It wasn't all bad: our favorite things from summer 2016


The summer of 2016 will not be remembered fondly.

From the first of May to the final days of August, news anchors struggled to keep their heads above water as the world flooded with problems: international absurdity and domestic tragedy, a nauseating presidential election and a ceaseless sprinkling of celebrity deaths. The only thing hotter than the suffocating heat wave was the scorched earth takes of righteous pundits. Within a day, social media would cycle through phases of a little brother on a long road trip: being irritating, insufferable, exhausting, and snarky.

But what about the good times? On September 1st, we look back and recognize the summer wasn't all bad. In fact, there was plenty of goodness to be enjoyed, tiny reliefs from a world on fire. What about being with family and friends? What about cutting pizza with scissors? What about that dude from Mr. Robot's identical twin brother?

To say goodbye to summer with love in our hearts, we've collected our favorite things from this difficult season.

This video, Lizzie Plaugic

Nearly all the joy I’ve experienced this summer can be traced to a single video, and it’s one I can’t really summarize in words. I could describe it with a facial expression, maybe, but you can’t see my face right now. Something about it hits right on the "good stuff" part of the internet. If you get it, you get it, and if you don’t, well, you don’t. I can’t tell you why this is good.

I can list some things that are good that also happen to appear in this video, which was created by Tumblr user daftqunk. 1) Rami Malek, brooding protagonist of USA’s Mr. Robot and a man with a mouth deserving of its own Renaissance painting. 2) Rami Malek’s twin, who is both a surprise and a joy and delightfully shy about the Tonight Show cameras glaring at him. 3) A man who rubs his face in disbelief and perhaps arousal, mimicking all our reactions to seeing two hot people who also happen to look similar at the same time. 4) A club remix of Fun’s "We Are Young" (the song's original version is so dull that it's not only inoffensive but ineffectual as anything but background noise.)

Even if it doesn’t quite make sense for you, even if it doesn’t quite click, there’s one remaining measure of its universal quality: if you watch it once, you’ll have to watch it again. This is the video equivalent of the Salt and Vinegar potato chip, and I would like a whole bag please.

My blue park blanket that folds into a bag, Ashley Carman

My mom bought me a blue park blanket that folds into a bag for my birthday this year. That was in May. It's September now, and when I think about this past summer, my blue park blanket that folds into a bag comes to mind.

I don't use the blanket for anything extraordinary; it’s simply a blanket I bring to parks because it’s easy to carry in its bag form. I use it for picnics and public sleeping. The first time I brought it out with me, I ate an acai bowl and finished a crossword on it. For some reason, a swarm of flies hovered over me the entire day and followed me around the park. I tried to relocate multiple times but was eventually forced to go home because of the flies. It was easy to escape, what with the blanket becoming a bag at a moment's notice.

When I unwrapped the park blanket that folds into a bag, with my mom standing next to me, I wasn’t thrilled, really. I was sort of like, Wow okay mom thanks but what is this? But sometimes you realize your mom knows what’s up and that she is well aware of your needs before you are. Love you, Mom.

Cutting pizza with scissors, Ale Potenza

I waited a half hour in the hot and muggy summer night for a seat at Franny's. The pizzeria, right outside Prospect Park, smelt of crunchy dough, and almost tricked me into believing I was back in Italy where I was born and where I lived most of my life before moving to New York.

The yeasty air reminded me of my old home, but what happened next transported me there: our pizza was served with scissors. Big scissors with black, plastic handles. That's exactly how we cut pizza in my family in Italy, but I hadn’t seen it in the states. Scissors are the superior tool for cutting through layers of mozzarella, prosciutto, and arugula. They create a perfect slice, filled with ingredients, while also giving you a weirdly rewarding feeling, like creating an arts and crafts project for your growling stomach.

In New York, I’ve come to learn it's always the small, seemingly insignificant things that we can find that feeling of being home away from home.

