If the seasons were in a competition for best time of year (which, let's face it, they are), fall would always win. Fall has the superior weather (warm but not hot, cool but not cold), the superior color palette for foliage (green, gold, red, orange, and not much pollen to trigger allergies), the superior clothing accessories (boots, scarves, cardigans), as well as the superior holidays (Halloween and Thanksgiving). But in order to get to the crisp, golden, refreshing days of fall, we have to squeeze through the sweaty, sun-bleached, sticky days of summer. Here are a few products and suggestions to help you get through the long season of picnics, rooftop barbecues, perspiration, general use of sleeveless shirts, and bombastic action movies that stretches before you:
Plastic Spray Bottle With Fan Necklace (orientaltrading.com, $19.95 per dozen)
In the hierarchy of embarrassing things you could wear around your neck, a spray bottle with a personal fan attached falls somewhere between a replica of Flava Flav's clock and a flashlight pen. Still, having one of these fans swinging around your neck during summertime is at least understandable. When you're in public, and you mist your face with a personal fan like a grocery clerk spraying vegetables in the produce section, yes, people will judge you. But they'll probably also be jealous both of the cool air hitting your dewy face and of the brimming self-confidence you obviously have to wear such a ridiculous contraption in public.
Frozen Vodka Watermelon (prices vary for the components at grocery stores and liquor stores everywhere)
Watermelon, that oblong thing at least one person brings to every summer picnic, is kind of disgusting. It's sickly sweet and extremely sticky, plus it requires spitting for proper consumption. (Seedless watermelons are science experiments, not watermelons.) But the addition of one simple ingredient fixes at least one of those problems. By cutting a hole in the top of your watermelon, sticking a bottle of vodka upside down in it, letting the alcohol slowly seep into the fruit, and then shoving the whole thing into the freezer, you can cut the sickly sweetness of watermelon by at least half. It will still be sticky, and it'll still require spitting, but you'll be so drunk, you'll hardly be able to tell.
Merimekko for H&M; (hm.com, prices vary)
Clothing in summertime should be disposable (gauzy sundresses, T-shirts you can sweat through, plastic flip-flops bought on a whim) and really, really loud: disposable because it's too hot to wear clothes, so why spend money on them, and really, really loud because the sun has pretty much burned out everyone's retinas, and they won't even be able to see drab clothes. In these respects, Finnish textile company Merimekko has produced the perfect line of summer clothes for H&M.; The dresses are cheap enough that you can throw them away in September, and the patterns are so bright and ridiculous, they practically generate their own strobe light. When else is it going to be acceptable for you to walk around wearing what looks like a tablecloth with the 1960s exploded all over it? Take advantage now.
Mindless entertainment (hulu.com, free with your employer's Internet connection)
People get stupider in the summer. That's just a fact. Our brains overheat in the humidity, sweat leaks into our synapses, and it becomes impossible to think about anything but going outside, lounging in the shade somewhere, and spacing out. This is why summer office hours exist. But if your employer doesn't let you leave early on Fridays, you can still take mental summer hours with the help of Hulu.com. Around 2 p.m. on Friday, simply go to Hulu and start watching the stupidest thing you can find—Temptation Island, Solitary, Son Of The Beach—until you're allowed to leave for the day. Your employers have your body in summer, but if your office has an Internet connection and you have headphones, they don't have to have your mind.
Scratch-off lottery games (convenience stores everywhere, $1-$5)
Every summer needs a project, some kind of simple goal to while away the hot, hot hours: planting a garden, reading a certain book you've been meaning to read, hanging some of those paper lanterns in the backyard, finding a suitable summer fling, etc., etc. This year, why not make your summer project winning a million dollars? Buy a few scratch-off lottery games every week, go sit on a bench in the park, and start scratching. It's practically exercise.
American Teen (in theaters July 25, $10.50 or less)
Summer belongs to kids. It's when they run around, enjoy their freedom from school, and are filmed for MTV shows about life at fat camp. But instead of interacting with summer-happy teens, why not coolly observe them in documentary form? Nanette Burstein's American Teen follows a group of high-schoolers in Indiana through their senior year, so going to see it this summer will satisfy your high-school nostalgia quotient, fulfill your "Kids these days " worry quota, and help you meet your refreshing movie-theater air-conditioning requirement.
Reasonably sized sunglasses (Rite Aid, $9)
Sunglasses get bigger and more exophthalmic each year, occasionally covering the entire face and turning wearers into human mosquitoes. Why this happens is unclear, especially considering that the sun remains pretty much the same size from summer to summer. This year, resist the gigantism that pervades sunglasses-dom. Scale back and purchase sunglasses that cover the eyes and keep out the sun, but that don't weigh 15 pounds and stretch from your upper lip to your hairline.
