Charlotte Hays

Whenever I think of my teen summers, I recall the blissful cool of the Cinema 1-82, a magical place named for its location in a mini-mall at the juncture of two highways, next to Pasquale's Pizza, also of blessed memory.

Since our little town wasn't the sort of metropolis that got a new movie every week, my best friend and I saw quite a few movies more than once. I can still savor the ghostly taste of Junior Mints, my madeleine—has Mrs. Obama banned them yet?—and recall being head over heels for then-teen idol Troy Donahue, who, alas, matured into an ugly, old degenerate. But I digress.

Some of us held down summer jobs--after all it was still an era when summer jobs were plentiful--and some of us loafed. It’s true, though the former loafers can no longer admit to such indolence in polite society today. Job or no job, by night we all endeavored to gather at Strazi’s Drive-In, which should have been—but wasn’t—filmed for a scene in the movie American Graffiti, George Lukas’ painfully evocative classic about high school graduation night, the last night of innocence for high school graduates, circa 1973, before they went into the world of the Vietnam War and adulthood. I wonder how many times American Graffiti played at Cinema 1-82!

Such lazy summers would be as alien as Samarkan to today's high-school and college-aged young people. And summer—like everything else in our increasingly class-conscious society—has become two-tiered.

There’s one summer for low-income kids, desperate for jobs that don’t exist in this economy, and then there’s summer for middle class and private school kids, who’ll spend the three months being “enriched” through classes and internships and engaging in other activities that will look good on resumes. Resumes, for heaven's sake! To borrow from Porgy and Bess, the ultimate authorities on summer time, the livin' won't be easy for either of these groups of young people.

For the children of affluent parents, the summer is now an epoch of relentless, structured activity, a prelude to relentless careerism. Unpaid internships, something I’m not sure even existed in my Cinema 1-82 idyll, are not seen merely as a way to be of service and gain organizational skills but as a powerful tool in getting ahead. In this, they are the epitome of the New Class summertime.

Charlotte Hays

Director of Cultural Programs at the Independent Women's Forum.