I hate Labor Day. What should be a three day weekend to celebrate the end of a summer has, since my tween years, been a phase change, a boundary condition, and a time of hesitant reflection. In this year of multiple crises, I hate Labor Day for failing to do what it’s done the past five decades: mark a return to schedules and a semblance of normalcy. Rationalizing why my relationship with the first holiday of the fall suffers from a split personality requires explaining my calendar visualization.
I saw my first academic calendar approaching first grade, the first student in a newly constructed school in growing suburb. The Miracle Mets would win the World Series in that fall of 1969, in an afternoon game that were allowed to watched on a black and white TV classroom. Since that elementary linking of sports and the academic year, I have always visualized the calendar as two rows of six months, with September through February on top and March to August on the bottom. The top row is structured and measured and more dark than light; the bottom is possibility, fun, and powered by live music in an outdoor amphitheater or pouring out of a car window. The fall and winter first half — always the first half of the year, like car models rolling over before the date change — is marked by national scale family celebrations and timed sports. Hockey, basketball and school schedules set the clocks for us, and yet you see progress, a countdown of days til Christmas or Opening Day or the last seconds of the year that was. How naive we all were opening the next decade.
The back six of the year is a day at the beach and buying records punctuated by Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day. Baseball games (and tennis and golf) aren’t timed, unless you count the kids’ games whose clocks are set by street lights and the concession stand running out of mini pizzas (again).
There is nothing fixed in a Jersey summer except waking up each day to humidity and possibility.
Despite the lower right ending with a brace of 31-day months, squeezing one extra day into the summer, what WXLO (NY) branded the “99 days of summer” come to a Jersey shore termination point on Labor Day. It sits there in the upper left of the calendar, the illuminated manuscript capital, a huge Laverne and Shirley “L” to trade in rock and roll for rules and planning exercises. Even as a mid-level corporate manager, Labor Day means budget season has arrived and free time, like the black feathers on the seagulls’ heads, has quietly disappeared.
Personally, the pandemic truncated my escalating spring joy that I mentally reserve for making it to the bottom row. My carefully constructed summer Phish tour schedule was disassembled a hotel stay at a time. I have come to count on the susurration of fan noises that power us from the trailing edge of winter through those 99 days of summer: March Madness and random box pools to baseball’s Opening Day to the true start of summer when music goes outdoors from my basement studio to 22,000 of us singing along with and under the stars.
The summer of 2020 was a state of perpetual extra innings. Every time we think we’d gone ahead with a long double in the top of the inning, one of our multiple foes — virus, economy, racial tension, climate change — hit back, harder. There is neither buzzer nor a calendar page with a Dad joke on it to signal the end. Labor Day will let me down the one year I could have used it for good. And yet….I’m thinking of March Madness again. To stop resigning myself to a set of fights against formidable opponents, where each trip outside or each foray into social media is a 4–13 matchup without Dick Vitale shouting encouragement. I’m ready to play the role of the underdog, Rocky and Rudy and Hoosiers and Miracle on Ice, to tackle the months ahead. And in so doing, I will count down, as the top half of the calendar was designed, to a new and improved normal. I’m just not trading in my shorts and sneakers for office clothes.