Hot Time August 8, 2008Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
Tags: 504, heat, hot time, humidity, Mid-City, New Orleans, NOLA, summer, Toulouse Street
Is it the heat that leaves me as mindless as a humming monk when August finally settles in, the hot, damp air thick and clinging? I ask others and they answer with shrugs as they reach for their iced drink: the zen perfect non-answer. So much to be done and so little energy. Work rolls in at the counting house as relentlessly as waves off the ocean, and I have to catch up from a week at Destin in Florida and another few days in Miami. Summer is ending for the children. My daughter has already started at NOCCA, and I need to finish laying in school supplies. The period called summer vacation on the school calendars may be drawing to a close, but we are deep in the middle of the scorching season.
I try to wrap my brain around work as I trudge up the sweltering canyon of Common Street in the morning, but some days the long, sweaty slog is like Everest without oxygen. I stare off at no fixed point and mechanically plant one foot ahead of the other. In spite of the city’s fabulously expensive sanitation contracts, the lemony-fresh smell is long gone. Most days it smells of sun-roasted garbage, and one morning it was the cloying aroma of all-the-rats-in-the-sewer-have-died.
Days working at home are almost as bad. If I dare to step out onto the porch to sit and have a cigarette I am like my laptop suddenly unplugged: my eyes go dim just as the computer screen does, and little warning messages pop up–something internal has been disabled. I have to retreat quickly back into the house. Nights we sit out endlessly–it is near to our favorite spot in the house in all weathers–and as I try to organize what was accomplished today and what must be done tomorrow my thoughts simply evaporate even as the sweat does not, and I stare for a long time at the tricolored ginger plant potted on the porch.
My wife suffers from the heat even more than I do as she bravely sits beneath the porch fan, her feet bathed in a basin of cool water. She was not raised to this climate but a childhood spent in blizzard country, where they say forty below keeps the riff-raff out, has produced a person not easily intimated by simple weather. In spite of her complaints she manages to keep as busy as a farm wife, sitting with her notebook of endless lists of things to be done, adding and subtracting activities as industriously as the fabled ant. She asks me questions or reminds me of this or that and I find myself slowly peeling my gaze away from the ginger plant and asking, “what?” all too often. A distant, vaguely Asian voice in my head prompts me: focus, grasshopper.
When we came back from Destin in the Florida panhandle, we had resolved go to back in June next year. It was not so much the heat as the swarming jellyfish that kept us mostly out of the ocean that prompted this discussion. I recall from my childhood that jellyfish were an August phenomena, and the chair attendants are too young to remember when they didn’t come in mid-July. As I sit at home and thoughtlessly scratch at the sun burn itch under my shirt I have to wonder if perhaps July is not the perfect time to go, ideal for collapsing into a canvas chair and becoming just another bit of flotsam slowly baking on the beach. I was fairly active in Miami, venturing into the bug-cursed Everglades of August, shopping Little Havana for cigars and wandering for several sun-delirious hours along Ocean and Collins Avenues in South Beach. Still, I spent an awful lot of time at the Biltmore Hotel beside its enormous pool, wagging my empty mohito glass at the strolling waiters as the hovering pool boys brought glistening cups of ice water.
Now those trips are behind us and I must somehow catch up at work and at home even as the temperatures consistently climb into the nineties. Today is a relief as a large front has passed, stirring up storms all night and leaving a breeze from the north behind it. The wind cools a bit as it passes over Lake Pontchartrain, and between that change of weather, the clouds and the fan the porch seems positively pleasant. It won’t last. In a day or two, August will roll back in and over us as it always does.
I was talking to a neighbor yesterday and they said something that reminded me of the line I mentioned above from North Dakota: forty below keeps the riff-raff out. We spoke of the weather and he said that if it weren’t for the heat and the humidity, everyone would want to live here. I haven’t heard that one in a while, but it holds a world of truth: the idea that New Orleans is worth the suffering of summer and the subtle dread of the start of the real hurricane season. While the rest of the world trudges across sun-backed acres of shimmering shopping mall blacktop to escape into the A/C, we chose instead to wander art galleries on White Linen and Dirty Linen night, to taste new drinks at Tales of the Cocktail and listen to hot music at Satchmo Fest. It sounds stupid as I say it in my head but I can’t resist: even in the swelter of August New Orleans is cool, cool in every way the word has been used since the first hipster spoke it as a way of being and not a temperature.
These may be the dog days, but you’re as likely to find us out baying at the moon as curled up beneath the porch fan. If you love New Orleans, you’ll tolerate the weather and even drag yourself out into it. (My wife tolerates it because she loves me, an even more mysterious phenomena). For us it is not just a matter of coping, but also of learning to live through the swelter. I lamented long ago that we’d forgotten how, but the longer I’m home the less I think so. You’ll have to excuse me now but lunch hour is over and I need to crawl back into the air conditioning of my office. But first I need to check and make sure there are limes. A mohito is sounding very good right now and, in the absence of pool boys, come five o’clock I will need to be ready. If you pass by later you may not see us behind all the plants, but we’ll be on the porch. Stop by and join us under the fan at the coolest place on Toulouse Street.