Today’s going to be the hottest day of the year so far—mid 90s with humidity enough to make it feel like 100 degrees or more. (It seems early in the summer for a day like this, but it’s not—in a normal year, we’ve usually had three 90-degree days by mid-June, and this year we haven’t had any.) The air conditioner at our place is not exactly a powerhouse. Last night on Facebook I was wishing it were more bodacious, to which a friend responded, “At least you have air conditioning.” Which is true, but it hasn’t always been true.
Barely Awake in Frog Pajamas took inspiration from yesterday’s heat to remember the summer of 1982—which was the first summer I spent out of college and in the working world. I had a furnished one-bedroom apartment on the second floor of an old building on a city street in Dubuque, Iowa. Its main feature was a series of giant floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out on the street—a southern exposure that turned the place to a furnace on hot days. I could open the windows, but doing so meant that a thin layer of urban grit would settle on everything. And on the hottest night of the summer of 1982, when my bedroom thermometer showed 85 degrees inside at midnight, the worst feature of the place became apparent—the bugs. Centipedes an inch long or bigger started scurrying up the walls and across the ceilings. There may have been only a couple, but it seemed like hundreds. That was the night my girlfriend and I threw some clothes in a bag and headed for the outskirts of town, where we spent $25 on a room at the Motel 6.
I should have been used to the heat, though, because I grew up in a house without air conditioning. We begged for it repeatedly, but we were told that since Dad was a farmer, it wouldn’t be good for him to go back and forth between a nice, cool house and the hot outdoors every day in the summer. (Because we were kids, we bought that line of reasoning, although as soon as the last of us moved out, we noticed how quickly Mom and Dad had it put in.) So we’d cool the place at night by putting a big box fan in a window on the far end of the house to draw outside air into the bedrooms. On some summer nights, this was perfectly satisfactory; on the hottest nights, or when it rained and the windows had to be kept shut, it was no damn good at all. It was always cool in the basement of our house, however, and Mom would periodically tell us to sleep down there if we were uncomfortable in our rooms. But it was only semi-finished; it had that funky damp basement smell, and we knew there were critters at large down there—including centipedes—so we rarely took advantage of it.
It wasn’t until The Mrs. and I moved to Illinois in late 1983 that we had air conditioning, so I guess this summer would be the 25th anniversary of my fully air-conditioned life. I’ll be happy to celebrate that today.