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AN ODE TO SUMMER : Nibble, Sip, Slather and Dip : The sizzling season calls for picnics at the Bowl, tons of sunscreen and a pool, well chilled.


I hate to be the one to tell you, but our Valley summers aren't perfect.

How to put this with sufficient delicacy?

Let's say we are thermally challenged.

In other words, it's hot.

On bad days, and there are going to be more than a few between now and mid-October, it's not just hot, it's India hot, albeit without such subcontinental sweat inducers as sacred cows, screeching baboons and commuting by elephant.

How hot is the Valley in the summer? Let's ask my mother, because we can count on her to put the best possible face on it.

Mom lives in Philadelphia and has never been here (yes, I've invited her). But she is a devotee of The Weather Channel and so, having seen the full-color weather map and paid close attention to the numbers, she believes she is something of an expert on the weather wherever I am.

"Oh, it's been hot there, Patty," Mom says sympathetically, and then she inevitably adds, "but it's a dry heat." Dry in this sentence is not a downbeat adjective. Rather it implies that you are sitting on your deck in Tujunga, suffused with well-being, the fabled dryness turning you not into a piece of human pemmican, but into something devoutly to be wished, like a dry martini.

In fact, Mom has never met a climate she didn't like. When I was in graduate school in Wisconsin, she frequently told me not to be put off by a winter wind-chill factor of, say, 39 degrees below zero because, after all, "it's a dry cold." Apparently Madison's several lakes failed to show up on any of Mom's many maps, so she didn't realize that winter in Madison was cold enough, wet cold enough, to terrorize a Lapp. Mom, those aren't moguls on campus. They're people who forgot their down jackets and froze in mid-stride.

But how, you are no doubt asking yourself, can you tell it's summer in the Valley?

* It's summer if every time you pass a lawn being watered, you glance around to see if anybody's looking in your direction, and if nobody is, you run through the water, just the way you did when you were 6 years old. Adulthood offers few cheaper thrills, perhaps because running through the sprinklers harkens back to a time when summer was more than a season of sangria; it was three months of liberation.

* It's summer if you get your DWP bill and find yourself running the numbers to see if you really saved money when you decided to move to Woodland Hills instead of Santa Monica. It doesn't matter that your brethren on the bay look out their windows from October through January and see nothing but swirling banks of impenetrable white stuff that looks like it was made by machine for a John Carpenter movie. By mid-August you get out your calculator and see if you can offset your losses in electricity and water by timely investments in Bullfrog and Evian.

* It's summer if you grab your steering wheel and the first thing that pops into your head is "third-degree burns."

* It's summer if you think any movie is a good movie as long as the theater is cool and the film is interminable. Where is Kevin Costner now that we need him?

* It's summer if you hear Valleyites from Mexico, Armenia and other faraway lands saying, "Hot? I'm schvitzing. You could plotz"--just like the natives.

* It's definitely summer if you'd rather have an iced mocha latte than sex.

Since a certain portion of every summer day in the Valley is given over to complaining about the heat, it is easy to forget the myriad pleasures of the season. Among the sweetest:

Picnics. Summer gives you permission to assemble your meals, which is way more fun than cooking them. (Who says dumping everything into a trash bag isn't cleaning up?) If Dante had lived in the Valley, one of his circles of hell would have been The Kitchen. The trick is to use yours only for the storage of cold drinks. Summer is taking your tabbouleh and pita to the park around the corner, rewarding yourself with cold chicken and Caesar salad after a brisk hike in the Santa Monica Mountains or enjoying the world's best turkey sandwich after making yourself dizzy on the carousel in Griffith Park. The ultimate al fresco experience is a picnic at the Hollywood Bowl. Dress to make nearby celebrities jealous, then nibble daintily at your gourmet takeout and fresh raspberries. Wash down with champagne. And that's before the music under the stars.

Drive-ins. Kids love drive-ins because they can go in their pajamas and talk as much as they want. Adults love drive-ins because they remind them of a time when they went to the movies every weekend and never glanced at the screen. Locals can enjoy a memory fix and a double feature at three of these endangered institutions, in Chatsworth, Simi Valley and Van Nuys.

Back-yard pools. The Valley has more pools than O. J. has lawyers. There may be something better to do with your time than drifting around in your own little sea of turquoise, but by July Fourth, I can't remember what it is. A good float is essential, as is something cool in a plastic glass, something undemanding to read and, for some of us, sunscreen with an SPF so high it should be called Liquid Tarp. Try to reduce your energy expenditure to steady breathing. You can invite your Westside friends over to share the quintessential Valley experience, but why bother? Cooling off is the best revenge.

How sweet is summer in the Valley? Open your windows tonight and breathe in the lush perfume of the jasmine. That sweet.

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