I imagine there isn’t a summer which passes without a heat wave, though the memory of it is as ephemeral as a bee sting (unless of course one is allergic, then the consequences and recollection of it are undoubtedly more penetrating). But for the most part the extremes of climate are rather like pain in that once it has passed all is forgotten, which is really unfortunate because nothing captures the essence of summer like a heat wave. The pictures of summer must for example include children running hysterically through a water sprinkler; young boys diving from the train tracks into the River below; entire families licking their way through dripping ice cream cones; and the general lethargy of those walking with their dogs about parks in the shade. What other than a heat wave can precipitate such singular behaviour?
For my part, I rather enjoy the heat. I tend to glamorize and make light of it much as Ethel Merman did when singing Irving Berlin’s “We’re Having a Heat Wave”, a tune which always sounds more urban than bucolic. I can just see the mirages of undulating heat rising from the concrete sidewalks of Upper Manhattan in New York City on a hot summer day. The frivolity of the song also speaks to the unrealistic nature of my enjoyment of a heat wave, sheltered as I am throughout most of the day from its penalty.
The blazing heat when radiating off the south walls of the downtown brick buildings brings out more than the heat, however. It brings out an entirely unique world of fashion, some of which is as uncomfortable to watch as the weather is to endure. Older men, for example, clothed in their khaki shorts and white cotton short-sleeve shirts can look quite preposterous, especially if they haven’t taken the precaution of wearing knee-length hose to hide their hideously bony and blemished legs. Women on the other hand invite cultivation and sophistication by wearing breezy poplin skirts and extraordinary straw hats, often adorned with clusters of multi-coloured silk flowers. Inevitably there are those vainglorious young men who delight in the opportunity to remove their shirts and display their chiselled pectorals and abdomens.
My summer habits include bicycle riding, an undertaking which I find especially pleasing in the very hot weather, when a light wind over my brow is all that is required to relieve the baking element of a heat wave. Being outside in the blazing sun with sleeves rolled up to the maximum, sporting loose shorts and sensible shoes is my idea of a good time. Were it not for the excessive heat, the endeavour would be far too pragmatic. The oppressive heat provides an umbrella of opportunity to participate in what we know is to be a unique and short-lived experience, like eating giant crab legs by the Ocean.
It wasn’t always that I had air conditioning at both my house and office. In the early years of my practice, when I persisted in wearing a jacket and tie even in the summer months, there were often times when the humidity of a heat wave just about did me in. I recall that we relied entirely upon the benefit of an old fan, which many would argue is just as successful in accomplishing its object. Eventually, however, I relented and had an air conditioner installed at the office. It wasn’t however for years that I did the same at the house. In fact, it wasn’t for my benefit that I had air conditioning installed at the house; but rather for my French bulldog Monroe who simply couldn’t breathe in the excessive heat (and he cried piteously if I relegated him to the cool of the basement, alone).
It is unavoidable that a prolonged heat wave will stimulate summer thunder storms. What greater magic is there than the satisfying effect of a torrential summer downpour? The grass, flowers and trees practically burst into a renewed state of verdancy! At times the lightning and crack of thunder provide their own remarkable display. But soon, like the heat wave, the moment is gone, returning us to nothing more than the tranquillity of dripping water from the branches and eaves.