Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Hinges Of Hades








It's hot. It's so hot I could accessorize with pepperoni slices. It's a hundred and fifty degrees in Portland, Oregon, give or take, and that's just not fair. That would be like going to Disneyland, the happiest place on earth, and Mickey Mouse up and gives you a wedgie. It should never happen. It makes me cranky and miserable and also reminds me of asparagus beetles.

Asparagus beetles live only on asparagus plants. They don't have a Plan B. Their function is to take divots out of your fresh asparagus spears. There might be something in it for them, too, I don't know. A long time ago, we had what was probably the only asparagus patch in a couple square miles. It stood tall and proud, waving its feathery fronds, until the first asparagus beetle showed up, followed by a squadron. How did they locate our little asparagus patch? They followed a gradient of asparagus-fume molecules. They found one molecule, then happened onto a direction with a few more, and kept moving towards the areas of greater asparagus fumelet concentration until they were smack into Divot City. Same gradient concept applies to flies on poop. Don't ask me why moths find porch lights. I think that's just a lack of personal brightness.

When I was a child, I did the same thing, following a temperature gradient. I grew up in Arlington, Virginia, where Satan sends the people who are acting up. We could only play in the sprinkler for so long, and then we pitched over in the shade until the chiggers drove us out, when we slithered into the house on a slime trail of unevaporated sweat, and ultimately prostrated ourselves on the kitchen linoleum in front of a black oscillating fan, arms and legs positioned as far away from each other as possible. This would be the last time anything I did reminded anyone of Leonardo da Vinci. We lay sullen and miserable, our tissues softening like carrots in a saucepan.

Mrs. Tangerose was the first person we knew who bought an air conditioner. A whole group of the church ladies walked over to her house to see, and I tagged along. The house felt like ours except for one room, and we walked in and suddenly it was January in the Yukon, our sweat iced over, and we had never been happier in our lives. That room air conditioner did a lot to bolster my belief in God, until we had to leave.

Our plan at home was different. The house was closed up with the shades drawn all day, and then in the evening Daddy would obsessively check the thermometers until the moment when the inside temperature was 90 and the outside was only 89, and then the windows were flung open and the creaky window box fan upstairs was turned on, pointing out. Ahh! By morning we were comfortably down to 86 or so and the house was shut up again, while Daddy went off to work in an air-conditioned office.

Mom was not the complaining sort, but somewhere in the mid-sixties she expressed some interest in a new-fangled central air conditioning system. Daddy stoutly maintained that going from an air-conditioned office to an air-conditioned bus to an air-conditioned house was not good for you. At moments like that, I tended to consider mine a miracle birth.

Women's lib came along and dropped some ideas in Mom's head and one day she took her flawless grammar and spelling and 135 wpm typing skills and got herself a part-time job, and just like that we had central air, just in time for me to leave home. I grew up and headed north, then west, following a temperature gradient, and that's how I ended up in mossy Oregon with the asparagus beetles. Where global warming is fixing to give us a giant wedgie.

24 comments:

  1. Every day this summer I've pondered how people survived in this area before the advent of air conditioning. I have my answer now - not very well.

    Oh, but your dad's behavior sounds familiar! We're always waiting for that moment when, due to some mysterious alignment of cold fronts and warm fronts and storefronts or what-have-you, the humidity suddenly drops. I sound the alarm and the children scurry to open the windows, put in the window fans, etc - whatever it takes to replace the stale indoor air with a fresh breeze of hope. We also have the sunshine drill - mornings, we pull the shades on the east side of our townhouse; afternoons, we shutter the front (west) side against the fiery inferno that is our post-meridian sun.

    I think every family needs its traditions.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Do many people in Oregon have AC? I know it's not a big item north of you in Vancouver where summers are not normally so torrid.

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  3. Well, we know why everyone had a ginormous porch. It was too damn hot to tolerate the house. I think of women in peri-menopause THEN and wonder why more men weren't shot. I am so sick and miserable this summer. It's just... yes, wedgie hot. Perfect descriptor!

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  4. I can't imagine having gone through either pregnancy or goddamn menopause without central air. When all the other women in my office are donning sweaters, I am wiping off the sheen of sweat before it coalesces into a puddle.

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  5. Elizabeth BrewsterAugust 14, 2010 at 7:47 AM

    Such a misguided post, so sad. This summer in Portland is WONDERFUL. I'm barely breaking a sweat. Maybe if I did jumping jacks against a south facing wall for a few hours starting at noon while wearing a black plastic jogging suit....

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  6. I think it's only fair that the rest of the world suffer the same summer as me.

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  7. This summer in Portland was wonderful until yesterday. You go on ahead with your black plastic jogging suit, though.

    Not many people in Portland have AC, screen porches are nonexistent, and nobody really needs AC for more than a few days a year. It always drops to the sixties at night so if you can suck all the air out of the house, you're good to go.

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  8. My parents bought a room AC when I was 4. I had a broken collarbone, which required a plaster cast over both shoulders and almost down to my waist front and back for 3 months. Naturally, it was the hottest summer ever until this one shattered all previous records. We've had 50+ days of 90 degree heat and humidity so far.

    Anyway, I don't think the house had central AC when we moved here. I remember laying in bed with the windows open and listening to the night sounds; crickets chirping, critters prowling, and big rigs shifting gears on Lee Highway, which was a major truck route before the Beltway was built.

    Nowadays, if I open a window, the sound I'm most likely to hear is the neighbors' AC compressor cranking away! Recently, I've become fascinated by a new type of "fan," which claims not to "buffet" you with air, and runs silently, but comes with a hefty pricetag. Google up Dyson Air Multiplier, and see what you think. Stay cool! Elaine

    ReplyDelete
  9. I was a half-block off Lee Highway and Glebe Road. But Daddy took me to practice driving on the brand-new beltway. What was he thinking?

