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Memories of the Gray Summer of 2010:

Whether the human mind tends to edit out all the dark bad parts or not, there does seem to be tendency for our memory mechanisms to erase the gray and uninteresting passages. Hours spent standing in a line, a two-day layover in Akron, a week spent on your back because of the flu… those memories are harder to call-up and view with detail than say, that chance encounter you had with Tom Waits in a thrift store when the both of you had your hands on a gabardine jacket that smelled vaguely of kerosene.

Will any of us recall with sharp detail the gray overcast “June Gloom” mornings of this summer here in Santa Monica? I mean as they kept coming after June, well through July, all over August… and now we’re still living with them in September. Two years from now will any conversation contain a passage such as “That summer of 2010… man, some days the sky wouldn’t clear until 4 o’clock. I was supposed to finish my screenplay but I never felt like working because of the overcast skies. I fell behind and had trouble keeping Halloween references out of it.” And thus was born the straight-to- DVD rom-com “Pumpkins and Kisses.”

There’s no question that Santa Monica merchants, especially on Main Street, felt the overcast weather dimmed sales as well as the ski. When it feels like rain is coming, you don’t think about beer like you do when the sun is baking the sweat out of you. Beer or tanning emollients or goofy straw hats or sunglasses. Not to diminish the impact on tourism, but… what about the rest of us? Have you, like I, felt the grayness sap your strength; take away your energy for projects and constructions? Are there fences that never got painted or new dog houses never built because, come on, it’s kind of melancholy and inert outside. Think I’ll just stay in and read Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” – this weather is perfect for it.

Having grown up in Wisconsin with its traditionally well-defined winter months, there’s no question that people in that part of the country perk-up when the spring sunshine arrives. But what to make of the relationship between mood and weather here in SoCal, where it’s almost always summer relative to January in Sheboygan or Baraboo? Scientists disagree on the severity of the impact of weather on mood. Research shows that while sunshine might not necessarily lift a down mood, gray or rainy-snowy weather can definitely impact our moods negatively. Research comparing that negative impact to the impact of such things as a horrible freaking economy, Quran burnings, massive oil spills, disingenuous illiterates winning political primaries, or recalled eggs , is so far not available.

I think I can safely postulate that the gray skies of Santa Monica’s summer have slowed me down. There’s something dissipating about waking from slumber after a full-color, 3-D dream involving rescuing Salma Hayek from a burning building (I just bravely ran in; there were no fire hoses in the dream so forget that interpretation…) only to find a gray and listless morning awaiting you. It taps your motivation. I mean, unless you smell smoke and hear someone crying for help in what sounds like Salma Hayek’s voice.

Santa Monica residents will celebrate the fact that on any given summer day it can be as much as ten degrees cooler here than it is in, say, Van Nuys. But that pride ebbed this summer as morning after morning brought only cool air and overcast skies. I distinctly remember thinking, “I’m going to drive to Van Nuys and warm up! Maybe I’ll play golf there. That little windmill on the 118th hole still owes me a free game!” I knew that back home my sisters were fighting heat and mosquitoes, and that kept me from complaining. But by about July 30, our beach town began to feel like Chekov’s farm in November. Sure the overcast skies might help you summon up some witty observations about human fallibility, but at a certain point the weather compels you to take a carriage into town for some vodka and balalaika music, “town” in this case being Santa Barbara.

It’s as though in some way we’ve been denied summer here in Santa Monica. Live music has poured forth from the Pier and Main Street, the waves have continued to break, and the sand is still on the beach. But summer still feels like a no-show. To put it in TV promotional terms, summer has been a demure and obscure rock singer on “America’s Got Talent” and now we can only hope that autumn will be a warmer and sunnier “Event,” full of highlights and memorable heat.

To some extent weather’s impact becomes what you associate with it. There must be people who got married when it was raining, and thundershowers bring back that day of dedicating love. The skies don’t dampen; they pour forth with warm nostalgia even as the kids begin jumping up and down on the sofa because they can’t go outside. In my youth in the Midwest, winter meant that both my birthday and Christmas was coming. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. How will we remember these consistently gray mornings of the summer of 2010? Maybe we won’t. Those memories will melt when the sun returns and establishes once again that it’s here to stay. That’s when Salma Hayek will return to our beaches and likely need to be rescued from an attacking shark. I can already see myself plunging into the waters, under clear blue skies…

in Opinion
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