June 11, 2008
Having moved to Hoboken from the South in December, I should have been prepared for the heat. Oh, I've lived up here before -- in Manhattan 20 years ago -- and know that it does get hot.
What I wasn't prepared for was the relief.
When it gets hot in L.A. (that stands for Lower Alabama), it stays hot. If you once lived in sultry, humid deep South and relocated to somewhere else -- anywhere else -- you wonder how anyone ever tolerated the hot summers we had there. I remember talking to an old friend in the mountains of Switzerland. He then lived in Rhode Island, and I lived in Geneva. We were talking about our childhood in L.A.
I said, "It was so humid there! I don't think I was ever completely dry until I was 30 years old."
He said, "I remember one night in particular."
"Oh, yes!" said I. "It was even hot at night! People don't believe me when I tell them how hot it was at night."
"One night I couldn't sleep. We had fans, we had ice water, wet towels, showers, everything we could think of. But this night I woke up so hot nothing worked. I went out in the yard, looking for a breeze."
"I did that too! I remember doing that one night!"
To put a pinpoint on it, this night was probably in August of the year 1951. Maybe 1952. The weather service would have records. I've had the above discussion with a number of friends, all roughly of my vintage, and we all describe one particular sweltering night, late, long after our families were asleep. We were suffering from the unbearable heat. We walked out into our yards, wailed at the moon, or prayed to God for relief, fell into the hammocks or the lawn furniture, yearning for a spot somewhere that was not so still and hot. All the county, to hear us describe it, the lawns must have been swarming with little kids falling into hammocks or leaning on the tire swings and moaning.
We just had four days and nights of that kind of heat -- right here in the Northeast. There are three differences. One, now everything, even homes are air conditioned. Two, the humidity here was 40% or lower, making it more like the Sahara than the rain forest, and three, here it's called a "heat wave" and lasts four days. In Alabama, when it gets hot, it stays that way four months rather than four days. Not that it won't get hot again, but there is always that possibility of a cool snap.
I mostly stayed at home. My friend Cristina and her husband took me to Home Depot Saturday night to buy an air conditioner, they installed it, and I have hardly left it. Monday night I had a date to hear a tribute to Noel Coward at the Algonquin and I decided to take a bus rather than walk the long walk to the trains and suffer on sweltering subway stations, taking the chance of a power problem on the train. Standing at that bus stop for 20 minutes in the hot breezes I questioned the wisdom of my decision. But all went well and I enjoyed the show. The next day I stayed in while the little air conditioner did its best to keep the temp as close to 72 as it could get, and I moved very little.
Then when I woke up this morning I found the longed-for relief. About 73 degrees at the moment, low humidity, and a forecast of a balmy 88. I can take it. And it will be at least another week before we get another heat wave. I can handle this.