Not many machines are friends of mine, though few are really enemies, and one I dislike somewhat is Gloop-boy, the monster air conditioner that lives in the north wall of the living room. Still, I have never disliked it as I did the New Stove that was put in in 1938 or the Volkswagen-sized television machine acquired in 1954.
A few years ago we removed Gloop-boy, but then put him back, for reasons of no interest to anybody else, and since his reinstallation an uneasy peace has existed betwixt us. We do not turn on the machine at all in some years, while in others we may turn it on for some hours around Labor Day, and in rare years we may turn it on for half an hour if Arctic Persons come to play cards with us in July.
I think he smells and I know he roars, but since I so rarely deal with him we have got along fairly well the past decade or so.
This summer, however, we have turned on the air conditioner several times in July. It is only early August now, and already the machine has been used for a good eight hours this year.
I ascribe this astonishing development to the Maple's Revenge.
For the past 12 years I have sawed off branches, girdled the trunk and given other hints of displeasure to this Norway maple, without any signs of getting through to it at all until this year when it has finally stopped putting out leaves. Good.
On the other side of the house grow a huge red maple and a vast pin oak, and two forest giants on a 40-foot city lot are enough. Besides, as I thought, the Norway maple was on the north side and therefore did nothing for the world in the way of cooling anybody off. Now that it has died, however, and is relegated to supporting a handsome vine, it no longer shades the north half of the tile roof.
This tree, in its lifetime, was the bane of the garden, and now, in its death, it has returned (so to speak) to haunt me. Once again we see here that dismal wretches have their part to play in the cosmos, and are missed when they go.
In my country, the Lower Mississippi Valley, everybody knows you run a big hall north to south and see to it that both ends are shaded by eaves or galleries or something. Such houses are comfortable (within bounds of possibility) all summer.
Up here you should also have a big north-south hall with galleries at the ends. Unfortunately, many of us live in small houses indeed, where the hall is omitted in favor of a living room and kitchen and fripperies of that sort. At least if you live in a small brick box as I do, you are never more than 15 feet from the north, south, east and west walls with their windows, and this is a blessing all summer. Very much less of a blessing all winter.
Also it helps (again, in summer) if the walls are just brick with the plaster slapped on, and no lath, no insulation, no air space, just solid brick. Brick is very friendly with summer.
When I grew up there were no air conditioners and our house, though probably regarded as large by today's standards, ran east-west and had no great open hall, so you had to shut the windows and draw the blinds by 9 a.m., only opening them when it got dark. You had a large enough volume of cool air (I speak relatively) to ensure your survival through the day. Then you set out washtubs of ice when you went to bed, with fans (for we did have electricity in these olden days) blowing across them.
Bedroom windows had dark green cheesecloth tacked across the screens "to keep out the glare," but since nobody was in the bedrooms when the sun was shining, it was never clear what good the cloth did. Never mind. People are always doing things because that's the way things are done. Custom is all.
At least at night the windows were open and you could hear the lovely bugs singing their marvelous songs outside, and the home-heading mules clopping gravely down the street.
Well up here it turns out we are not near an ice house and do not have anybody to go get things and no big washtubs, either, and no place to set the tubs even if we had them. Until this summer, however, the ceiling fan in the upstairs hall and a good fan on the bedroom floor made things comfy enough on those nights when it's still 82 degrees at 2 a.m. And if things got too bad you could always sleep on the tiles of the bathroom with the terrier or on the floor by the back door with the hound.
This year there have been nights when even the bathroom floor and the fan did not suffice. It is the maple's revenge. I should say this much for the evil maple, however. It has brought us closer to old Gloop-boy. We are almost friends.