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Apartment Kids in Summer
By Claire Margine
The summer before fifth grade, neighborhood kids started showing up at my door. I jumped rope all day outside of the apartment building; I was easy to spot and track down. Kids would ring the buzzer, sweaty and bored, looking for a playmate.
That’s how I met Vera. We sat on my bed and traded important details — Babysitters Club vs. Sweet Valley High, preferred Nick at Nite block, favorite cereal.
When we slept over at Vera’s house, we woke up to her dad’s spicy curries, full of the bright herbs her mom brought home in sandwich bags from her annual trips to Delhi. Vera’s house was stocked with transcendent snacks, the kind of processed contraband my mother wouldn’t allow in our pantry — French Toast Crunch, cereal bars, every kind of potato chip. At slumber parties we would watch hours of “Bewitched” or “I Love Lucy,” and snack ourselves into sharp stomachaches.
We chased the ice cream truck, then the snowball truck, even though neither of us ever had any money. (“A sample?” an incredulous ice cream man once said to us. “You want a sample?” Since it worked at the grocery store, we thought it might work everywhere.) We stole snacks and juice boxes from our pantries, quarters for sodas and honey mustard pretzels from the vending machines, and brought them to the pool so we could stay all day. We showed up at my upstairs neighbors’ apartment. They were a young couple in their late 20's with a yappy dog. Sometimes they made brownie batter and let us lick the spoon.
Katya, Vera, and I picked blackberries from a bush next to Dumpster Point, a steep hill that started with the apartment complex dumpsters. It was the universal meeting-spot for running fast in the summers and sledding faster in the winters.
We filled a bucket with blackberries, which we shamelessly cribbed like everything else — furniture and fabric from the garage, candy from the cut glass bowl at the apartment complex office, water from the outdoor tap (which we opened to create a homemade waterfall).
Katya ran upstairs to ask her grandmother how to make juice, and came back with a cheesecloth and a coffee mug. She strained the berries into the mug until was full of sweet, seedless berry ink. We drank it on the front stoop, passing the mug back and froth, then slowly ate the dark pulp.
In the morning, we ate free day-old donuts, bacon, and hot coffee at the new Safeway.
In the afternoons, my dad made us fried egg sandwiches with ketchup for lunch, the eggs edged with a crisp brown lace of fried bits. He was out of work that summer, and every few weeks he took us to the dollar movie theatre. Vera always brought a whole bag of salt and vinegar chips, and we spent each movie smacking out lips and licking sharp vinegar and salt off of our fingers.
There was a flood one afternoon. The next day, the Whole Foods gave away their enormous supply of day-old focaccia for free. Everything day-old is just as good. Everything day-old is practically better.
We picnicked on the living room floor for dinner. Sliced tomatoes and cheddar cheese were baked into the top of each round loaf of bread. “Focaccia, focaccia,” I repeated on a loop. I tried to make sure I remembered the word, so I knew what to answer the next time someone asked about my favorite foods.
Vera and I could stay out until 9:00pm on summer nights, sometimes even 9:30 if neither of our parents remembered to poke their heads out of their bedroom windows and yell out our names.
We lay on the pale green generators outside of our apartment buildings and watched fireflies and the occasional enormous wasp spin around the street light at the end of the sidewalk. We made decisions:
Keeko couldn’t be our friend anymore because he pulled the wings off of fireflies for no reason.
The first week of school, we would order pizza to the pool, just like the lifeguards.
And most importantly, we would not spend next summer here. Vera would visit her family in India; I would go to Quebec with my French class. We were going to see the huge world that stretched beyond the borders of Baltimore, the one we spied in the colorful reels of photos that swished through my parents’ old viewfinder.
We practiced our pitches, trading who got to be the parent who said things like “You’re too young!” or “We don’t have the money.” The imaginary versions of our parents inevitably succumbed to our genius and instructed us to pack our suitcases.
Vera always brought a bag of sweet cereals mixed together. We lay side-by-side and listened to the hum of our neighbors’ televisions sets through the open windows. We licked our cinnamon sugar fingertips and swatted mosquitoes and plotted our adventures, our sugared mouths full of schemes and crooked teeth.
#Real #SummerNostalgia #PersonalEssay #Friendship #Cereal #BabysittiersClub
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