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  10. Great writing, as always. Maybe even a little bit better than usual, which is annoying -- I mean admirable.

    As for pre-air conditioning days, what you describe sounds familiar. When I was a kid we closed all curtains and windows during the day, then opened everything up in the evening, which worked well enough providing you didn't actually want to do anything like move around -- or breathe. I used to soak my head in ice-water then sit in front of the fan. It stuffed up my head and gave me a headache, but on the plus side it cooled me down enough that I could make it to the bathroom for aspirin.

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  11. Now now, Murr, you know very well that we Oregonians suffer from this heat malady only about 10 days a year - most of the summer Seaside and Lincoln City send us their cool weather in the afternoons and evenings. Besides, in Hood River the "wind chill" in the gorge brings the temperature down to about 98 degrees.

    [Written from the comfort of my new home, for the first time in my life, with central air conditioning]

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  12. We put in air conditioning this year in June (something we swore we'd never do just a few years back) because we're gonna get 12 or more 100 degree days a a summer from now on with the global weather shift. Portland, like everywhere, is changing.

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  13. You should have summered in San Francisco. We haven't seen the sun since May 14 and the thermometer has only rarely ventured above 50°. We all walk around in our parkas and Petzls, cursing the perpetual fog.

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  14. I have not subscribed for long, but I have been introduced to your blog, and HAD to subscribe! Love your wit.
    As for the Head Wave, I am sorry for your heat, and you are welcome for the cool evening air... from Lincoln City.

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  15. I thought it was always cold and rainy in Portland? Sorry the weather is giving you a giant wedgie. It's weirdly mild here in Central California. I think you got our hot August weather.

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  16. Murr,this is a delightful post and blog. You have such an easy, conversational style. These are the kinds of stories I love to read and tell.

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  17. All I could think, looking at those church ladies, was, how the Hell did they survive in those nylons and girdles?!

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  18. I guess lots of Portland houses actually do have AC. Even if we could square it with our intermittent ecological consciences though I don't think we'd get it. An ethnic identity thing: native Oregonians just don't do AC.

    Another wonderful post, Murr! I almost forgot about being miserable for a bit :-)

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  19. FrankLee, you're such a good writer that compliments from you are blushifying. Thanks. I will now admit that I went to Mt. Hood on Saturday for prophylactic reasons (preventing crabbiness). Just got back and it's still a hundred and fifty degrees here, but supposed to cool off tomorrow, and the humidity is around 15%. I think the childhood in Arlington gave me permanent whining rights.

    Church ladies, aren't they great? That's Miss Nina on the left, my choir director; I think she was about 110 then, but she was probably fifty. I enjoy having these photos to recycle and especially have been waiting to post the one of my sister and father and me in front of the Peugeot. If that isn't the most sullen group you've ever seen, and Mom had to have been orchestrating that photo. Smile! She probably WAS smiling.

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  20. I recently interviewed a world-class expert on global warming who predicted that within 50 years, the weather in Montreal, Canada will be very similar to today's weather in Miami, Florida. As a result, I've purchased all the available land in the Arctic Circle and will one day be rich beyond my wildest dreams when it becomes the new Hawaii.

    ReplyDelete
  21. FrankLee, you're such a good writer that compliments from you are blushifying. Thanks. I will now admit that I went to Mt. Hood on Saturday for prophylactic reasons (preventing crabbiness). Just got back and it's still a hundred and fifty degrees here, but supposed to cool off tomorrow, and the humidity is around 15%. I think the childhood in Arlington gave me permanent whining rights.

    Church ladies, aren't they great? That's Miss Nina on the left, my choir director; I think she was about 110 then, but she was probably fifty. I enjoy having these photos to recycle and especially have been waiting to post the one of my sister and father and me in front of the Peugeot. If that isn't the most sullen group you've ever seen, and Mom had to have been orchestrating that photo. Smile! She probably WAS smiling.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Every day this summer I've pondered how people survived in this area before the advent of air conditioning. I have my answer now - not very well.

    Oh, but your dad's behavior sounds familiar! We're always waiting for that moment when, due to some mysterious alignment of cold fronts and warm fronts and storefronts or what-have-you, the humidity suddenly drops. I sound the alarm and the children scurry to open the windows, put in the window fans, etc - whatever it takes to replace the stale indoor air with a fresh breeze of hope. We also have the sunshine drill - mornings, we pull the shades on the east side of our townhouse; afternoons, we shutter the front (west) side against the fiery inferno that is our post-meridian sun.

    I think every family needs its traditions.

    ReplyDelete
  23. You should have summered in San Francisco. We haven't seen the sun since May 14 and the thermometer has only rarely ventured above 50°. We all walk around in our parkas and Petzls, cursing the perpetual fog.

    ReplyDelete
  24. My parents bought a room AC when I was 4. I had a broken collarbone, which required a plaster cast over both shoulders and almost down to my waist front and back for 3 months. Naturally, it was the hottest summer ever until this one shattered all previous records. We've had 50+ days of 90 degree heat and humidity so far.

    Anyway, I don't think the house had central AC when we moved here. I remember laying in bed with the windows open and listening to the night sounds; crickets chirping, critters prowling, and big rigs shifting gears on Lee Highway, which was a major truck route before the Beltway was built.

    Nowadays, if I open a window, the sound I'm most likely to hear is the neighbors' AC compressor cranking away! Recently, I've become fascinated by a new type of "fan," which claims not to "buffet" you with air, and runs silently, but comes with a hefty pricetag. Google up Dyson Air Multiplier, and see what you think. Stay cool! Elaine

    ReplyDelete