May 18, 2017 by Gregory Josephs
Air-Conditioning or ‘How I Became Weak’
I used to be tough. I could weather a heat wave barely breaking a sweat. Sure, summertime meant a small degree of discomfort, but it was eclipsed by fourth of July fireworks, barbecues, and afternoons at the outdoor pool. It meant fun, freedom and adventure; it was a season to look forward to, and being hot was just part of the experience. . .
Until I discovered air conditioning. Now everything has changed.
Now I am weak.
As eastern Massachusetts sweats through the first heat-wave of the season, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to share my experience.
I didn’t start out this way
The first thing you must understand about me is, I hate to be hot. I don’t hate very many things, but being hot is very near the top of that list. However, when being hot is just a natural occurrence—a part of life a few months a year—a body and a temperament learns to deal with it. With a lack of alternatives, one gives in to the inevitable, and perhaps even embraces it. Such was the case with myself.
As a child who split his summers between Colorado and Wisconsin, I became adept at managing hot, dry heat, and humidity respectively. There was nothing a ceiling fan or a dehumidifier couldn’t accomplish.
At home in Colorado with my parents, I never had to worry about being too warm. Even on a sweltering day, opening the windows of our house yielded a delicious cross-breeze. Then at night, the dry high-desert air couldn’t hold much heat, so the moment the sun went down, so did the mercury in the thermometer.
On days when it was a little humid after all, or just after it rained, one of my great pleasures was to lay on floor of the living room as the ceiling fan spun rapidly overhead, buffeting me with the constant caress of cool, moving air.
Wisconsin proved a bit tougher. Though the temperature wouldn’t rise as much as in Colorado, the humidity was the stuff of legends. Having the windows open didn’t offer much relief on those really muggy nights, but the bedrooms in my grandparents’ home were either on the cooler north side of the house, or in the basement. A cold shower before bed and the gentle hum-drip of a dehumidifier could put me to sleep in minutes.
All of this prepared me well for my eventual move to Massachusetts, where the summers are short but fierce. I ended up living on the second floor of a house—in a bedroom that faced south and west—that refused to let go of its heat. There were some nights in July and August when no combination of ceiling fan or open windows could cool me effectively. I didn’t have a dehumidifier, and the cold shower trick only worked for a few minutes before I needed another one.
These were the nights I learned my true resilience! There was a sort of magic to laying half-awake, barely covered by a single sheet, tossing and turning through the wee hours. I could smell the perfumes of the night wafting through the windows—the flowers and trees and the sweet, damp air. Then, somewhere around four, the temperature would drop to a tolerable level and I’d get a few hours of quality sleep before the sun came up and started beating down on the house again.
Waking up after these mornings, tired and a little sticky, I’d feel the oddest sense of accomplishment. I’d made it through! If I could take on an oppressive, humid summer night and emerge victorious, was there anything I couldn’t accomplish?
I was tough. I was seasoned. I was awesome!
That’s how I’d feel until the next oppressive night. Then I’d just be hot and miserable until I made it through to another morning. My confidence would be refreshed, and so it went, on and on for a few years.
Then I met my husband
Shortly after meeting at the end of March in 2010, our relationship advanced rapidly. By June we were spending most nights together, alternating between our respective houses. It took only a single night, however, at the beginning of the summer to shift that balance forever.
It had rained all morning, and then the sun came out in the afternoon with a vengeance, lifting all that moisture out of the ground, out the leaves of the trees, and into the air. Muggy can hardly describe it. It was thick. It was a sauna that blanketed the entire city.
We were staying at my place that night.
I taught him about cold showers. We tried sleeping with damp washcloths on our foreheads. The ceiling fan was turned up so high it was rocking back and forth. Nothing helped. Nothing worked.
Add to the heat the disruption of another body tossing and turning in my too-firm, too-small bed, and by five in the morning neither of us had slept a wink.
