It's a hot summer night in Washington and I'm just where I want to be -- outside. The air is still, except when an occasional car drives by. The temperature hovers near 90 and it's 9:30 p.m. With the high humidity, I'm a little wilted as I sit on the front stoop of my house, a vanilla ice cream cone in hand. My yellow Lab, Emma, is lying on the brick sidewalk next to me, panting. Her tongue appears to be growing longer, but I'm not sure if it's because she's reaching for the ice cream or just panting harder.
Eating an ice cream cone indoors -- and with the AC on full throttle -- seems almost sacrilegious to me. That's why I'm eating mine outside.
It's not that I'm a rabid opponent of air conditioning. I know people need it on nights like these. The thing is, I just don't enjoy feeling as if I'm stuck in the supermarket dairy aisle all day, wishing for the warmth of the cereal section.
Maybe I was born at the wrong time because I know I would have fared just fine without central air. Perhaps it's because I grew up without it. Fans were how we kept cool. Stationary fans, rotating fans, ceiling fans -- we had them positioned around the house. My two brothers and I used to say AAAAHHHH directly into the grille of the fan, thrilled at how our voices vibrated. Sometimes at night we'd make "fan forts." We'd spread out a sheet on the floor, placing books or blocks around the edges. Then we'd pull one end of the sheet over a fan, anchoring it with more books. Turning on the fan created an instant igloo. A fan fort could cover an entire room, depending on how many sheets, blocks and fans were used. Not unlike a Habitrail, some of our forts had tunnels and compartments, perfect for separating squabbling siblings who wanted their own space.
To this day, it's hard for me to go to sleep without the drone of a fan -- the louder the better. I turn the ceiling fan in my bedroom on at night -- regardless of the season. The highest speed is best because it's the loudest.
I think my love -- and need -- for fans may be hereditary. My father says he always had fans growing up: the round black metal kind with enough space behind the grille for a child to stick a hand into the blur of blades. Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn have reproductions of these -- minus the possibility of finger-chopping. And while I'm sure they're nice, they're probably much too quiet for my taste.
I guess I just like the comfort of fans. Maybe it's because they represent a simpler time in my life. I hear and feel a fan and think of summer days spent outside with bare, callused feet, unearthing worms in the stream behind our house, sucking Honeysuckles and playing Marco Polo and Sharks and Minnows until our skin, not just our bathing suits, reeked of chlorine. At night, we'd sleep under cool cotton sheets, fans propped on chairs next to our beds.
My two girls, ages 5 and 8, have inherited my love of fans. "Mommy, Mommy, don't forget to turn on the fan," they tell me after I've kissed them good night. I leave their shared room as they settle into the breathy early stages of sleep. The fan is turned low, whirling gently.