I’ve never been a big fan of AC. I like the heat, and since it won’t kill you (unless you are especially old, infirm or perhaps living in a Tupperware box), it seems like an unnecessary use of energy. While solar panels and electric cars remain cost prohibitive ways of reducing our carbon footprint, it seems foolish not to flip a switch, open the windows, and lop an average of 4% off our household energy use, all without spending a dime.
Except then we’d be hot. Somewhere along the line, we got the idea that we should never feel hot in the summertime. Like cheap gasoline at the pump, and short lines at the grocery checkout, we’ve come to expect the convenience of cool.
Steve and I always compromised about this by waiting until he couldn’t stand it anymore (usually around July 4th) before battening the hatches. Then, three years ago, our air conditioner broke. Assuming it would cost thousands of dollars to fix or replace (and not the $150 it eventually took!), we survived two consecutive Virginia summers without even calling the repair man. Sure, we had some tough days, especially on the few occasions when the thermometer hit 99 degrees, but something interesting happened to me during that time: I learned how to be in the heat.
That means, I learned how to be still.
The heat changes your state of mind. I am sort of a spaz. I talk too fast, play the piano too fast, stir cookie batter too fast. I even pick strawberries too fast. When it’s 95 degrees outside, you can’t afford to be a spaz.
You just have to chill.
Chill, and listen to the hot. You’d be surprised by what it will say. The hot asks you to slow down, minimize and simplify. The hot asks you to wear skimpy clothes like tank tops and short shorts—stuff that doesn’t hang and cling. The hot asks you to take cool showers in the evening, wear your hair off your neck, walk slowly and barefoot on the cool dry flat of hardwood floors. The hot tells you to forget the bra, sleep under a ceiling fan, and eat cold things like fruit salad and popsicles. The hot thinks you should nap in the afternoon.
If you can relax into the heat instead of fighting it, simple things will make you really happy, like the sweat on the outside of an icy glass, the clink of your spoon against a bowl of gazpacho, the cut of real lemonade through the summertime grime on the back of your throat. You will smile just at the thought of a cool damp cloth on the nape of your neck. Sprigs of mint. Cold beer.
The hot asks you to notice and seek out the shade, turn and lift your chin to the breeze. Sit. The hot will send you outside in the evening. While you’re out there, it’ll suggest you greet the neighbors, notice the stars, catch fireflies, listen to frogs.
We want everything fast, but things happen slowly in the heat. The hot asks you to wait. Live in the burn, acclimate. When you do, you will not feel it the way others do. They’ll complain about how hot it is today. You’ll say, “really?” The shock of walking into air conditioning at Target will give you a headache. You’ll welcome the calming effect of the hot when it embraces you like an old friend as you leave the store.
I know you’re worried you’ll sweat, you’ll suffer, you’ll actually feel hot. But isn’t there a certain sex appeal to that? Like a hot date, hot jazz, hot peppers. Where’s the sizzle in spending a sultry summer evening watching a movie you’ve already seen, wearing fuzzy socks and a sweatshirt?
I was surprised to discover that I'd missed out on so much when I slammed and sealed the front door, leaving my friend the heat waiting outside, alone on the stoop.
Then, sometime last summer, we fixed the AC. We still made it until August before an extended forecast of 99 degrees prompted us to turn it on. That’s when Steve implemented a new compromise: that we set a limit on how much hot we’ll endure. It’s a fair but flawed deal, because once you turn on the AC, it’s really hard to turn it off. He turned it on this weekend because I was away and the mercury hit 90. I turned it off today because he was at work and the temp plummeted to 81.
Suddenly I feel burdened with the convenience of cool.
I already miss those days when there was no choice, when we endured because we had to, when we acclimated and slowed down.
I miss those days when we learned to be still.
If I must endure a summer with AC, I will miss my friend, the heat.