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Air Conditioning & Me

On July 2, this sizzling summer of 2012, I called my brother, who is working on our condo this summer. “Tomorrow,” I said. “I want you to go out and buy three air conditioners. I don’t care how much they cost.”

If that scene had been a cartoon, the thought balloon above my head would have said, uncle, uncle, uncle.

I have lived my entire life up until now without air conditioning and have considered it a point of honor. Including five years in Austin, Texas.

 In Austin, my friends and I lived in old houses with high ceilings, cross ventilation and lots of pecan trees. We closed the shades and windows by day, used ceiling fans, swam in chilly Barton Springs first thing in the morning and last thing at night. We went to lots of movies. And we stayed up late, until the oppressive air heaved a little sigh and the temperature slid down to the 70s. “You have to surrender to the heat,” said my pal, Carol, a Dallas native. “It’s tougher than you are.” Wear loose cotton clothing. Walk slow. Avoid the worst of the day’s sun. Drink lots of water. And iced coffee when you need a boost.

Those years gave me an attitude: If I could belly up to the Big Bake in Texas without air conditioning, then damn straight I could weather—pun intended–any puny Minnesota heat wave.  

My husband and I live in a century-old brownstone condominium built to withstand the elements: thick walls, high ceilings, screened porch, ceiling fans. It stays warm in the winter and—usually—cool in the summer. It is, as they say in Texas, a dog run—AKA  shotgun or railroad car—apartment, with all the rooms opening off a long hallway. Lots of ventilation. Ideal for fresh breezes. Until this summer.

Let me be clear: my husband has always wanted air; considers my ideology about heat absurd, even dangerous. At times he has threatened to go sleep in a hotel. But then the weather would break.

This time it has not.

But when we came home on Tuesday, July 3, after my brother installed the only two AC units he could find, it didn’t matter. Our house was cool. A huge unit in the foyer cooled most of the house. A smaller one cooled the kitchen and den. We didn’t have to go out for supper. We didn’t have to find a movie. We didn’t have to take shower after shower, letting the water evaporate from our bodies.  I didn’t have to go to a cafe to write. We could stay at home.

I was and am grateful.

But human beings are so fickle. I‘m succumbing again to summer nostalgia, remembering the days BAC, before AC: 

Lying in a hammock in the sweaty village of Palenque, Mexico, late at night, after seeing delicately beautiful Mayan ruins. I am in a patio, wrapped for good measure in mosquito netting. A fan circles lazily, droning me into deep sleep.

In Austin, two elderly twin sisters, hair cut in identical bobs, clad in cotton housedresses, stroll every morning before the sun pops implacable over the horizon.

After midnight La Habana, Cuba, I walk on the malecón, the sea walkway that girdles the city. Families amble by. Others fish on the rocks. Ballads wind out of radios. The damp, warm-cool air billows my dress. 

But perhaps the fact I can call up these memories means that my brain is clear, not befuddled by trying to write in an overheated house.  So what wins out, the gauzy memories of heat past or the controlled cool of now?

I’ll get back to you, maybe next summer.

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