I remember when air conditioning was an unexpected luxury. When it felt wrong to be cooled artificially in the hot summer – how foolish it felt, as a child of the Arctic New England and Canada areas, to shun the bone-warming heat that came, ever so briefly. I wallowed in heat, experimented with sunstroke, burnt my skin.
One day in Rockport, my friend Bob and I stood outside a fish shack, waiting for lunch, while my legs crisped so much in the heat and sun that they cracked and oozed the entire next day at work – me grateful, too late, for the air conditioning as I stuck to my desk chair. But it was rare, still, and we all complained of how it made us feel – dry and unnatural, as if furnace heating didn’t do the same thing for 9 months of the year.
Even as an adult, heavily pregnant, I lay, hoping for a brief breeze to move the humidity about, while my neighbours’ air conditioning air lock front door sucked open, then shut, and the machine whirred endlessly through the sleepless night. I was being noble, and cheap. “Fans work,” I argued. “And they’re so much better for the environment!”
Well, not in Ottawa, fans don’t work – our strange northern capital, where winters loom large and excessively cold, and summers, strangely, are excessively hot – 40 degrees and more, humidity 100%, like breathing through a sponge. And still still air, which sticks the humidity all over you like a rash. I’ve always told everyone I meet that Ottawa does the seasons in an overachiever’s style. Winter freezes you senseless, but provides skating on a frozen canal, Spring is expansively beautiful and sped through like there was someplace we’d rather be (which there isn’t), Fall is glorious with leaves of astonishing hues and bright sunshine, and Summer is gaspingly hot, relieved somewhat by the glory of the beaches and parks that somehow survive the bleaching sun.
I’ve given in to the lure of A/C, though. I curl up next to my air conditioner and stroke its shuddering sides, praise its noisy fan, encourage it with love and affection and my company. I leap into my car and crank the “maximum air” button on, blasting ice through the airvents as if I hadn’t just been wallowing in the heated seats two weeks before. I seek out movie theatres and malls and places of excessive cooling and wander, guiltless, as the hydrocarbons burn baby burn.
Part of it all is the MS I deal with, which responds poorly to heat and lays me low if I let myself indulge in a daytime heat seeking. The other day, my legs tapdanced for hours just because I sat in a park for the afternoon. Don’t like that. Want to be well. So I suck up the cold.
Part of it, though, is just selfish joy that such a glory is available. I lived for so many years, sleepless through the summers, desperate for coolness and less humidity. I figure dealing with humidity, like canoe camping, is one of the things best reserved for the young, to toughen them up. I’m already tough enough.
There’s a tiny little voice that tells me about how the environment is dying, that I’m contributing to the warming trend I’m experiencing.
But today, when even the fire hydrants are melting in the heat and unable to evaporate because of the humidity, I just don’t care.