mad for a boy named Kelly; I felt I would die if I didn’t see him. Since we went to different colleges, summer was the only time we could be together on a regular basis, so we made the most of it. It didn’t matter what we did, as long as we were together. I wanted summer to last forever.

I haven’t felt that way since—about a man or about a summer.

A great summer is but a distant, 13-year-old memory, and it’s likely that nothing I do for the rest of my life will be as exciting. As I reach for the SPF-loaded sunscreen that allows me to weather another summer, there’s only one thing that will give me the strength to survive the next three months: Fall fashions hit the stores in July.

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