Of course, I recommend you give scissors a try for your next pizza. I'm not sure whether slicing pizzas with scissors is an Italian thing, or just something we do in my family. I've never seen it done in restaurants, other than at Franny's. But believe me, you won’t regret this. Throw away those round pizza cutters that never get through the crust. Stow away the knife and fork. Bring scissors to the pizza party. Start your own, new tradition.

Chance the Rapper’s "3" baseball cap, Kaitlyn Tiffany

I ordered my Coloring Book hat from my phone, in the waiting room of a gynecologist office. I had been waiting for over an hour past my appointment time and feeling like there’s no greater injustice in this world than having a vagina and being forced to care for it. I deserved a hat, I decided arbitrarily. That’s the first thing they should teach you about being a woman: no one is going to compensate you for it, so you should develop an eagerness to compensate yourself.

It was a long, difficult summer for me for a lot of reasons, and my Coloring Book hat served me more consistently than most friends. Even really good friends can't be in physical contact with your person at any hour of the day or night!

I used it to cover my face while I cried cinematically on a Red Hook pier. I used it to keep my hair out of my eyes while I ran laps around Prospect Heights, trying to milk as many endorphins out of a daily workout regimen as possible. I wore it to remind myself, obviously, of Chance the Rapper’s third mixtape: Coloring Book. It’s a mixtape that is equal parts uncontainable joy and quiet mourning. I wore it to project to the barista at Starbucks and the teens on the street and the older, confident ladies in my spin class that there is at least one thing in this world I really, really like.

I highly recommend a hat this summer, especially a hat inscribed with a thing you like. My one and only gripe is, from the running, crying, and living, my hat now smells terrible. Does anyone have experience with washing hats?

Big pink wigs and alien sexuality, Tasha Robinson

This summer, the always unpredictable floodgates of Cartoon Network’s terrific show Steven Universe reopened, and the fandom suddenly got a big new pool of episodes in which to swim. This show makes me happy all on its own, because it’s such a wonderful, unique experience: it mixes joy, science-fiction drama, kid-show absurdity, and an intensely particular and specific worldview all in the same pastel-colored package. Steven Universe is deeply emotional about the relationships between space aliens who are also immortal sentient female gemstones, often involved in passionate relationships with each other, while locked in a state of unending war. It’s one of the most emotionally mature TV shows out there, even though it frequently features superheroes whaling on or screaming at one another.

But I get just as much joy from watching the show’s passionate, creative fandom engage with the show. There’s a lot of tremendous fan art coming out of the SU community, and the show’s devotion to breaking the usual gender / skin-tone / body-type molds for superhero protagonists has given cosplayers a lot to work with. Lately I’ve just been hanging out in Google Image Search, looking at pictures of the show’s huge queen-figure Rose Quartz, and all the ways cosplayers portray her, which usually involves giant pink wigs, poofy white dresses, and great big attitude.

And on top of that, for a show about magical gem-girls and the sweet, nurturing half-gem boy they adopt, Steven Universe is surprisingly sophisticated about rape, consent, and abusive relationships. And it’s set off endless online conversations about how to recognize and deal with abusers, and what a healthy relationship looks like. I don’t agree with a lot of stances being taken around the show, but wow, do I love the fact that the young people who need to have these conversations are having them. The only thing better than a smart, sweet piece of well-crafted entertainment is one that sparks things even bigger and better than itself.

The color yellow, Andrew Marino

My favorite thing of this summer has to be the color yellow. The earliest memory I have for this fondness: it’s early June and I’m slouching through midtown Manhattan, immunized from countless daily commutes to the thrill of Times Square. What catches my eye is a mannequin. Posed in a Gap window display, the bald plastic body wears bermuda shorts, a light tee, and a yellow hat.

A yellow hat! I hadn’t seen one in the wild since I bought my fifth grade wardrobe at Old Navy. The yellow pops through the hubbub, like a kernel of buttery popcorn. And it hits me: I don’t see yellow nearly enough.

