Survive the summer
I keep hearing people say this is going to be the coolest summer of the rest of our lives. I don’t want to believe that, and given how weather works, as opposed to climate, that’s probably not true. But even so, it hit us hard this year.
Even before the solstice — June 21, the official start of summer — temperatures topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Minnesota. Roads warped and windshields shattered. In Kansas, more than 2,000 cattle have died from heat stress. In France, temperatures flirted with 110 degrees. Heat records were set across Europe.
It doesn’t feel much worse here than your average Arkansas summer. Which means the air feels sterilized and objects jump out at you in crisp, hawk-eyed delineation. Our friend the sun becomes a raging chemical plague in the sky, an angry white plague in the universe. The electric meters are spinning. Herb fry. Squirrels go crazy, bite each other and weave between brittle trees like kindling.
But we are used to it.
It can be said that Americans invented the myth of summer as a time of thoughtless frolic and leisure; summer is supposed to be vacation time, for lounging on the beach and watching silly blockbusters in air-conditioned darkness. It’s not my favorite time of year, a cruel season that teases the naughtiness of otherwise nice people, when street crime is on the rise. Summer is a methodical bully in a machete-wielding wife-beater, her smile a pulp of gold and blood.
They say the heat can drive you crazy, but what it really does is melt civility. Summer burns the comfortable delusions in which we wrap ourselves; it lets us see things too clearly.
The craziness is still there, but it takes the insistent heat and glare of summer to melt the layers that contain it. Manners are the first to go. Our higher faculties hibernate, shutting down under stress, and we’re left mumbling and bewildered, struggling with a bottle opener or staring at the TV remote, trying to remember the Netflix password.
Summer makes us silly and petty, and sometimes the best thing we can do is try to watch unnecessary shows and stay away from each other.
That’s not to say the season doesn’t have its upsides. The fairways are drying up and if I catch the speed slot on the eighth hole, I could have a four iron in the par five. And you don’t have to worry about black ice.
We manage, eat lighter and shave time from afternoon walks while enjoying more of the temperate mornings. The gym is air conditioned. September is coming, and while it may not bring relief, it heralds October, and 31 years ago it snowed on Halloween.
I can’t remember the last time we took a real summer vacation – we could make it into a weekend – but nothing ambitious. I do not know why; we are no busier in the summer than at other times of the year and in some respects there are fewer commitments. But summer induces lethargy, and the thought of airports (and the price of jet fuel) is enough discouragement. Montreal looks nice, but it’s so far away, and to get there, you have to wait in line.
Summer has its fans: people who love swimming pools and beaches. Children who would rather not be in school.
Summer is different for them. I didn’t mind the summer when all I had to worry about was whether Roberto Clemente could win the batting title. And kids can acclimate better to extreme temperatures, because I didn’t feel it the same way back then.
I remember what must have been brutal summers in Georgia—melting asphalt, tar sticking to my shoes—when I was a kid, but I don’t remember feeling any heat. I’ve been to schools that didn’t have air conditioning, and we complained about it, but after finishing a year, we spent almost the next three months outside, slipping into the ferocity.
The problem is not with the season, or even with the glamorous myth of Beach Boy Endless Summer, but with the reality of sweltering Southern summers. Arkansas summer is a beast – I think it’s harder to bear than a 108 degree summer in the Arizona desert, although that may just be a matter of taste.
A summer in Phoenix is no picnic, and while there’s something to the “dry heat” theory – you kind of feel like you’ve been microwaved like a bunch of jerky there, while we’re enjoying a sort of pressure cooker effect – it’s still an unforgiving season, made worse by the fact that green spaces are relatively scarce in the Valley of the Sun. (The worst thing about a summer in Phoenix is that you can smell it through the leather soles of your shoes, radiating off the sidewalk as an indication of some terrible industrial miscalculation.)
We may not have the worst summer here, but it’s worse than a lot of places.
Maybe it’s not so bad in San Diego. It’s 77 degrees in Cleveland as I write this. Karen remembers her youthful summers there as temperate. Pleasant. Pleasant. (But insufficient reward for the six-month winter.)
I used to look forward to summer, even after it stopped meaning getting out of school and started meaning time to find gainful employment. I tried roofing and telephone solicitation, and neither seemed to work. I was part of an inventory team that worked in supermarkets all over Louisiana and southern Arkansas, then sold shoes at a sporting goods store, worked at a newspaper pulling service, and drove all the roads in the northern half of Louisiana for South Central Bell, marking on a notepad each house I passed, classifying them as inhabited or possibly uninhabited, and whether they were likely to to have telephone service.
I played baseball, American Legion and semi-pro leagues, and finally a season in South America. Summer taught me that I wasn’t willing to do the kind of work I was qualified for outside and that I wasn’t qualified to do the kind of work I was willing to do outside. the outside.
I could hit a little but couldn’t throw or really run – I exhausted my hopes on a converted football field in a country that didn’t put a player in the major leagues until 2012. (Chicago wide receiver Cubs Yan Gomes is the only Brazilian active in MLB; he played high school baseball in Florida.)
Summer, bless her heart, pushed me to work indoors. Forgive me if I sometimes seem ungrateful.