2007.07.18 Shutting out the summer

Written by David Green.


Now that the 90° days have passed—at least for a little while—perhaps it’s safe to bring up the topic of living with the heat.

I read an essay recently suggesting that air conditioning, in effect, shuts out the summer. It’s July just outside the door. It’s a steamy Midwestern summer on the other side of the closed window. But inside the air conditioned house, it’s a whole new climate, one that isn’t exactly summer.

The essay, written by Oliver Broudy at Salon.com, didn’t say that AC is bad. He didn’t say that we shouldn’t have air conditioners. He just wrote about life without one.

You’d think he just declared allegiance to al-Qaida, judging by the intensity of the letters in response. The reactionary types seemed itching to say that AC is a God-given right of Americans, blah, blah, blah. Others simply thought that Broudy was nuts when he wrote words such as these:

This is summer. In summer we pack up the blankets and sleep beneath sheets. In summer we listen to the leaves. Sometimes we can smell the stone-clear river water on the breeze.

That notion was too much.

• “I don’t believe you have seriously experienced what it is to be hot. Hot all the time. Heatstroke, malaise, and lethargy were the virtues of a summer without air conditioning.”

• “I’m from Memphis and I think you’re insane. People die here from heat. You speak as if there's virtue in losing sleep and being unproductive.”

• “It always amuses me how this tough-it-out attitude attaches to heat. Anyone writing about living through the winter without heating would be regarded as clearly insane. But the fact is heat kills more people every year than all other natural disasters combined—cold, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods. It's nonsense to ignore that. Yet we persist in the idiot notion that the only people who complain about the heat are pampered pantywaists.”

I don’t recall that I’ve ever lived in an air conditioned house. We didn’t have one in the big old house on Cawley Road. We suffered in the summer, or as Broudy might put it, we lived through the summer heat. That’s what was to be expected in July and August.

We had a good window fan that sucked in the cool air at night and made the house comfortable before morning—just in time to heat up again the next day.

When Colleen and I married, we lived above the Observer in the Reporter’s Quarters, possibly the hottest place I’ve lived. We weathered the heat the best we could via the time-honored principle of the dancing molecule.

Evaporation, through the motion of molecules, is a cooling process. When a liquid evaporates, it absorbs energy from the surface and the loss of energy cools the surface.

We sprayed each other with a fine mist of water from a squirt bottle. It was shocking when it first hit, and then as you moved or sat in front of a fan, the water evaporated and the cooling began. It really works, for a few minutes.

Our first couple of cars had no air conditioner, so we used the bottle when we went on trips.

“You need a squirt?”

“Yeah, hit me.”

Whoa! What a shock!

The faster a liquid evaporates, the more pronounced the cooling. With the car windows open, it was a delicious feeling—for a few minutes—and then came another squirt.

We heard a lot of complaints over the years from our kids about the lack of air conditioning in our home. Now there’s only one voice remaining to tell us how odd we are. But we aren’t alone.

Broudy’s “shutting out the summer” words also received several supportive letters.

• “It’s somewhat refreshing for the soul to have it nearly the same temperature outside as inside. You can leave all the doors and windows open and welcome into your home the breeze and noises of outside. And soon enough, your body adapts to living at a hotter, sweatier temperature.”

• “I’m OK with sweating (it’s very good for the skin). It’s easy, it’s pleasant, and I like the seasonal rhythm it creates in my life.”

What wackos.

I’ll admit I’m an oddball on this subject, but like some of Boudy’s crazy supporters, I think that putting up with the heat is just part of life here in this region of the country. I’m not opposed to other people having AC. We have a unit at the office where the night breeze doesn’t get sucked through, but most days we never bother to turn it on.

Here at home, when the heat moves in day after day, I move a little slower, I drink more water, I eat a little less food and I take a shower before bed and don’t dry off.

And, of course, I suffer a little with the heat. But I know it’s summer—I can almost touch it on those humid nights—and that’s really not such a bad feeling.


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