Since that moment, I’ve wanted more yellow in my life. I changed my avatar on Twitter to have a yellow background. I changed my phone wallpaper to my new favorite color, too. Then my watchface. My tablet. I considered getting a yellow Chromebook, but didn’t because I’m a grown-up and I can’t buy a computer just because it’s yellow. Or can I? When Pokémon Go hit, I picked Team Instinct for only one reason, clearly. I started eating more bananas. Did I want ketchup or mustard on my hot dog? The answer was obvious. I work in front of a computer screen, and yet I couldn’t think of a website or app that I use featuring the color yellow, and so I finally gave Snapchat a chance, adding it’s yellow logo to my smartphone.

And I bought that hat.

As I await the start of fall, the trees will turn yellow and continue my obsession. But once leaf-peeping is over, it’ll all be brown and I’ll have to move on. I think preserving yellow for the summer is the right thing to do. Next year, I can be nostalgic for yellow, the color of summer 2016 that took me back, through a hat, to the fifth grade.

The dab, Dami Lee

Like all performance art, "the dab" lives and dies in the craft of its performer. After dabbing went mainstream in 2015, the body motion was co-opted by awkward bosses, thirsty brand mascots, and confused parents. Which is to say it died. But this summer, the move has been resuscitated with a new batch of magnificent dabbers.

Cue my Summer of Dabs™, starting with the adorable contestants of the Scripps spelling bee, dabbing up a storm in May, and ending with these reptiles and amphibians joining in on the dance craze in July.

Michael Katz, my SB Nation colleague and fellow appreciator of animals accidentally dabbing, informed me that the song in this Vine is "Shooting Stars" by the Bag Raiders. I wonder if the members of the Bag Raiders ever imagined they would one day play a crucial role in such a precious meme, and in my personal journey of expanding my skillsets.

Inspired by the perfect pairing of this hilarious song with a potent fade transition, I knew Photoshop wasn’t going to be enough to recreate a Vine of this magnitude. I downloaded Premiere, ready to set the song to a clip of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton dabbing with the same visuals. I was immediately overwhelmed by the confusing interface. In way over my head, I silently admitted a temporary defeat. Now Premiere looms on my ever-growing list of things I will learn how to do someday. Though I have a history of briefly being inspired by a thing, then quickly losing interest in said thing (in high school I bought a $1 guitar on eBay with $27 shipping to learn to play a Green Day song. I learned three power chords, then called it quits), I really mean it this time! You can expect to see a Vine with masterful cinematography from me sometime this fall.

Sawako Ariyoshi’s The Doctor’s Wife, Chris Plante

I savored books in high school. I credit my English teacher, Mrs. Hitman, who defied the mandatory curriculum. While other students read Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway, our class feasted on Wole Soyinka, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Sawako Ariyoshi. The latter wrote The Twilight Years, a novella that introduced me, a teenage boy in a Missouri suburb, to a young Japanese woman who showed me a template for emotional strength and endurance by caring for her absent husband and senile father-in-law. That book was a syringe of empathy injected directly into my self-centered, entitled 15-year-old male heart.

Years later, while living as a writer in New York City, I began to feel socially obligated to keep up with trendy literary fiction. Sometimes I enjoyed what I read, but most of the time, large books felt like a treadmill I could eventually conquer in 45-minute jogs. "Read" became a recurring appointment on my Google Calendar.

I finally fell back in love with fiction this summer, when I thought, midway through the latest anxiety-dump from Don DeLillo, to search for Sawako Ariyoshi’s other books on Amazon. With a click, I ordered the first result: The Doctor’s Wife. Like The Twilight Years, the novella is a fly-on-the-wall view of a young woman’s role in a marriage complicated by a particularly difficult parent. It is so many other things, too: a history of early Japanese medicine, a lyrical chronicle of a quietly beautiful life, and a guttural scream against erasing women and crediting their accomplishments to men.

I cherish this book, but more so, I am grateful for how it’s rekindled my love of reading. I’ve returned to the book-a-week pace of my teenage years. Some of those books are unquestionably trendy — The Underground Railroad has Oprah’s seal of approval — but I also make time to read things that aren’t on the unwritten required-reading list. Mrs. Hitman taught me that lesson 15 years ago, but I’ve only learned it now.