Please don’t tell anyone I told you this, but summer vacation brings out my inner home schooler. I didn’t know I had one in me, and I’m ashamed to say I had been known to recklessly mock the movement as well as its members, but come summer vacation, I get it. I really get it. All the time the kids and I spend together gives us countless hours to do things we don’t have time for during the school year.
Although there are substantial gaps in my knowledge base, summer vacation gives me the chance to share the things I do know and more importantly, the things about which I am incredibly passionate. This summer it’s been news (needless to say, there has been an awful lot of talk about gun control this week) and big band music. We have Sirius XM satellite radio in the car and first on my presets is “40’s on 40” — music from the 1940’s. I was giddy to discover that Jonathan Schwartz, who is one of the world’s preeminent scholars on big bands/American standards, has a radio show on there. I first discovered him when I was an undergrad in New York City in the 90’s, and while I listen to a LOT of radio, his voice is the one I’m happiest to hear.
I’m telling you all this because I’ve been forcing the kids to listen to healthy doses of his daily radio show (as well as the Springsteen station, for religious reasons). At first they hated it so much a couple of them began to cry. Francie would thrash around in her seat begging me to replace it with Top 40 drivel and Bennett threw things at the radio, hoping to change the channel, or just break it and end their misery. Soon, however, I wore them down. I think it may have been some of the corny lyrics, or their simplicity, but I really think pop music is pop music, and if you were a teenager in 1941, this was your pop music. (That, by the way, is the only way I got Francie to stop her howling — I told her that her blasted American Girl doll, Molly, the girl from home-front America during WWII, would have listened to this same music.)
And then one day we had a breakthrough. I don’t remember how it happened, but in our car’s version of Battle of the Bands, Johnny Mercer’s “My Sugar is so Refined” beat some craptastic Justin Bieber tune. And it was unanimous. I was sure that this day would go down in history as the day Mercer, and all Big Band music, beat the evil forces of the Bieber! I was sure we’d all remember that morning for years to come…. or at least long enough to tell M about when he came home.
But it was not meant to be.
Moments later we arrived at the park. I parked on the street and began to gather the thirteen thousand things I need to take with me each time I get out of the minivan. And then I hear this from the back of the van:
“That woman doesn’t have any pants on.”
I look up and see a woman standing next to the car in front of us. She is feet away and she is wearing a black t-shirt and is leaning into her car, possibly even talking to someone inside.
“No,” I say. “She’s probably wearing a bathing suit.” It was, after all, one of the twelve days of summer we’d had so far, so really anything was possible.
“Nope,” says another, different, voice. “That woman is wearing no pants.”
I look up again. The woman is facing us, but doesn’t seem to notice a minivan stuffed with six people and an Airedale all gawking her way.
“Kids,” I say, “She’s wearing a bathing suit.” She is still talking, to whom we’ll never know, and starts to waive her hands around in the air. I try to look closer.
“Yes,” I continue. “It’s a bathing suit.” And then her hands go up over her head. “It’s just a black bathing suit, ….a very fuzzy black bathing suit.” Holy crap. They were right. This woman has no pants on. This woman is half naked.
I start to turn the car on and find somewhere else to park. But I do not move fast enough, because yet another voice from the back screams:
This was immediately followed by much hooting and hollering. I think I even heard a vuvuzela. Then more chanting, “Vagina! Vagina!”
After that there was nothing I could do to distract them. All the crappy rainbow sherbet in the world (what is it about that stuff?) couldn’t erase the episode from their teensy minds. Needless to say, that never became the day of Johnny Mercer, or Count Basie, Gene Krupa, or anyone else. It went down as the day “we went to the park and saw a big vagina.” Mr. Mercer, wherever you are, I’m sorry, but you got beat by a “big vagina.”
And this may be why I’ll never be a successful home-schooler.