Sunday, August 23, 2009

Some like it hot

posted Sun, 11 Jul 2004

The biggest challenge facing mankind today is not the Iraq war or AIDS or the fate of the golden-throated worm warbler but controlling of the temperature in public spaces to everyone’s satisfaction.

When I worked in Miami, I had to buy a space heater to keep under my desk. July in Miami and I was freezing at work. Whose idea was it to make all the exterior walls windows? “Solar power! Think of the money you’ll save on heating!” I can hear the architect urging the Ryder executives. Yes, all two weeks of the year you actually need to use heat in Miami. To compensate the rest of the time, they kept the air conditioner at about 40 degrees. Don’t buy stock in that company. Not very good decision making, if you ask me.

In my two years in Miami, I used my air conditioner at home only three times – and that was because I had company. I spent most of the day freezing at work. By the time I got home, the temperature had always dropped and there was a nice breeze off the ocean. I’d open the windows and turn on the ceiling fans and voila! the perfect temperature.

When I moved here and heard people say, with completely straight faces, “If you can make it through the summer, the weather isn’t too bad,” I rolled my eyes. I lived in Panama for three years and Houston for six. Show me someplace on earth – where people live on purpose – that it gets hotter or muggier than either of those two places and I will give you a dollar.

I have been in M’town for almost five years. I have yet to experience what I would consider an unbearable summer. They complain when the temperature rises above 90 degrees and the humidity above 40 percent. Amateurs! It is to laugh. When I started graduate school in Austin, I made the mistake of riding my bike to school. The temperature exceeded 112 degrees every day the first week of classes. In Houston, during my first week of college, I changed clothes three times a day because I was unused to having such soggy garments. I stopped when I realized that clean, dry, neatly-folded clothes weren’t miraculously reappearing in my drawers after I had thrown them in the clothes hamper.

I scoff at the general public, yet it is between Harpo and me that this issue takes on titanic proportions. I hate to be cold. Hate it. I get cold a lot faster than other people do. My body temperature runs a degree below normal. I have been called an iguana to my face. I can take heat a lot better than I can take cold. My mom says she has a two-degree range in which she is comfortable; I am not that bad, but I know my range starts at a higher temperature than most.

But I don’t whine about being cold nearly as much as Harpo does about being hot. For a man who grew up in Miami, he sure is a big baby about heat.

He especially hates being in my house in the summer. “Why don’t you use your air conditioner?” he pleads. Because I hate to be cold, that’s why. I think people should learn to live with the seasons. That means in the summer, you wear lighter clothing, move more slowly, and drink a lot of lemonade.

And because I am a thrifty Slovak who would rather watch all my blood drip out of my body drop by drop than pay for something as ridiculously extravagant as air conditioning. Not when I have a perfectly good attic fan that keeps my house quite comfortable, thank you very much. If it does get too hot on a Sunday afternoon, I go to a movie. At least then I am getting something tangible for my air-conditioning spend.

When we were in Colorado last month, Harpo was as happy as a pig in mud. The weather was cool and rainy. The rainy part wasn’t so great, but he loved that it was not hot. I, on the other hand, had to run the heater in my mom’s bathroom before I took my shower and still couldn’t shave my legs. Well, I could have, but I would have turned them into a bloody mess. Gillette, you want a product innovation idea? Invent a blade that will shave smoothly on top of goosebumps without drawing blood.

Yesterday, Harpo and I went out to dinner. I made the mistake of wearing a tank top – in July! What was I thinking? When we got inside the restaurant, I realized I was going to perish of cold. I tried warming myself by rubbing my bare arms, but that didn’t work. I finally asked Harpo if he minded if we moved to a table in the sun (we were the only ones in the restaurant). His mouth was full of chips when he answered, but I’m pretty sure he said no, he didn’t mind.

I moved the silverware, the napkins, the water, the chips and the salsa. Then I moved myself. In the middle of all this, he got very grouchy. (He is prone to doing that with no notice at all. Nothing at all with my just up and moving the table.) “Why do I have to sit on the side with the sun coming into my eyes?” he asked. I told him I would switch sides with him, but he didn’t want that. Then I suggested that we just move back to the original table because frankly, if it was going to make him this cranky, I’d rather just be cold. No, he didn’t want to do that, either.

By now, the waiter figured out that something was going on. He asked if I was cold. When I told him yes, he turned the air conditioner completely off. In about five minutes, my area in the sun was like an oven. That was when my hot soup arrived.

I knew Harpo was waiting for me to complain about it being too hot so he could pounce, so I said not a word. I would eat a bit, take a sip of the ice water that had heretofore been unwelcome, then push my chair back so I was no longer in the sun.

I even managed to encourage him to order dessert. He didn’t think he wanted any at first! You’d think he’d know the rules by now. I had a few bites of fried ice cream, then waited patiently for him to finish.

When we got into his car, he cranked the air conditioner, as I knew he would, and I was able to return to a comfortable body temperature for about two minutes. When we got to my house, he started moping about the heat again. But I finally figured out the answer.

I have been inside his new place three times since he moved in last September. He doesn’t want me over there until he has had a chance to get things in order. I told him that when we are in his house, he can run the air conditioning as much as he wants. That should get him motivated.

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