Dawn breaks Saturday as a horrific heat wave holds the Northeast United States, including dear Philadelphia, in a python’s embrace.
I’m out early to buy print cartridges at Staples, then “oral products” at CVS (I have a coupon, of course). It’s not too bad on the street, but I know it will get worse. I plan to stay in, working on filing material I brought home when I left my office for the last time.
Late in the day I notice the Canadian-built Skymark air-conditioner that cools my condo unit is laboring.
It sounds all right, but although the thermostat is set at 74, the room temperature is 79, then 80, then 82 …
Today it is stuck at 84 and that is uncomfortable.
Last night it was 82. I could barely dry myself after a shower because the humidity was so high. The dog was moving from spot to spot on the cool floor, and once I hit the bed, I was moist. Not good.
Now it is Sunday. I call three different HVAC companies that service my building and leave messages. It’s Farenheit 84 in my living room and I don’t expect I will hear from any of them until Monday.
I make a quick Acme run Sunday morning and I break a sweat putting the groceries away. I brace open my condo door to let in some air because the hallway is cooler than my unit.
I finish the newspaper, put on the Phillies and take some time to think about heat and air-conditioning and what a blessing it is, blessing not being too strong a word.
But first — my Fahrenheit 84 headline is a small tip of the hat to Fahrenheit 451, the novel by Ray Bradbury about a future society where books are banned because they contain bad ideas. Like cable TV today.
Books are torched by firemen. (Paper ignites at Fahrenheit 451.) I recommend the book or movie.
I am not giving much away if I tell you there was no air-conditioning in the South Bronx tenement where I grew up. We could not use a room unit, assuming we could afford one, because we lived on the ground floor and a window a/c unit would have been an invitation to burglars. The Brooklyn public housing project we moved to when I was in high school had central air. Paradise!
Back in The Bronx, the Ace movie theater on Southern Boulevard near my home hung out a big banner in the summer that said “Air Cooled.”
You know what that meant? A huge fan in each of the four corners of the theater. “Air Cooled,” not “Air-Conditioned.” So you looked for a seat near a fan.
My first newspaper job, at New York’s World-Telegram and Sun, also was cooled by fans, which meant piles of papers were held down by lead slugs that came from Linotype machines that set type. Windows in the newsroom were flung open, which admitted some cool breezes, and many unpleasant insects.
Since there was no air-conditioning, children played outdoors where generally it was cooler than the apartment. Rotating fans helped a little, but not that much. Ditto floor fans.
I remember being in bed, sweating, waiting for sleep to come. I dreamed of someday being so well-off I could live in air-conditioned comfort.
I thought I got there, but here I am, sweating in Fahrenheit 84.
Without air-conditioning, the movie industry would not have moved to Hollywood from New York.
Without air-conditioning, the retirement Mecca might be the Poconos rather than Florida.
Without air-conditioning, the entire Southwest would have remained cactus and tumbleweed, with bumpkin-filled towns along the Interstate.
I want to dream up some other things made possible by air-conditioning, but, really, it’s too damn hot.