Thursday, July 05, 2018

It's Hot in the City 


Maybe looking at Wayne Thiebaud's “Untitled (Three Ice Creams)” from 1964 will cool you down.

You know it’s really hot when you step out of your air conditioned office to find yourself relieved that it’s only 28°C with 66% humidity instead of “boil-you-alive° C” with “you’ll-never-feel-dry-again%” humidity. I spent most of the weekend lying prone in front of a fan, trying not to move for fear the exertion of say, batting an eyelash, may lead to more sweating. I’m starting to think the scientist who said, “sweating is the body’s built-in air conditioner” never really knew what an air conditioner was, or what “sweating” was, or what “built-in” meant. I realize that weather isn’t climate and one heat wave during one summer isn’t proof that we’re destroying the planet yet it feels so much like what I imagine the end-of-times would feel like, that blaming something like climate change feels good. Not "comfortably dry at 23°C" good, but the kind of good like when you curse after stubbing your toe. It does nothing but it mends the psyche if not the toe.

One thing did occur to me during the hottest moments of the weekend. Feeling near death in the punishing heat is sort of an ailment of the poor or the slightly less privileged. People who can retreat to air conditioned homes have something that people living in older sweltering apartments do not. People who drive with their vehicles sealed shut while running their A/C on full blast are far more comfortable than those walking the hot sidewalks or riding the older stifling streetcars. Air conditioning used to be considered a luxury but it has become a necessity of life. During a heat wave the city advises those without air conditioning to seek out cooling centres. Air conditioning is as essential to a modern city as elevators. You can’t live in a tall building without an elevator to take you to your floor and you can’t live on that floor of a tall building (essentially a chimney stack with rooms) without air conditioning.

The heat in my house is truly suffocating. Breathing is difficult in the stagnant still air. I feel like a fish gasping in the bottom of a boat. It's like my lungs just can't get the oxygen out of the air. The ground floor of my place hovers around 31°C, the second floor 33°C and the top floor where my bedroom is, might top out at 35°C. Isn’t that the point when paper spontaneously combusts? I suppose paper might self-ignite if the air wasn't so damp and moist you can almost taste its lingering reek. It seems like the collective body odour of Toronto's 2.5 million people can be detected whenever you find yourself standing at an airless intersection. Opening a window is fruitless and ill advised. For one it will only make it hotter inside. Two, you are only welcoming the wafting stench of nearby garbage into your home and three, it is incredibly noisy. You practically can’t hear yourself think over the din of your neighbours' air conditioners. Undoubtedly I will have to relent and install air conditioning (along with better windows and insulation) but that won’t help me today.

“Wait? You mean to tell me there’s a land of ice?”
Oddly, I know a few people all travelling to Iceland this summer. It’s sounds delicious right about now. Ice Land? Wait? You mean to tell me there’s a land of ice? Ice: the key ingredient in ice cream, slushies and cold air. Cold sensuous air that shivers the skin and tickles your ears. Is there really a place of tallish, Nordic folk and faeries and weird liquorice flavoured liquor where it never gets much warmer than a nice light sweater weather? Well, that sounds too good to be true. But wait, I have to get on a hot airplane to get there. No thanks.

It's a strange thing of the mind to not see the eventual pay-off past the immediate pain. Several times this weekend as a lay still to let the fan fritter by me like it was actually moving the heat around my body as though I was a roast in a convection oven I thought about going for a swim. Yet the nearest open pool was a 20 minute bike ride from where I lay. That didn't even count the 20 minutes it would take for me to sit up and drip down to where my bike waited for me. Meanwhile, a cold shower could be had with the twist of a knob. Likewise I thought of paying just to sit in a movie theatre so entombed in cool air it might be mistaken for a seed vault. Again, the calculus of a 15 minute journey through the hot hot streets anchored me where I was.
“like a boa constrictor that had fallen asleep halfway through choking its victim”
Saturday morning I did actually go for a swim and it was glorious but it lasted only until I emerged from being submerged. Once in the change room I was sweating so profusely I couldn't pull my damp shirt over me. It had stuck to my skin and wedged itself around my shoulders like a boa constrictor that had fallen asleep halfway through choking its victim. It's strange that there are surprisingly few places you can approach Lake Ontario and simply walk in to cool your feet. Coincidentally I'm now reading a book, Haunts of the Black Masseur, that glorifies the stories particularly of English poets and writers who were obsessed with swimming in wild open waters, whether it was a fetid duck pond, the Atlantic or the Mediterranean. Water is so crucial to staying cool but it seems that only a few of us partake in its caress. Here in Toronto we've built a wall of affluence that not only cuts most of us from the shoreline but also blocks that beautiful breeze from winding its way up the avenues and beyond. For the swimmers, we know of the Lake's appeal and its hold on us and we wade in willingly. If I can only find the strength to break the clutch of the horizontal, I promise to spend the rest of the summer falling in the enfolding embrace of the water at our feet and stretch myself within it.

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