Folks declare they would die without air conditioning and this summer in Philadelphia some did. My mother, who has reached a dignified age, cannot live without air conditioning now, yet remembers her childhood in the brick oven of a New York City apartment, a time when air conditioning was not ubiquitous.
Obviously it is not impossible to live at this latitude without air conditioning. Two-hundred-fifty years ago European settlers functioned in their osnabrig trousers or wool breeches, covered their shirts with waistcoats and sealed their necks with cravats. Women wore stays and petticoats under their gowns. More sensible were the Lenape who resided here for thousands of years prior to the Europeans. They dressed in breechcloths and leggings if they were men, deerskin skirts and necklaces if they were women.
In the privacy of our home, to survive the summer, Ms Keogh and I often succumb to something resembling Lenape fashion. We endure the heat by frequent showers. I don’t even dry myself thoroughly, but climb into bed damp. We make do with a small plastic fan. The windows are always opened and this allows us to hear at night the crickets chanting their cantatas, which I love. But during the long, hot days there are the incessant waves of rasping cicadae, which I don’t love as much.
One evening I was taking refuge from the heat by lingering in the University of Pennsylvania Bookstore. I bought a packet of eight beautiful folded note cards to occupy the time writing letters. The black & white photographs were of the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. It was a place I’ve never visited, never even knew about until I acquired that packet of cards. It is a place I must now see, when summer is over.
One of the cards had a photograph of the Rose Garden in the Morris Arboretum. It showed a wood bench in front of a retaining wall that held back a wave of stalks and bushes. The bench, which is placed at the edge of the picture, has its back to the wall and faced some unseen panorama beyond the edge of the photograph. My imagination suggested the bench would provide a wonderful place to sit, from which one could watch the birds and squirrels dart and scamper, the swaying treetops and the clouds drifting by with changing shapes. There would be the occasional passerby who would pause to be engaged in idle conversation.
The bench in the photograph, so rich in romantic charm, is probably guarded by spiders, patrolled by ants, coated with bird droppings, and protected by a picket of splinters. I know for certain that wherever that bench is, if it is in the region of Philadelphia this summer of 2010, it would be enduring a sweltering heat and whoever sat there might see Omar Sharif riding out of a mirage wearing a black thawb.
(How could he wear black?)
If it were me sitting on that bench, I would need a cap or one of my straw fedoras to keep my bald head from blistering. Then there would have been droplets of sweat pushing out from beneath my hatband and collecting in my eye sockets, stinging.
I hate summer. I hate this summer of 2010 in particular. And to think, if predictions are correct, worst summers will follow. It is too hot to write.
This essay is the most recent in
a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr
Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the
writer would be pleased
to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"