Temperature taunting occurs when friends in more moderate summer climes such as Seattle, New Hampshire, Michigan or Malibu post some ironic and sarcastic taunt on their blogs, Facebook or Twitter pages about how “godawful” their high-70s/low 80s/low humidity weather is and “However are we going to survive this heat wave?” or some such nonsense. If it were football season (and yes, Roll Tide, our boys reported for practice yesterday), these so-called “friends” would be flagged for a 15 yard penalty and loss of down.
I can think of several two-word retorts in reply to such contemptuous and gratuitous provocations, none of which I can publish here since this is a PG-13 blog (most of the time). But suffice it to say, we Southerners accept, even embrace, being slowly roasted like overcooked beef left too long in a crock pot. It toughens us up and tempers our souls, burnishing us into a lively and colorful people who serve as rich grist for gritty, gothic stories that become instant New York Times bestsellers. Yankees may not wish to get drunk, sweat, shack-up, make love, marry, divorce, murder and remarry–all the while praying fervently to Jesus–at the same rate as we Southerners, but they do seem to enjoy lining up and paying big bucks to read all about it.
As our young men don their pads and helmets, an older man rolls up the sleeves of his white, long sleeve, pinpoint cotton dress shirt and loosens his skinny black tie at the end of his work day. From time to time, he has glanced out his window and watched the Hispanic landscape workers, their sinewy, well-muscled arms quivering from the violent rattle of mowers and gas-powered trimmers. Occasionally, they reach up and wipe the beads of summer sweat that glisten like small diamonds on their brows and merge into rivulets of rain that run down the creases of their leathery, brown jaws. They never seem to grimace or complain, and he admires their strength and endurance in the face of such hard labor. He reaches up and wipes his fingers across his own brow, finding it to be clean and dry like usual. He wonders if all the doctoring he does in the air-conditioned comfort of his office can truly be considered an “honest day’s work.”
He stands at the back door to the parking lot and hesitates to cross the threshold, knowing full well that when he turns the handle and tugs it will be like dipping his head into a steaming hot tub and drawing a deep breath; the first inhalation of liquid hot air will fill and sear his lungs, nearly drowning him. With a sigh of resignation, he steps into the sultry sauna, head bowed and braced against the brow-beating sun, and scurries quickly across the sizzling asphalt toward his car. It occurs to him during this short walk that perhaps his so-called life is a mere cosmic prank, that he is not really a rational, upright man, but instead a lowly, crawling ant fleeing the intense scrutiny of a mischievous 12-year-old boy with a very large magnifying glass. He parked in the long, morning shade of a large building, but the shadows have long since burned away, and despite leaving the windows and sunroof cracked, the car’s interior is a broiling inferno. The tan, leather upholstery is sun-baked, cracked like a parched desert floor in several places from years of exposure, and he wishes he could roll back the clock to 2002 and opt for the much-cooler cloth.
He sits on the hot seat just long enough to turn the ignition key. After he starts the AC, he steps back outside as the first wave of cooler air begins to push and disperse the heated gas through the open door and windows. A minute or so passes, and he sits back down, feeling the burning leather hermetically seal his back against the bucket seat, and quickly closes the windows and door to trap the cooling atmosphere for the drive home. Off he goes, turning the car by gingerly touching the scalding, tightly-stretched leather of the steering wheel with the tips of his fingers, hoping it will cool off soon so he can grab onto it like he’s supposed to.
Once home, he parks in the garage and quickly closes the door. He slowly peels his sweat-soaked back from the seat and enters the house. The 25-year-old air conditioning unit is struggling to keep up, but it is still soothingly cool inside. You would think after surviving the drive home that he would quickly strip to his shorts and put on a fresh, white t-shirt, pour himself a cool drink, sit back in his recliner with the remote and call it a day.
But no, our man is not done yet.
Instead, he puts on his black and gold Nike trainers, along with his Dri-Fit shorts and top, and heads out the door for a 4-mile run at the height of the heat. He doesn’t venture far from home, sticking to a tightly-wound neighborhood loop instead of the customary out-and-back route–just in case he runs out of gas. His high-tech running threads work their wicking magic for a while but are soon soaked completely through and cling to his middle-age frame in unflattering and revealing ways. Dri-Fit or not, the fabric was never designed to absorb and disperse such a large lake of humidity. As he plods steadily along, he tries to sort out and solve some of the problems of his life, which compared to the torrid air, suddenly seem smaller and more paltry. People in air-conditioned vehicles pass him on the street–some smiling, some frowning in disapproval–and he nods in return, as if to say, “You see? It’s not that bad. We can do this.”
Oh, but it is bad, very bad, especially toward the end as he struggles to stay upright and keep his eyes straight ahead, tearing and stinging as they are now from the steady stream of hypertonic saline solution seeping into them from beneath his soaked hatband. He stumbles past his mailbox at last and leans over, heaving up and down like a blacksmith’s bellows, his hands on his knees in the universal posture of athletic surrender. He instinctively heads for a sliver of shade, but there is no relief to be found there, so he punches in the code and wobbles inside and opens the garage refrigerator where stores of soothing liquids, purchased in bulk from the local Sam’s Club, are kept during the hot months, readily available to weary, wayfaring pilgrims, both coming and going.
He grabs a low-calorie Gatorade (he prefers the classic, 1970s lemon-lime or orange) and heads straight to his bedroom where he strips and hangs his sweat-soaked gear on the closet doorknob. He leans against the bathroom counter, his head tingling as if penetrated by thousands of pins and needles, sweat dripping in a steady, metronomic cadence onto the carpet. His heart is pounding madly against his chest like a wild bird–an old, proud eagle, he thinks–boxed in and battering against the bars of a tiny cage. With some effort, he manages to unscrew the cap to the Gatorade and raise the bottle to his lips which are now coated in a sticky, white film. Instantly, he feels his body core temperature drop; the cool, soothing fluid douses the five-alarm fire which rages deep inside his gut and shoots its flames upward into his esophagus. After a few minutes under a cool shower, his temperature falls further and his heart rate returns to near normal. The cobwebs in his head begin to dissipate and are borne aloft, floating away on the cool breeze created by the rotating blades of a ceiling fan. He finally begins to feel that he may live to run another day.
Another day down in Dixie, that is, where everyone is running hot and a little tired. But come November, when the temperature drops and his breath starts to form puffy, frosty clouds in front of his face, the man will once again glide along effortlessly and smoothly, and even on occasion break out into a genuine, bona fide trot.
As for the temperature taunters, soon their boys will line up across from our boys on the gridiron. With the strength and endurance that can only be forged in the fiery furnaces of a Deep South summer, our boys will knock their boys down on their collective asses and make them quit. They will, to put it frankly, beat the living….out of them.
Do I have to say it? You know what I mean–that place that is purported to be perpetually and intolerably hot.