The Rear End

THE REAR END: A Teenager in the Summer

Heart aflutter, driving too fast with the windows rolled down

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner |

Here's a silly thing to do in the summertime.

Be a teenager in the 1990s with a summer job where you drive down a twisty, hilly country highway to and from work. Be late to work and drive way too fast. Be eager to get home after a long, hard day and drive way too fast. Let your mind wander and drive way too fast. 

Here’s something even sillier to do in the summertime. 

Back there in the 1990s, when you’re doing all that treacherous driving, dig through a pile of Compact Discs to find the perfect Dave Mathews album (or the perfect Toad the Wet Sprocket track) to match your overdramatic, cringey teenage mood. Wrestle a disc from its jewel case and into your portable Discman which is tethered by a tangle of wires to your car’s cassette tape deck and the cigarette lighter. As you swoop around sharp curves and over blind rises in the road. As you drive too fast. All the windows rolled down. The summertime air exploding all around you.

Also, be driving a little stick shift pickup truck.

So silly.

think about how beautiful this one light-green field looks in the late-day sunlight. think about describing this field to a person you really like, but to whom you can barely speak.

mike paulus

Think about how beautiful this one light-green field looks in the late-day sunlight. Think about describing this field to a person you really like, but to whom you can barely speak. How romantic. Imagine telling them how much prettier they are than a field of grass alongside the highway, your heart aflutter.

Get lucky – never crash into another car, the ditch, or a stout, 100-year-old oak tree. 


Let the sun go down on another summer day. Another day in a long, long line of hot, dusty, identical days where you work really hard getting bug bites and sunburns and you never move any closer to talking to that one person you really like. 

Let the stars rise up over the dark pine trees on the horizon. Get showered and get back into your truck to drive through town. Let your arm haaaaang out the window. 

Fire up the CD player and listen. Listen hard, like you need those songs to keep breathing. Like Counting Crows and REM and Live are out there fighting to keep you alive. (With the good songs, obviously, not the stuff on the radio.)

You can listen to all the music you like. The little laser in your Discman could burn a hole right through your favorite CD, and right through the bench seat in your pickup truck, and right through the car’s floor to the asphalt below. Your cassette tape adapter could melt down right there in the tape deck, melt beneath the heavy heat of your lonely heartache. 

You’ll still end up back at home, back in bed, falling asleep as you think about whomever. As you think about all the money you’ve been making. And about how you never know what to spend it on. 

What a silly thing to do in the summertime. 

That job is long gone. And so is the pickup truck. And the heartache. All of it is like a movie you used to watch as a kid. You’d rent it on VHS for some Friday night fun, and then you’d get up on Saturday and watch it on a loop for the rest of the day. You can still quote a line or two, but you mostly remember how it made you feel. 

Many years later, you listen to all those songs again. You think about how you don’t care anymore about what people think of them. Yeah, they’re kinda cheesy. Kinda corporate. Kinda whatever. 

But they’re still pretty good.