Damn this heat. No, seriously, DAMN this heat.
That said, is there anything possibly more mundane, more predictable, more pedestrian, more picayune – than talking about the weather?
Then why is everybody talking about it?
This is south Louisiana. We’re the experts on living (in) hell. It’s a point of civic pride. In the same way that New Orleans has a smaller percentage of residents with WiFi than any other major city in the country; the same way that we still actually go to the actual Post Office to mail things; the same way that we probably have more landline phones per capita than anywhere else (some of them still rotary dial; some of them still avocado green); so it is that we likely have more residents without air conditioning – central or window units – than any other place in America.
When I first moved here in the summer of 1984, I was completely seduced by the notion of ceiling fans to salve the summer heat. But my naivete melted into pools of sweat on the mattress. And I was single at the time; not a great first impression.
Just a damp one.
After a time, I learned how to be comfortable – or at least adaptable to – rings of perspiration under my arms when out on a professional call. I learned that seersucker actually makes sense sometimes. But photos from the late ’80s prove that it’s really not my look.
I think you have to be born into Rex to feel comfortable in your own seersucker. I guess I’m more of a Dirty Linen Night guy than White Linen. Show me a swatch of fine fabric without a coffee stain on it and I’ll show you a swatch that I’ve never worn.
I am regaled by the number of personal encounters I have had recently – and the veritable slew of Facebook postings I have witnessed lately – in which our current heat is the topic of conversation and concern. This summer of our discontent.
It makes you wish the polar ice caps would melt faster and cool this godforsaken place off.
Me, I always took pride in my ability to adapt to the climate here. To suffer the fates. To take the heat, as it were. But I’m older now. And it really sucks.
Which is quite a departure from a story I have told for many years, a manifesto for living in the tropics with no regret, reveling in the glorious nighttime, summertime smells of sweat, sweet olive, coffee, fish fry, mule piss and sex.
It goes like this: I once lived in Wisconsin, the land of the eight-month winter. And now I live in south Louisiana, the land of the eight-month summer. The difference being:
Say it’s a balmy August night in New Orleans and you are stripped down to your boxers and a tee and getting ready to crawl into bed but you suddenly remember: It’s recycle night!
So you creep downstairs and out into the driveway to haul the recycle bin out to the sidewalk and as you walk out the door, you hear behind you, a “click.” Dang. You’ve locked yourself out. So what to do?
Here, you haul the bin to the curb and then set on your stoop and take in the stars and wait for a neighbor to finally come by to commiserate and fetch you a cold Abita and eventually invite you to crash on their couch until you can work things out in the morning.
Now, say it’s a bitter February night in Wisconsin, same scenario, same boxers and tee. You remember: Recycle night! And you follow the same routine in the same boxers and tee; after all, it’s just gonna take a second, right?
And then you hear the “click” of the back door behind you.
And now you’ve got 45 seconds to find shelter or die.
Dire, I know, but I always took comfort in that analogy. But now, not so much. Death by hypothermia almost seems a relief compared to death by ennui.
Or maybe just don’t recycle; I don’t know.
The author Tom Robbins captured the essence of the city in the summer in his novel Jitterbug Perfume: “The minute you land in New Orleans, something wet and dark leaps on you and starts humping you like a swamp dog in heat.”
You know that feeling. If you travel away from New Orleans to a cooler climate in the summer and when you get back and step out of the airport it feels like you’re walking through wet cobwebs. Admittedly, there is something unique, maybe even sensual, about air that you can feel to the touch.
Then again, maybe not.
Here, chill out to this summer beat