Today is one of those superb late winter days that we often enjoy in Santa Barbara. It’s a day songs are written about. If a day like this one popped up when I was growing up, I would have considered cutting school and going to a grassy meadow just to lay immobile in the rays of the warming sun. How I loved laying in the sun. Whenever and wherever I could grab it.
On the first warm day of the year, no matter the calendar, I’d quickly change into a bathing suit, lay down a towel in the sun, and bask. No one ever basked more fervently than I did. I might have invented the word, for all I know.
When the aluminum reflector came into fashion, I was an early adapter. Before that, I occasionally used a mirror when I deemed the rays needed intensifying. On a few rare sunny winter’s noon when I lived in Boston, I could be found on the back wooden stairs of the fire escape of our old dorm, perched on a chair and holding a sunscreen. I just knew I looked and felt better with a tan and at 18, in the 1950’s, skin damage was the last thing on my mind. Bless those carefree foolish years and all the simple pleasures they brought with them.
Bona Fide class cutting for sunshine, then shopping, didn’t become a reality until I got to college. No one was looking over my shoulder by then and I didn’t have to answer to anyone about my whereabouts. I never had the guts to just not show up in high school and my friends were not the class cutting kind. Besides, in our city, there was always the question, where would we go? We were never able to answer that satisfactorily. Without a car, we were very limited and could think of no worthy destination that was worth the risk of getting caught and getting in trouble. We lived hours from the ocean, which would have been the most attractive and obvious escape.
Cutting class in college was altogether a different animal. I didn’t look for a partner in crime. I just did cut whenever I felt the spirit. For the winter semester of my sophomore year, for reasons which still remain unclear, I transferred college from sunny Miami to frigid Boston. That semester, if you watched me, you might not have known that I was even in college. I lived a relatively carefree solitary life in a dirty ugly converted apartment building housing other unhappy transfer students. I’d show up to class to take an exam I’d crammed for, but that was about it. My grades were straight c’s, but I didn’t seem to care. There were no grand aspirations here.
That semester, if you watched me, you might not have known that I was even in college. I lived a relatively carefree solitary life in a dirty ugly converted apartment building housing other unhappy transfer students whom I didn’t care for. I’d show up to class to take an exam I’d crammed for, but that was about it. My grades were straight c’s, but it didn’t particularly bother me, also for reasons that remain fuzzy. There were no grand aspirations here. I simply and unsurprisingly had no career goals pushing me forward.
I did think often about returning to Miami, especially when a vicious blizzard hit Boston on an April Easter. The next semester, I left happily, learning in the process that the grass is not greener on the other side.
In order to have something to do while pretending to go to college, I’d hang out in downtown Boston in Filene’s bargain basement, a veritable treasure trove of stuff for the restless teen, some of it great, all ridiculously low priced, and seemingly just there for the taking. At some point, I began occasionally shoplifting a small item or two, just to keep life interesting and to put a little style in my life which my small allowance didn’t afford me. I admit to feeling thrilled when I got away with it. This was a time before shopkeepers began to crack down hard on such behavior and although there was an element of risk, it wasn’t the zero tolerance model that exists today. Just so you know.
My life of petty crime was brutally upended when a middle-aged female plainclothes detective, caught me putting a scarf into a large shopping bag, grabbed me by the elbow and without easing up on her grip, marched me up some stairs to a hidden office just outside the door of the store, where they scared the crap out of me. I weepingly promised never never never to enter their store again. For a brief moment when caught, I considered bolting and running, thinking I could easily outrun her. But then I quickly saw a policeman chasing me as well, and that image put a whole new light on the potential for mayhem.
It all happened too fast to have a decent escape plan, plus, I’d gotten away with it so easily several times before, I began to think it was like taking candy from a baby. I could only settle myself down by going to a darkened movie theatre and watching a revival of the 1952 Jose Ferrer film Moulin Rouge for the remainder of the afternoon.
Of course, I did enter their store again because it was the fabulous Filene’s basement, and truly I was addicted to the milieu, but my apprehension cut short what might have been the beginning of a brilliant or even so-so life in crime. I had no appetite to repeat my crime, but most of all to undergo the humiliation of the capture.
That method of escapism was over.