Most magazines would have you believe summer is all Fourth of July parties with themed desserts that turn out perfectly and fabulous beach vacations. But what about the rest of us?
“One word: Plastics!”
You’ve just graduated, and it seems like everyone you know is off to travel through Europe for the summer, or do an internship at some crazy tech startup that makes you wish you’d paid more attention to math in high school instead of obsessively reading every letter F. Scott Fitzgerald ever wrote to anyone, and all you’ve got is an apartment with no air conditioning and the worst ventilation ever, and a terrible temp job at your old university. Being on campus is depressing and empty now. When you climb up to your apartment in the evenings, it's so hot and airless it threatens to suffocate you, so you have to strip down to your underwear and periodically stick your head in the freezer to cool off, both from the heat and from crying on the phone to whoever will listen about where you could have gone wrong in life, and why didn’t your ex-girlfriend love you, and good god, Starbucks wouldn’t even hire you—Starbucks!
Historically, your solution to these feelings has been frozen Cosmopolitans, sometimes with a shot of Chambord pooling stickily at the bottom, but you know what would be better? A nice off-dry rose from the Anjou region of France’s Loire Valley. Still cheap, still sweet-tart and pink, but you’ll hate yourself a little less in the morning when it’s time to go back to answering the phone and trying to decipher the mysterious color coding your boss uses in his emails.
It seemed like a good idea, like it might be romantic—hot dogs, riding the Ferris wheel. But the subway was full of annoying, loud teenagers, and the lines were way longer than you expected, and everything felt grimy. The fries at the hot dog stand weren’t even any good, but you ate them anyway, standing up, staring into the dark, dirty beach and the timid little waves crashing against it. You did finally get to the Ferris wheel, and honest to goodness, fireworks started going off just as you reached the top. You held hands and kissed, and there was a slight, merciful breeze, and for a moment, maybe it was romantic.
When you get home, drink a cheap little Ventoux, a rustic red from a minor sub-region in the southern Cotes du Rhone. It’s been in the fridge all day, but that gives it a sort of pleasant, fruit punch kind of feel. Drink it out of a juice glass, just to complete the experience, and because the wine glasses are dirty. You don’t want to see the pictures he took, even the ones he thinks are cute. You just want the spot in the bed closest to the air conditioner.
“Greetings from Fiji!”
Your friends are visiting somewhere exotic, and you’re watering their plants and walking their dogs. Raid their liquor cabinet and make yourself a gin and tonic. Gin has a cooling, sort of antiseptic feel, making it the perfect summer spirit. But this isn’t just any gin and tonic. This one has a little more panache, is a little fussier.* The maceration seems like a pain, but it’s a total game changer. Besides, what else do you have to do?
Once your drink is in the fanciest glass you can find, put on some reruns of Coupling, and sit with every pet in the house piled around you in a big, hairy mountain of animal love, and feel a little less lonely for awhile. You may not be having your own personal Eat, Pray, Love experience (Christ, why would you want to, actually?), but this is pretty goddamn good for now.
How did you decide driving cross-country with your mother was a good idea? A few days in and you’re already out of outfits. Hours of sitting and eating Triscuits for dinner has left your already ill-fitting khakis from Old Navy’s clearance rack sagging unattractively around your hips. Your mother takes your photo anyway, as you squint into the sun while pumping gas somewhere near Toledo. She also takes photos of the plastic ice cream cone at the Dairy Queen you stopped at outside Elko, Nevada, lending it an unexpected gravitas. But now you’ve arrived at your final destination: Napa Valley, California. Tomorrow she’ll fly home and you’ll start school, and your life will change, hopefully. But for now, it’s just another hotel room, and you’re each stretched out on another bed with another tacky comforter, one of the ones made from artificial fibers that feels almost slick, like you might slide off if you move too fast. You both have your feet stacked on top of each other at the ankles in exactly the same way.
You’ve stopped at a vaguely Italian-themed grocery store and bought bread, cheese, salami, and olives, which you’ve just learned to like, along with a bottle of “old vines” Zinfandel (apparently there isn’t any other kind...). The wine, in retrospect, isn’t very good, especially drunk out of plastic cups from the hotel room. You’re watching the awful Sex And The City movie that has been showing on TBS or one of those channels several nights in a row now. You both laugh at how stupid it is. You’re terrified and happy and you can feel tears starting to poke at the corners of your eyes and sting your nose, and for a moment you think of reaching over and hugging her as tight as you can, telling her how much you love her, telling her thank you, but you realize it’s probably just the wine and the damned movie: pruney, overripe, tacky, perfect.
*Special thanks to Daryl Cross for all the times he made this for me.
Previously: What Goes With Your High School Reading List?
Photo via chartno3/flickr.
Diane McMartin is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers and a graduate of a fancy-pants wine and beverage education program in St. Helena, CA. This required many flashcards and a lot of coffee. She lives in the Washington, DC area, where she works in retail teaching wine education classes, helping customers find the perfect wine, and wading through the seemingly endless ocean of bad Chardonnay out there.