Sitting here in Los Angeles, I was mystified to see that kids went back to school about two weeks ago. Seriously? I mean, it's not like they have to start early to make up for snow days.
This August return to school would have taken all the dread out of the last week of the month. Let's face it, when you used to get to August 26 or 27, you started to fear the oncoming winter. The Good Humor Man would come at the same time every night...8:47PM...but the sky was darker and darker when he did. Already you had to curtail the nightly softball game down at the vacant lot because, by 8PM, you could no longer see the ball.
Yeah, it was like the music from "Jaws."
Da dum. Da dum. Da dum.
Indeed, the holiday in question was approaching. The shark that lived in the calendar and it would devour our joyous summer.
Labor Day. Yeeech.
The fact that they were celebrating something called Labor Day at all is a mystery to me. Unlike all the other holidays, what the heck was being commemorated with this day? I remember asking the question of my mother. Just what is Labor Day? She went for a response that was definitely feminine-skewed.
"It honors all those pregnant women who have labor pains before giving birth."
Huh? So, it's a day where women go into labor.
The logic escaped me. How long could labor be? I was born in February.
"You ask too many questions."
There I go again.
Nevertheless, regardless the derivation of the holiday, the first Monday in September meant really one thing.
We were headed back to school.
Did I already say "yeeech?"
So, unlike the urchins in Los Angeles who got sucked back in two weeks ago, school for me usually began the Wednesday or Thursday after Labor "Yeeech" Day. I'd immediately pull down a calendar to find my first days off. Since the Mount Vernon, New York public school system was jampacked with Jewish teachers, we'd always get Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur off. Sometimes, these days would happen as soon as school started. Bonus days of summer. My only problem with this concept was that all my friends in the neighborhood went to Catholic school. I'd have the days off but had little to do but watch the Hollywood Squares with my grandmother.
When Labor Day weekend rolled around, this meant another complete horror for yours truly. The annual quest for new school clothes. And I was dragged to Genung's Department Store on Fourth Avenue by my mother.
Now, my mom was always very fashion conscious. When it came to herself. But, the outfits she'd suggest for me were, well, odd. Oh, I was always completely color-coordinated. But, then again, so was Superfly.
Mom, don't you think this shirt is a little bright?
"Well, you'll be easier to find after school after they turn the clocks back."
I could be easily seen from down the block and perhaps even Venus.
As I got older, the annual Genung's battle got more heated as I began to assert more and more power into my own clothing choice. No, I don't like cuffs. No, I don't want to wear a clip-on bowtie. And white belts are for country clubs in Ohio.
Eventually, Mom gave up. As all mothers do.
One more signal to the end of summer would be the television commercials on Channel 5 Metromedia in New York heralding the arrival of...
The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy.
Back in the day, the Jerry Lewis Telethon was done in New York, as I'm not sure Las Vegas had been invented yet. And we watched it for all the wrong reasons. Not because we were devoted to the charity. Nope, we tuned it because it had all the promise of horrible television with heavy doses of schmaltz blended in.
Would Jerry make his monetary goal as predicted by co-host Ed McMahon in between swigs of some Budweiser? Could Jerry possibly get through 21 hours on the air without a nap? Would he break down and sob during his closing number, the ridiculously inappropriate "You'll Never Walk Alone?"
You knew that, every year, it would be a car crash. You just had to tune in for the exact moment of impact.
We used to watch along and my mom viewed it all with disdain. You see, she was no fan of Jerry Lewis. When I was a kid, his movies dominated the local cinemas and we were his target age group. My mother wanted nothing to do with taking me to see his latest trash. That job usually fell to my dad, who would conveniently doze off one reel into "The Errand Boy."
But, then, one Labor Day, there was a miracle...
My mom had just started a job in downtown Manhattan at an accounting firm, which just happened to be the official auditors for Muscular Dystrophy. One year, she was asked to be part of the accounting staff to work at the telethon.
When she came home, I craved for details. It's so bad on the screen. Just how awful is it backstage?
A curveball flew out of my mother's mouth.
"That Jerry Lewis is quite a guy."
"He is so devoted to those children. It's like they're part of his own family."
"There's a secret reason why he does this telethon, but he will only tell everybody after there is a cure."
Okay, just what was flowing from those water fountains down at the TV studio?
My mother had been transformed into a Jerry Lewis zealot. In subsequent years, she watched the telethon with a different fervor. I couldn't watch it with her again. Instead, I had to hide in my bedroom with it shining from my black and white portable television. I could easily giggle with the door closed.
And, for me, Labor Day just never was the same after that.
Dinner last night: Sausage and peppers sandwich at the Hollywood Bowl.