“Are you legit?” asks Dylan Welch as he straddles his BMX bike in Cantine Park.
“I’m super legit,” I respond. “You can Google my name even.”
The Google thing seems to calm him down, and I tell them that I’m writing an article about what it’s like to be a kid in Saugerties in the summer. Dylan is a big kid, traveling in the company of Kyle Haynes, and both are tooling around Saugerties on their bikes, making something out of nothing on a hot Sunday. What Dylan means when he asks me if I’m legit, it seems, is to inquire about whether or not I’m going to kidnap him. Which, in fairness, is a totally legitimate question, considering that I did just drive up to a park, approach them, and ask if they’d like to be in the newspaper.
Both Haynes and Welch are keeping their distance, just like I would if somebody were to pull over on the street when I was 14 — like they are — and abruptly confront them. They relax after a little bit, deciding between them that I wasn’t going to murder anyone. Both of them are filling their summers with sports. Welch’s Babe Ruth League season just ended, and Haynes is playing as much baseball as possible. And when they’re not balling, they admit that they commit to the number-one activity pursued by kids who have a summer, nothing to do in that summer, and bicycles: ride around town perpetually searching for things to do, and if possible, acquiring a slice of pizza or a grape soda.
“That’s pretty much what we do,” said Welch. “Like, every day.”
Most people remember those days fondly, the days where you could hound around town without attracting police attention, hang out endlessly without the ever-present threat of employment, throwing firecrackers at stuff, and fighting/getting beaten up by kids bigger or meaner than you. For those of us who have lived past our teenage summers, we look back at them as colorful, joyful, and dangerous dreams. But in the moment, it’s just a boring, stultifying season which is great when you’re on vacation and trying when you’re not.
I peel off to corner and harass more children, but not before Haynes, who is squarely in the corner of totally not getting what a blessing his hometown summertime is, tells me that he spent the first part of the season in Florida, where he went to Disney World.
“Would you rather be here or at Disney World, for, like, the whole summer?”
I’m disappointed for a second, bummed out that this kid just doesn’t get it — until I realize that it was a stupid question. Of course he’d rather be at Disney. Everyone would rather be at Disney, stupid.
These kids look promising.
There are three of them, standing on the corner across from the cigarette store. One of them is skinny, wearing an orange shirt, and the other two are bigger kids. On the sidewalk, it looks like they’re debating where they’re going and what they’re doing, so I deftly pull a u-turn and follow them into the cigarette store parking lot, where they sit on a wall made out of cement pavers and shoot the breeze.
They look kind of tough — the kinds of kids who could potentially beef with and beat on a 14-year-old version of me — and at least one of them is really cagey. One of the big kids, named Christian, who rocks a pair of fake Wayfarers and a sleeveless shirt with a t-shirt on under it, gives a pretty interesting answer when asked what they do in the summer.
“We go to the library, read.”
“Nah, kinda. We use the computer,” says one of his compatriots, who is wearing a pair of necklaces.
They confirm that it doesn’t hurt that the library is air-conditioned.
They offer a couple of tight answers when asked what else they do in the summertime.
“We go swimming — a lot,” says the one in the orange shirt, named Matthew.
He’s actually forthcoming, and gives up a solid answer to what it’s like to be a kid in Saugerties in the summer. “It’s a good place to be a kid. The summer, when your friends are actually here and you can see them. “
At the end of the two-minute confrontation, I ask for their names again. The cagey one in the necklaces gives me some static.
“Kyle,” he says.
“What?” It flew right over my head.
“Kyle Palmer. Happy?”
“What?” I’m caught off guard.
“I said it. You heard it. The phone heard it.”
A girl shows up with an open can of Spaghetti-O’s and a box of graham crackers, which Christian immediately nabs before either of his friends can. I get out of there quickly, as not to interrupt the intricate early-teen courtship game that is sure to erupt between these three boys and the girl.
A very out-of-town looking lady — superbly tanned and with a very chic hairdo — is monitoring a conversation that I’m having with a pair of very friendly high school students I met on the street. They don’t seem to be that much like the other kids interviewed, in that they’re considerably chipper and happy to talk to the newspaper.
Nicky, 14, and Jake, 13, are hanging out in the middle of town. And while they’re sweet kids, they do not understand that I need full-sentence answers to write an article.
“What are you guys doing this summer?”
“Going on vacation,” says Nicky.
“Hanging out,” says Jake.
“How do you hang out in Saugerties? What do you do for fun?”
“Swim,” says Nicky.
“Where do you swim?”
“Pools,” says Jake. “And my Nana’s.”
“Anything else going on?”
“Eh,” says Nicky.
It goes on like that for a while. I squeeze a few other tidbits out of them; they ride their bikes, they eat ice cream, they go on vacation. Nicky goes shopping — just not in Saugerties. When asked where all the bad kids are, Jake tells me Jane St., which is bad because I’m parked there, and Nicky says Kingston, which doesn’t help me very much.
But Jake and Nicky have confirmed a suspicion I had going into this: Summertime is essentially the same all over the place. As young teenagers, we’re all going to the park and riding our bikes, we’re all swearing and playing Little League, we’re all locating and swimming in bodies of water and we’re all learning how to talk to members of the opposite sex.
Call it an American Universal. Summer is largely the same in any town with a pizza place, a place to swim, and a movie theater. Every kid with a bike, a friend, and a sense of boredom, mischief, or adventure will have a similar summer if not shunted off to sleepaway camp or juvenile hall, and every adult that those kids turn into will look back on that experience fondly.