This post is sponsored by Fox Searchlight Pictures, and I hope you enjoy it.
The summers of my Arizona childhood were long and hot, stretching sideways in both directions and embracing the unsuspecting months of spring and fall with sweaty, sunburned arms. It was the lazy hug of a friend that had overstayed his welcome while pretending to be oblivious about it. Summer dragged itself across the desert, and it pulled each of us along for the ride. We soaked up every moment.
Our station wagon had folding seats in the back that faced each other, and once opened the empty space filled with the activities of going somewhere—license plate games and bingo on billboards. We were going on a camping trip and we were taking everything we had ever heard of. We packed it all in alphabetical order.
We were surrounded by windows, one an open frame outlining the belly of the car and those that sat within it, and the other three of glass that magnified the sun and left us squirming for the world to see like unschooled fish in a traveling aquarium, flopping in the dry heat and gasping for breath.
Whenever possible I rode my bike. The roads were tired dust storms of dirt and gravel, spanning miles between the dots of trees that connected where we were to where we were going and making pictures for space like dull, green stars in reverse. I had a Walkman and cassette tapes, a canteen full of tap water, and my Wayfarers on. The 80s were sewn across my pocket.
Miami Vice was a lifestyle choice:
The summer that I turned fifteen I took a job working maintenance at the local waterpark and rode my bike there more often than not. Sometimes people would offer me a ride and I would throw my bike in the trunk or truck bed while trying to spin the weather into polite conversation. Other times they would fly right by, and the sweat of my skin would catch the clouds of their dust, leaving me to cough and experiment with curse words as I watched them drive into the distance.
Sometimes, when my eyes locked on the faces of children flushed against the mouth-stained fog of their backseat windows, I felt like a pawn in somebody else’s game—I was bingo, and they were taking me on their camping trip. We would stare at each other until the clouds rolled in, and I would cough while I wondered where the hell we were going.
I was uncomfortably tall, awkwardly skinny, and I had a perm where a hat should be. My shorts were shorter and made of corduroy. I was as insecure as I was invincible.
My coworkers filled a bag of stereotypes, and being the youngest among them I idolized each accordingly. The guys on the crew were either stoned or hungover. The lifeguards were pants-stirringly pretty and college girl mean. The manager was a cartoon wrapped in bright, red flesh and he left his mouth open so the attitude could get out. After the last guest had left for the day he would put Judas Priest on the PA system, recline in a lounge chair with a beer and his shotgun, and shoot unsuspecting doves as they flew between the cotton fields that surrounded us. His dogs, apparently unable to read the stenciled warnings against it, would dive into the silent wave pool and fetch feathers with their teeth.
I was on the water slide, golden tan, and laughing loudly over three sips of lukewarm Budweiser.
By the end of summer I was well-versed in the ways to kiss a girl, and my perm had melted into curling locks that covered my ears and kept them from burning. I thought of the days ahead, which are now long since passed, and I reflected on those that had already gone by.
The next year would bring a divorce to my parents and a different job to my summer. My visits to the waterpark became few and far between. The station wagon was replaced with a car so crappy that it quickly became mine, and the rest of my youth was spent driving it from here to there, lured by smiles and the lips that made them.
Those memories, despite their distance, have returned bright and clear, but the truth is I haven’t thought about them in a very long time. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time those days crossed my mind, and if not for a recent screening of The Way, Way Back they would probably be forgotten still. I’m glad they’re back. The timing could not be better.
These days I have two young boys of my own, and I can’t help but wonder how their respective stories will be written. What will be their way, way back? What are the moments that will mold them? I can’t wait to watch, and I am in no hurry to get there.
Growing up is a long, muddy ride through the metaphors of summer, and it is worth every damn pedal.
From Fox Searchlight Pictures: THE WAY, WAY BACK is the funny and poignant coming of age story of 14-year-old Duncan’s (Liam James) summer vacation with his mother, Pam (Toni Collette), her overbearing boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and his daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin). Having a rough time fitting in, the introverted Duncan finds an unexpected friend in gregarious Owen (Sam Rockwell), manager of the Water Wizz water park. Through his funny, clandestine friendship with Owen, Duncan slowly opens up to and begins to finally find his place in the world – all during a summer he will never forget.
The Way, Way Back opens in theaters on July 5.