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Time to unlearn everything from summer

Barry Smith

Now that the young minds of a generation are headed back into their classrooms, it’s up to teachers to clear away the fog of summer.

Good luck.

They’ll be drilling in algebra equations, the periodic table, symbolism in Shakespeare and the real reasons for World War II.

I pity the teachers, because they’ll be trying to force all that information into brains already full of the stuff the young minds of a generation learned during the summer months.

The important stuff, I mean.

In the small town where I grew up in Illinois, there were basically four classrooms for summer education.

The bowling alley. The movie theater. The pool hall. The Deep Rock garage.

Here’s what I learned at the bowling alley:

– How to swear like an adult.

Before, we could only swear like kids do, tittering at each in order to impress ourselves and perhaps shock some unsuspecting matron who was within earshot.

But at the bowling alley, boy, there was some serious swearing going on Saturday nights. This was Big League swearing, the kind that could singe your ears and make your toenails curl. It was swearing with a purpose – like when that 7 pin wouldn’t fall in the 10th frame with the game on the line.

A well-aimed curse had an apparent effective range of 30 feet, as a red-faced bowler spat it down the lane. More than once, I’m sure, that last pin toppled from sheer invective force.

– How beer makes people fall down.

I did not come from a drinking family, so it was of great curiousity to me to watch someone like Ernie Roberts swill Pabst Blue Ribbon after Pabst Blue Ribbon until a bowling ball became a dangerous weapon.

Not that he would throw it at people. But sometimes simply the weight of the thing in one hand would tilt Ernie’s beery equilibrium and he would topple mightily to the floor. He would then sputter some comment he thought was extremely funny, but to the rest of us came out as “Btphht roomitty suggivinich!”

– How to keep score.

Knowing how to keep score in bowling is something you will be able to use the rest of your life. Unlike algebra.

Here’s what I learned at the movie theater:

– How to kiss.

In some places, these lessons were taught behind the schoolhouse or, perhaps, at church camp. (Shocking, I know.) But in Atlanta, Ill., class was in session every Friday and Saturday night at the Palace Theater.

The teenagers in love snuggled in the back row, while the preteens sat a few rows forward and craned their necks to see just how long Tommy Masters and Peggy Applebaum could hold their breath. “Oh, my God!” somebody would whisper. “That one lasted more than two minutes!”

Eventually, in the natural order of things, Tommy would be old enough to have a car, and he and Peggy would graduate to advanced techniques in the back seat on some deserted road. Then we would be able to occupy the back row at the Palace Theater and figure out that, you know, holding your breath had nothing to do with it.

Funny, but I can’t remember a single movie that played at the Palace Theater.

Here’s what I learned at the pool hall:

– How to play snooker, euchre and liar’s poker.

These days, I seldom have occasion to use the skills I honed hour after hour inside the pool hall. During those summers, however, we were convinced if all else failed in whatever careers we chose to pursue as grownups, we could always fall back on our money-making abilities at billiards and cards.

– How to see in the dark.

Zeke’s Pool Hall was slightly more illuminated than, say, a cave at midnight. Newcomers would need 10 minutes for their eyes to adjust after they walked in off the sun-drenched street.

But it took only one instance of moseying into Zeke’s and making a wisecrack about that stupid bully Ricky Hawkins – who, my undilated pupils failed to inform me, was leaning against the counter sipping peanuts from his Coke – to develop an uncanny knack for seeing tall, thin, muscular psychopaths in the dark.

Here’s what I learned at the Deep Rock:

If I didn’t want to pump gas the rest of my life, and by some chance my pool-hustling career fell short, then I might want to pay attention when summer ended and I was back in school.

Barry Smith is managing editor of the Nevada Appeal.