Savage Lovecast (iTunes.com, free)
Is there a better soundtrack to a lazy walk around the park on a warm summer afternoon, with the sunlight filtering through the trees and dappling shadows on the green grass, than hearing someone ask a question like "Is piss-play safe?" on a frank sex-advice podcast? Probably. But listening to the Savage Lovecast while walking around shapes your surroundings like nothing else. Why? Everyone who calls in to the podcast is anonymous, so everyone you see while listening to it becomes a potential caller, and the whole world becomes a fun game of "Guess The Kink." Is that guy with the acoustic guitar the weird wet-dream guy? Is the girl walking the Boston terrier the grammar fetishist? Is the old lady in the floppy hat the sister of the public masturbator? For all you know, they probably are.
Barbara Walters and a dunk tank (Barbara Walters, $50,001 and up, allamericanspeakers.com; dunk tank, $1,500 and up, rentalhq.com)
If there's any time of year to rent a celebrity and a dunk tank, it's summer. Why? There are so many outdoor gatherings in summer that are in dire need of fresh entertainment. People can only eat and drink so much before they start to fight or leave. As a good host, you must plan other activities. Karaoke? Played out. Setting up a movie screen, a projector, and Rock Band? One step above played out. A Slip 'N Slide? Those things chafe. Just think about how great your rooftop barbecue would be if you rented Barbara Walters and a dunk tank to amuse your guests between helpings of grilled hot dogs and corn on the cob. In fact, in a perfect world, you'd be able to rent both from the same website. In her new book, Audition: A Memoir, Barbara Walters claims to have never perspired. Find out if that's true when she's sitting on the bench of a dunk tank in 90-degree heat at your backyard barbecue.[pagebreak]
IMAX (prices and movies vary)
When you step into an IMAX theater in the middle of summer, you might as well be walking into a spaceship: It's dark, freezing, and pod-like, it often requires special goggles, and it's very easy to imagine being carried off to a cold, dark, remote part of outer space that doesn't smell like stale sunscreen. Of course, spaceships generally don't host summer-camp field trips or have stroller sections, but where else would you rather be in the long, dead hours of a summer afternoon? Out there on the streets? Where the humidity clings to you like a sheet soaked in marmalade, and everyone's shifty-eyed and edgy because they can't even remember what a breeze felt like, and the tourists are blocking every intersection with their sweaty, khakied bodies? No. At the IMAX, you're safe: It's just you, the powerful air-conditioning, 70 kids from some day camp, and the massive 3D sharks swimming right toward you from the screen.
Pig cooking lid (Momastore.org, $18)
Every summer, you have to buy something from Japan. Sorry, those are just the rules. You could go the boring route, and buy electronics, or the obvious route, and buy manga, or the edibles route, and buy Pocky, but then you're denying yourself the treasure trove of complete Japan-based weirdness that you could proudly own and display all summer long. For example, there's this "pig cooking lid" for sale as part of the MoMA store's Destination Japan collection. A soft, white silicone lid with a pig's ears and snout emerging from the center? It perfectly straddles the line between disgusting and adorable. Also, it's useful. When you make potato salad for a picnic this summer (which you probably will; summer is long, and potato salad is needed), you can carry it to the park in a bowl with this lid on top. Once there, you can worry and amuse the small children surrounding the food by telling them a pig is trying to push its way out of the bowl. Then, while they're distracted, you can grab the first hot dog, fresh off the grill, for yourself.
Smart Car Fortwo (budget.com, rental rate varies)
The Smart Car Fortwo is tiny: It has room for two people, the contents of their pockets, and nothing more, and it looks like a Mini Cooper sawed in half. Basically, it's a joke you can drive, and therefore the perfect car to rent for that road trip you were going to take this summer. When you pull up to that olde-tyme general store on the outskirts of the woods near the cabin you and your friend (no one else will fit) have rented to escape the punishing heat for the weekend, the weird kid sitting on the porch will probably be so intrigued by your tiny car, he'll do slow-mo karate and shout "Pancakes!" without biting you. And since you'll only be able to squeeze one other person in the Smart Car with you, the chances of having to lock someone in a shed because of a bout of highly contagious, flesh-eating-bacteria "cabin fever" are greatly reduced.
Airzooka Air Gun (thinkgeek.com, $12.99 or free if your employer gave you a $50 gift certificate to thinkgeek.com for Christmas for some reason)
The Airzooka is exactly what it sounds like: a bazooka that shoots air. It's shaped like a megaphone, surprisingly loud, and very, very powerful—capable of launching a huge gust of air 10 feet away. In other words, it's the perfect gun to play Russian roulette with at a late-August picnic in 98-degree weather while you and your friends are sitting in the park, practically suspended in mid-air because of the humidity. Normal, organic breezes don't work in summer. You need a gun to shoot air directly at your face in order to cut through the humidity and remind you of what it's like to have skin that breathes instead of sweats. The Airzooka is also a much better weapon than a water gun to bring to a pool party. Gather your friends around, point the Air Gun at the surface of the pool, and shoot—it's like a small air cannonball. Everyone gets splashed, which is really what summer is all about: drenching everyone with water at an outdoor gathering so you all have to walk around damp and uncomfortable together. After all, only together will we get through the horrors of summer. Start planning your pool parties, picnics, and other occasions for outdoor drinking now.