Our family returned from out of town last weekend to find the latest edition of The Wall Street Journal in the driveway, soaked clean through by an afternoon rain. I put it in the oven to dry on low heat, which took a while since the paper was bigger than normal. It included a special section on 50 neat things to do this summer, most of them involving money.
The newspaper emerged from the kitchen wrinkled but readable, though I was still too tired to scan the articles. We had just finished a road trip to collect our teenage son at the end of his school year, which involved emptying his dormitory, too. He attends a boarding school for gifted kids three hours up the road. The close of school each May always looks like a biblical exodus as cars and trucks are stuffed to the roof with the things kids bring to live away from home.
Whether they really need all that stuff is a question that comes up each move-out day. Into our SUV went a small refrigerator, a printer, a laptop, slacks and shirts, mismatched socks, a foot locker, framed photographs, notebooks and pens, books, batches of paper, posters, pencils and plastic sacks of who-knows-what.
My son isn’t much interested in shopping. He wondered aloud how someone so ambivalent about acquiring possessions could end up with so many of them.
He’s learning that life has a way of complicating itself, even when we try to keep it simple.
Summer is supposed to be an antidote to all of that — a time set apart from the going, the getting and the striving that, for the rest of the year, tends to tie us in knots. I guess that’s why I greeted The Wall Street Journal’s multi-page list of summer activities with a sigh. It seemed to frame the season as a project to be tackled rather than a pleasure to be savored.
There was a full-page tutorial on “updating” potato salad, as if the summertime dish were somehow so out of favor that it needed a makeover. “Hold the Mayo,” the headline urged. In a world already weary from deprivations large and small, I’m now supposed to eat potato salad without mayonnaise?
As an alternative to the starchy, fattening delight that’s weighted down American picnic tables for countless summers in the life of the republic, The Wall Street Journal offered a recipe for “Baked Salt Cod with Caramelized Onions and Potatoes.” And we wonder why folks don’t trust the media.
The newspaper had other summer suggestions, too, like jetting to Taiwan to watch fireflies or purchasing a designer bicycle for nearly $3,000. For our son’s first day of summer vacation, we grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, swam, had friends over, sat on the porch.
None of it would warrant the attention of The Wall Street Journal, but it was glorious.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter @Danny_Heitman.