The 10 Best Summer Things, Ever.
Don't you find yourself scratching your head sometimes while poring over one of those 10 Best Whatever lists? Like, what is Groundhog Day doing here and not Casablanca? You find yourself questioning the judgment of any editor who would run with some crazy thing like this.
Surprise, people — my editor is out of town. And herewith I present the 10 Best Summer Things, Ever, Period.
Best place: Forget the beach. The beach is too crowded and the sun is blazing out there. The best summer place is a shady spot by a lake or pond, in a hammock.
Best music: Forget the Beach Boys. Strip down the old woodie and lay bare the rumbling engine within: Fender guitars, Marshall amps, a hard-worn drum kit. Meet the Mermen, the best of the neo-surf rock bands. I recommend in particular this album. You also can find dozens, maybe hundreds of live performances available for free download from Archive.org. Here's a nice one to start with.
Best portable music playback device on which to enjoy the Mermen from your hammock: The Tivolo Audio SongBook. In red. I don't claim this is the best-sounding thing in the world. I claim it is among the coolest.
Best book: Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn. This 1984 novel seems to appeal especially to other writers, who enjoy turning one another on to it. Do not let that discourage you: there is nothing overtly literary here, certainly nothing artsy or postmodern. There are surfboards and Harleys and drugs and sex and murder and everything you need to get through a couple of rainy summer days.
Best beer: Long Trail Blackberry Wheat Ale. Now why, you ask, with all the perfectly fine craft brewers in Maine, do we need to import this commodity all the way from Vermont? Because it is the only fruity-ish flavored brew that does not go too far in one direction or another (the most common error is excessive syrupy sweetness) but strikes a nearly perfect balance.
Best shade tree: The northern red oak, Quercus rubra. Which of course you will want to zip back in time about 30 years in order to plant at least two of in the spot where your hammock will be suspended. This native tree is strong and fast-growing, as oaks go, and creates the very finest type of shade, light and airy with dappled sunlight dancing all around you.
Best new thing for the garden: Mojito mint! The genuine article, obtained straight from Cuba under shadowy circumstances by Richter's Herbs in Canada, so it's all dark and romantic in a Graham Greene sort of way. This is not a very sweet-flavored mint so you'll want to up the sugar in your recipe.
Best lawn chair: Adirondack chairs are, let's be honest, not very comfortable. Folding deck chairs are subject to rust and rot, and the canvas parts (for you must only use canvas, with these) rot through after one season. Those little collapsing chairs that fit into a nylon bag have a way of swallowing your body and not wanting to disgorge it. Ditto the classic "butterfly." So give it up, my friends. Schlep over to a big box retailer and pick up some cheap nylon-mesh chairs that look something like this. They are comfortable, reasonably sturdy, easy to store, and dry pretty fast after the rain. Assuming the rain ever stops.
Best head gear: The Packable H2OFF Rain Hat from L.L. Bean. Just in case the rain doesn't stop, though this is equally serviceable in sunshine. The great thing here is that you can sit on this hat, roll it up and stuff it in a pocket, invert it to create a repository for your spare change, iPod and sunglasses, and still when you pop it back on, you will look like a schlump, which will embarrass your children, which is always fun at family vacation time.
Best movie: The Endless Summer, Bruce Brown's 1966 classic, like a super-casual Cousteau-ish documentary, in which we follow two young surfers around the world in search of the Perfect Wave. Lovely laid-back score by the Sandals, including this beautiful title track.
I suppose there is room for argument in one or two of these categories. Though why anyone would want to argue with a cussed Yankee is beyond me.