On not taking heat

Back in the days before air conditioning, Washington was regarded as a tropical city and diplomats received extra hot-weather pay for being here.  They couldn’t have paid me enough.

I’ve been without power now for six days, with no expectation that I’ll have it restored any time soon. People in certain parts of Virginia have had it even worse—they were told to boil their water. Hello! What are you supposed to do, build a fire, focus a gigantic magnifying glass on your canteen?  For a while the radio was telling people to go online to find out what was open or where to go to get cool. Hello! If you don’t have electricity, you don’t have home access to the internet. One radio announcer had the effrontery to say, snidely, that everyone should have a smartphone. As if everyone can afford to shell out a hundred bucks a month for an iPhone. Yet another school of thought suggests that people invest in home generators, which I’m told go for a couple of thousand bucks a pop. Right. Why don’t we just insist that Pepco—the local power company—do a better job? It’s not as though these outages don’t happen with astonishing frequency, year after year after year.

My wife, looks askance at me, and says I should be more stoic, less whiney. No doubt. But the heat brings out the meanness in me. I need a nice chill 66 degrees to feel happy. Marcus Aurelius would be deeply disappointed in me.

At all events, it’s been hard to read, almost impossible to work (since I now rely on coffee  shops for internet access), and psychologically draining.

I keep thinking that I should be reading cooling books—memoirs of polar adventure, reports from cryonics laboratories, histories of Tastee-Freeze and Dairy Queen. But, as Marilyn and Jane famous sang in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, “it’s too darn hot.” Even my local libraries were closed until yesterday. Note that I once worked in a steel mill, near the open hearth, and so I know about heat.

Have other members of the Reading Room survived similar climatic disasters? Have you ever lived and tried to read, write or work in truly tropical climes? How did you do it? Pass along your secrets. Also, what books do you recommend for when the temperature, inside and out, has grown unbearable?  Which, in your view, are the great classics of the higher ranges of the Fahrenheit scale? There’s The StrangerHeart of Darkness, and . . . please share your suggestions.

Michael Dirda

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