The temperature is slowly creeping up toward unbearably hot, the streets are full of dazed, barely clothed, sweaty masses, and the scent of burning meat (and sometimes vegetables) hangs in the air. But it isn't the apocalypse—it's the beginning of summer, a season filled with barbeques, air conditioning, picnics in the park, punishing heat, and overblown installments of dubious movie franchises. Here are some helpful products and suggestions to assist you in making the most of those sweaty months sandwiched between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Prismatic American-flag stickers ($.99, partycity.com)
Summer is the time of year to show everyone what America means to you, i.e. wearing shorts to the office, taking half-days on Fridays, and drinking outdoors a lot. After all, with no fewer than four excuses for vulgar, unbridled displays of patriotism and the serving of potato salad (Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day), summer is an American time of year, right? And everyone knows that the best way to express patriotism is through glittery stickers. Put these everywhere, and think of it as tagging/littering for Uncle Sam.
H&M Loves Kylie swimsuit ($24.50, Hm.com)
The purpose of this item of clothing is threefold: 1. It's a swimsuit. Therefore, you can use it when you go swimming, which is a popular summer pastime. 2. It was "designed" by Kylie Minogue, so wearing it is like tightly draping yourself in a sign that reads, "When I'm not swimming, I enjoy quality, catchy dance-pop." 3. It is a very shiny shade of silver, so when the sun hits it just right, you can blind virtually everyone at the pool—which is a good thing, since no one likes to be seen in a bathing suit.
Hasbro Super Soaker Aquashock Arctic Blast ($19.99, Target)
Some people think shooting overheated friends with a stream of merely cool water is ample fun/punishment. The makers of the Super Soaker Aquashock are not among those people. Not only can this gun hit targets up to 35 feet away, it has a special compartment for storing ice, so you can douse your opponents (or unsuspecting picnic-goers) with freezing-cold water. Hence the highly ridiculous yet thoroughly appropriate name.
HBO On Demand and Showtime On Demand (price and carriers vary)
Summertime is all about outdoor activities: swimming, biking, picnicking, Frisbee-throwing, music-festival enduring. The problem with all of these outdoor activities is that they take place outdoors, where it can be really, unbearably, soul-meltingly hot. The solution? Stay inside, turn on the air conditioner, and watch TV. More specifically, watch HBO and Showtime On Demand. Even more specifically, watch HBO's funny, absurd new series Flight Of The Conchords, which is full of cool songs, and episodes of Showtime's The Tudors, which is full of cool, drafty castles.
Uno ($4.99, Amazon.com)
Most picnics in the park reach a point where people are too stuffed/lazy/drunk to move, but have long ago run out of things to say to one another. At times like these, a game of Uno can easily prevent everyone from tumbling down a tunnel made of boredom. Uno is the perfect card game to play at a picnic, because it's easy to bring to the park, you can play it with a large number of people, and, unlike with traditional playing cards, you don't have to endure the five-card-stud-Texas-style-deuces-and-ladies-wild speak of the annoying people in your group who want to play poker. With Uno, there is no danger of a poker-game outbreak. (In your face, Shannon Elizabeth!)
Quilted napkins (price varies, delis, convenience marts, and grocery stores everywhere)
Napkins are far more than an absorbent paper product. In summer, they're a time-tested strategy. When you're invited to a barbeque, simply say, "I'll bring the napkins." Then bring a giant, 500-count package of napkins. You have now gained entry to a barbeque where you can eat and drink your fill for about $3. In case you're wondering, yes, this strategy does make you a jerk. But even though everyone knows how little napkins cost, probably no one is going to call you out on it. After all, they do need napkins. If, however, you also bring some beer in addition to the napkins, everyone will think you're a hero.
Dirty Found #3 ($10, various bookstores)
Is there anything better to read aloud to your friends while lazing underneath an umbrella at the beach than the discarded pornographic love notes of strangers? No. No, there isn't. They're hilarious. Thankfully, the third volume of this compendium of largely un-erotic found erotica is thin enough to fit into a beach tote.
Mack's Safe Sound Soft Foam Earplugs, 10-pair ($3.99, CVS)
If you're going to Bumbershoot, Lollapalooza, The Virgin Festival, Siren Festival, especially the Montreal Jazz Festival, or any other outdoor concert this summer, earplugs are probably a good idea. They can muffle the sound when you're too close to the speakers or stuck in a crowd full of annoying conversations, and they can help drown out whatever Billy Corgan's new Smashing Pumpkins will sound like. But earplugs are also handy to have for trips to the park, or any other green space that amateur singer-songwriters wielding acoustic guitars are known to frequent.
Summer School (Life's A Beach Edition) DVD ($14.99, Amazon.com)
More than any other movie with the word "summer" in the title, the 1987 Carl Reiner comedy Summer School is an efficient summary of every activity that has ever fallen under the category of "summer fun": amusement parks, go-carts, trips to the beach, drinking out of open containers on the beach, grilling, driving, petting zoos, outdoor parties, Mark Harmon, horror-movie screenings, flings, putting sunglasses on dogs, people named "Chainsaw," creative use of illegal fireworks, etc. Basically, this movie can school you in dubious hot-weather pastimes almost as well as Harmon schooled that wild bunch of kids in remedial English, or whatever the plot was between the numerous summer field trips.
Fla-Vor-Ice (Really cheap, grocery stores everywhere)
Fla-Vor-Ice freezer pops are pretty much wrong in every way: They're sugary, they come in flavors and colors so artificial that it's practically a dare, and because they're encased in individual plastic sheaths, they always taste a little like sugar-coated Saran Wrap. Still, people consume it precisely because it's so wrong. See, taste doesn't matter in the summer. Something about the heat changes people's mouths and minds, and they want to consume one of four things: 1. Something that has been cooked on a grill, 2. Cold vegetables or fruit that have been thrown together (i.e. potato salad, salsa), 3. Alcohol, or 4. Something frozen. Fla-Vor-Ice falls safely into the last category, and it's highly portable. That's all that's required to make a fun summer food.
No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July ($13.80, Amazon.com)
Bright colors in nature are often a warning sign, an indication to stay away from a plant or snake that might be poisonous. Bright colors in book covers often have the same effect, which can be a very good thing. If you're reading Miranda July's collection of absurd short stories No One Belongs Here More Than You—a book that comes in two colors, neon yellow or hot pink—on a park bench, passersby might be drawn to the bright color of the cover, but they will not approach. Neon yellow and hot pink are like beacons that flash "Stay away," or at least "Approach with caution." All of which makes No One Belongs Here More Than You the perfect book to read uninterrupted in public.
Alan Thicke ($10,000-$20,000, allamericanspeakers.com)
A strong sense of competition pervades the summer months, largely due to the number of roof parties, barbeques, and other outdoor get-togethers squeezed into that timeframe. How can you make your Memorial Day BBQ stand out from all the others? What will make your party better, or at least different, than all the rest? Two words: Celebrity speaker. Two (more specific) words: Alan Thicke. More than any other sitcom father that you can book through a website, Alan Thicke strikes the perfect balance of weird, relaxed, and approachable that every speaker at a summer BBQ should have. What Alan Thicke will actually do or say at your party (regale everyone with Jason Seaver stories, hand out Robin Thicke CDs, man the grill, etc.) can be worked out later. Just book him now before everyone else does.