I’ve never told this to anybody, but there is something about the air right after a summer rain that takes me away. Only then does the whole world feel so light and fresh; it’s like you could almost float on it. I felt that today. Home from work early and determined to get my daily walk in, I put on a jacket, right here in the middle of the summer, and walked right out into a storm. I’d been inside all day and I knew that the evening would be more pleasant and the night’s sleep sweeter if I could just breathe some air that hadn’t gone through a compressor, two filters and yards of ductwork.
Fifteen minutes in, my coat was soaked and stuck to my shoulders and the wind was whipping branches back and forth like they were pom-poms. Fifteen minutes more and it had slowed to a sprinkle and then just a light drizzle and then I took off my coat and felt that cool lift, that lighter-than-air sensation. Then I remembered.
When we were just kids we lived one summer on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Daniel Stewart, a buddy from high school, had an older brother who had a construction crew down there. They were putting up beach houses all up and down the island then, and Daniel’s brother was hard up for laborers and so we got work for the summer. It took me two or three weeks to get used to the grind; carrying sheetrock and plywood up stairways, climbing ladders onto roofs with a bundle of shingles laid over your shoulder. Hotter than a firecracker, start to finish. The first week or two I would crash on the couch after dinner and not move till morning. Get up sore.
But we were young, then, and resilient, and in time I was ready for some life after work and we looked around for a place we’d fit in, some atmosphere we’d enjoy. It was more of a family beach then and so there were lots of places for high schoolers and restaurants for mom and dad and not too much that was really up our alley. We persisted, though.
The Blue Moon Club was just north of the Nags Head pier and right there on the beach. It was all old, unpainted wood and only opened up at around eight o’clock when the heat of the day was gone and the breeze had started coming in off of the ocean. The place didn’t have air conditioning. They just threw all the east-facing windows open and let the evening ocean air pour through the screens. When the sun finally went down you would feel that light freshness in the air, like after a rain.
The place was never crowded. It wasn’t for kids and I guess the moms and dads were not sure they wanted to spend an evening in the salt air and so it was usually just some locals, some of whom worked on our crew, and a few college kids, like us, who had summer gigs on the island and weren’t working that night.
I learned to eat oysters raw there. They’d bring them a dozen at a time on a platter that looked like a garbage-can lid and give you all the lemons and salt and hot sauce you wanted. Great eating, that. But the best part of the place was the juke box. This was before the time when every joint on the beach has to have some forty-year-old guy with a guitar and fancy digital sound system covering James Taylor and Jimmy Buffet. That juke box played the real stuff, by the guys who made it. Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Billy Stewart, Barbara Lewis, Barbara Mason, Carla Thomas, Al Green and Marvin Gaye. I heard songs there played over and over so that I was sure they were local standards. They were great songs that I never heard anywhere else.
And there was a dance floor. I was no dancer myself, but there were all these tan and long-legged girls around who needed partners and the songs were so good that you just couldn’t resist trying. You couldn’t just sit there and not move.
One night Daniel was dancing with some gal whose boyfriend stormed in the place and onto the floor and interrupted the dance. Daniel objected and the guy sucker punched him. Laid him out all bloody, right there on the floor. Daniel got to his knees and crawled over and bit the guy on the calf and held on like a snapping turtle. The boyfriend was bigger and was winning the struggle, the two of them wallering all over that floor, the juke box still blasting, until three or four other guys broke them apart. We swore that we’d find the guy again, all of us, before we left for school and we talked of it every day, but we never found him and never really tried.