Hot Enough For You?, by Elayne Riggs
With any luck, this morning the heat wave that has gripped New York since last weekend will have finally broken.
I’ve never cared for extremes of temperature, but all in all I’m much better equipped to deal with winter than with summer. Winter has its hazards — for instance, our apartment is situated among a row of houses recessed from the main street with a long U-shaped gravel driveway between our stairs and the street itself, and when it ices over there’s never a clear pathway to walk to the street, so unless I drive I’m pretty much trapped in the house. But that generally happens for only a few days, and most of the time I’m more concerned with layering. Which seems to be a lot easier for a person like me with, shall we say, natural padding.
Summer’s a whole different ballgame, though. It’s pretty easy to layer on clothing when you’re cold; it’s a lot harder to strip it off when you’re warm. Leaving aside societal proprieties and whether or not it’s fair or just for topless men to be acceptable but topless women to be verboten (my opinion: as long as women taking off their tops elicits a reaction of "look, boobies!" from the minds of most onlookers, I continue to agree with the status quo here), the fact remains that most of us can’t strip past our skin, y’know? And it’s more and more dangerous to leave skin exposed for long periods of time. SPF one thousand, anyone?
By the way, you do know that once you get past SPF 30 your additional so-called protection from UV rays is negligible at best? And that there are tons of assertions that sunscreen is actually bad for you and even carcinogenic? (Oh, the fun things you find out about when you set out to write about heat waves! That’s at least two articles I now wish I’d never read!)
Not that I enjoy spending time in the sun any more. Being fair-skinned I know I’ve always burned easily, although I also remember tanning in my, you should pardon the expression, dim dark past, when I spent a lot of my summertime outdoors working as a day camp counselor. I still romanticize those days, and imagine what my life would be like if I made my living outdoors.
I would guess that farmers, construction workers and the like don’t really notice summer heat that much until it becomes really oppressive. I mean, the human body has limits, and I think it being hotter outside your body than inside it is probably one of them.
Nowadays, I eschew the beach altogether. This is a very weird thing for a girl who grew up in New Jersey. When school let out and day camp hadn’t yet started and you wanted to do something, anything interesting, you either went to the malls or you went Down The Shore. In my youth, society wasn’t nearly as hypercapitalist as it is now and malls were still fairly new — Woodbridge Center had just opened in ’71 — but the beaches were plentiful, with their arcades (I became something of a Crazy Climber fanatic in my summer years between college and moving to New York) and relatively clean Atlantic salt water. And sand. Way too much sand.
I make fun of the beach at Brighton in England ’cause it just ain’t natural not to have sand, but that doesn’t mean I like the stuff itself. Gets in everything, including food and places on your body where you didn’t even know there were places. Speaking of which, it also wasn’t terribly much fun to be accosted with fatphobia whenever I decided to forgo the towel and stride down to the water. So that became not really a fun thing to do, real quickly. That said, when I lived in Brooklyn I adored going to Coney Island. Never in a bathing suit, never to actually swim there, but I still adore the smell of the ocean.
Now that I’m living where everything’s a long bus ride or car trip away, and that’s after the 24 steps down to street level, I’d just as soon stay home, especially during heat waves. I think many people in our sun-worshipping culture often underestimate the intense damage excessive heat can do. I was out in 90-plus degree weather on Monday (in an interview suit, no less) for maybe ten minutes and I felt like fainting. For a lot of folks it sneaks up on you, then suddenly you’re dizzy and thirsty and you have no idea how you got dehydrated so quickly.
Even when you’re indoors, particularly if you have air conditioning, you have to stay hydrated in weather like this — AC not only cools but it keeps things dry, including your body. And you really have to watch out for the most vulnerable, like pets and the elderly. I know that older people might feel the cold more bitterly and that’s why so many of them snowbird or live in milder climates, but there’s mild and then there’s Come On, Now!
And you just don’t feel like doing anything when the heat is so horrid. I wrote this column in between watching a Judy Garland movie marathon (she would have been 86 yesterday). Anything else requiring concentrated brainpower just seemed too much. You begin to understand why some hot countries simply shut down in the midday sun, why it makes more sense to move in the desert at night (hey, that’s why Vegas has so many neon lights!).
So I have no real ending to this column. It’s just too hot to think of one. And do you know, projecting forward, by August it’ll be like 800 degrees? But maybe it’ll be a dry heat.