When I was a kid, I remember playing with one of those clunky Fisher Price record players. It came with a stack of thick plastic records and a little turntable with an arm that had a small row of prongs, like whale baleen, that plinked off of dots on the surface of the records.
If I remember correctly, there was a crank on the machine that made the turntable spin, and once the record was moving, the little prongs would plink out a melody. For its day, and my toddler sensibilities, it was a pretty spectacular interpretation of relatively modern technology. I had no idea how a real record player worked, and so this toy—which looked like a record player and played music, even though they sounded like something you’d hear from an unsprung jack in the box—was a modern wonder.
I was driving Will back from school the other day, covering the same 10 minute route that we have driven hundreds of times this summer. I turned on the oldies radio station, and it made me think about the record player. For a few moments—listening to dated music as I drove the same stretch of road going nowhere new in particular—it seemed like we were totally disconnected from the broader world, as if I was back playing with the record player, imitating real life instead of actually living it.
These are the kinds of ideas that float through my head after a summer in the desert, spending little time outdoors and wearing a hard path between a few air conditioned destinations around the base.
I have spent enough days indoors with two small children to understand why conferences on alien species and UFOs are popular here in the desert.
Despondent notions aside, I do feel like most of our modern amenities out here in rural desert California are a loose interpretation of modern living. Kind of like the record player I loved as a kid, but without the whimsy.
We purportedly have Wi-Fi, cable TV, and high speed internet and all the amenities that should connect us to modern America. However, I can’t stream a video and post to Instagram at the same time. For reals (honestly, I am so behind, is that even slang anymore?).
Now, I am sure if I had more places to go and things to do, I might not really notice the lack of connectivity. But when Big Bird and his neighbors on Sesame Street—now my best friends on simmering summer afternoons—freeze mid-alphabet song because of an inexplicable Internet sneeze, I am keenly aware of the problem.
This summer, our first living in the desert, has been tiring, and I am ready to get back outside to play. We have heard of places in other parts of the country where people actually need jackets in the morning and evening, or have turned off their air conditioning systems at home, and I feel somehow cheated. As if they stole the cold from us along with the reliable Wi-Fi.
To combat my own negativity built up over the hottest months, I am putting on record a few of the good things that came with this summer. Consider this my contribution to the assorted “What I did on my summer vacation” essays that will be graded by teachers in the weeks to come.
Over the last few months, baby gates have been re-introduced to my house. They were dutifully shipped across the country in our move after we packed them away when my son was around two-and-a-half years old, more than a year ago. Now my daughter is embarking on her own exploratory missions around our home. The gates protect dishes and television remotes from grabby hands, and remind me of the awesome wonder that comes from an infant starting to expand her boundaries. I am enjoying it along with her, if only to keep her away from eating shoes. Plus, you can’t help but clap along when a diapered behind starts bouncing to Harry Belafonte singing “Jump In The Line” on the radio. I dare you to try.
Writing has remained a constant and a welcome stimulation when stuck indoors. I will admit that some of my writing has included long, frantically handwritten essays about my distaste for the warm weather and desert living. While redundant and entirely not worth publishing, writing them has served as an outlet for my creativity and frustrations. Aside from those, I have continued to nurture my writing practice and produced some work that I am proud to share.
I am also proud of my running kept through the hottest of months. My post-spring race season workouts included some hills and track intervals on July and August evenings. I learned the unique sensation of a stiff wind the same temperature as a hair dryer that would greet me as I headed into the final curve of 400 meter repeats on the track. I learned to appreciate the tolerability of the incessant summer heat when at least the sun wasn’t beating down on us and I was able to witness some amazing sunsets.
As I have taken notes over the couple of days to list what I grateful for, the light has shifted every so slightly. The early morning temperatures are cool, for us, around the low-seventies, and the sun is crossing the sky at a lower angle.
School has started, and the kids around the neighborhood are waiting at the bus stop, albeit in flip flops and short sleeves. Advertisements for fall festivals and Halloween events are starting to appear as everyone is ready to greet the autumn. We are ready.
To celebrate, I found a re-vamped version of the old toy record player online and bought it for the kids. I’ll have it ready for my daughter’s first birthday in October, and should our Internet continue to fail us into the fall, we will at least have some entertainment ready.