“I don’t know how the hell you do this.” He said. “Now we have to go to work and hope we don’t pass out halfway through the day.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do? It’s hot!”
He sighed in exasperation. “It’s called a goddamned air conditioner! Seriously, haven’t you ever considered—“
“Oh no!” I cut him off. “Do you know how much energy those things use? I’m sure they’re not great for the environment, and they’re definitely not great for my electric bill. Plus, I’m tough.”
“And not sleeping because it’s a million degrees in here is terrible for our sanity! We’re staying at my place tonight. You’ll see.” He laughed. “Tough. That’s the stupidest excuse I’ve ever heard.”
I was more than a little indignant. I was tough. I’d lived almost twenty-six years without an air conditioner, and there was no reason for me to start now. I was strong. I was amazing! The last thing I needed was an AC.
It was clear we weren’t going to see eye to eye, so we dropped the subject and laid there, miserable, for another two hours before it was time to get up.
He kissed me on the way out the door. “I’ll pick you up from work tonight. Remember to pack what you need. We’re staying at mine.”
I rolled my eyes and kissed him back. “Alright. See you tonight.”
I worked until nine that evening, and the heat showed no signs of breaking. When my not-yet husband pulled up in his X-Terra and I climbed in, the AC was cranked all the way up. I shivered happily in spite of myself. The air was delicious. He chuckled a little to himself.
“What was that?” I asked.
“Nothing. You just look a little relieved to be in out of the heat.”
“Come on, let’s go.”
Back at his place we sat on the balcony for a while and nursed a couple gin and tonics. The glasses were sweating profusely, slippery in our hands. “Sure is a scorcher.” He said.
“Maybe even worse than last night.”
After two drinks it was late, and being the middle of the week, we needed to get to bed. Add to this our lack of sleep from the night before, and to use his expression, we were ‘fit to be tied.’ We left the porch and headed inside. I brushed my teeth and headed into the bedroom, which was sweltering, and that’s when I saw it.
There in the window, gleaming white, was a pristine room air-conditioner, just waiting to be switched on.
My not-yet husband pulled back the covers and climbed into bed. “Alright,” he said. “Let’s get to sleep.”
I was sweating, but stubborn. I knew what he was doing. “Alright,” I agreed, as I laid down defiantly beside him. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” I swear he was grinning as he turned off the light.
I don’t know if it was five minutes or an eternity that I debated. I knew he was waiting for me to ask to turn it on. I knew the only obstacle between comfort and discomfort was myself, and I understood that my decision had irreversible repercussions.
Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. To never have tasted the sweet flavor of an August peach is to be blissfully unaware of all you’ve been missing. Once knowledge and experience are acquired—once you know how good a peach can be—how can it ever be unexperienced? Unlearned?
I felt a trickle of sweat run down my forehead and past my ear.
“Turn it on.”
He reached into his bedside table for a remote, pressed a button, and within a minute the room was flooded with cool, delicious air. It was supremely quenching, and I drank it into my lungs as fast and as deeply as I could.
In that moment I realized all my toughness was just bravado—a farce. Why suffer when by the miracle of modern technology, every night in the dead of summer could feel like this?
I don’t know that I’ve ever slept better.
Now I Am Weak
That was seven years ago, and all the tolerance for heat I learned as a child and a young adult has gone. And honestly? I’m just fine with it! I’ve got enough to worry about. I work full time, bike sixteen miles a day, volunteer on a farm, write this blog, I’m self-publishing a novel. . .
Life is full of so many glorious struggles; being comfortable in my own home doesn’t need to be one. Here in Massachusetts we’re in the middle of the first heat wave of the season, and I’ll admit that I felt a little guilty as I put the ACs in this morning. Only a little guilty though, because now even though it’s 91ºF outside, I’m sitting in my dining room in absolute comfort writing this post.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How about your thoughts? Can you live without air-conditioning? Is there another technology you resisted but eventually succumbed to? How do you deal with summer heat? Let me know in the comments below.
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