Being from the Bayou State, I know hot weather. So when people say to me, "Ain't it hot?" I say, "No, it ain't hot." And it ain't humid. It's gas. Swamp gas, that is.

Although it feels similar to radioactive ozone, swamp gas here in Washington does not kill but encases the brain, causing a kind of mental illness that makes you want to lie down and die.

Except that you can't because it coats the skin with a substance called "humiglue" that keeps your eyelids stuck open all night.

How did all of this come about? Well, it's not a pretty story.

It starts at the turn of the century when there were places in Washington called Cow Town and Hell Town and Vinegar Hill. If those names conjure up some of the smells that seem to hang heavy in the air this month, it's probably because no amount of 20th century burying and paving can keep the aroma sealed off in those places.

Even in the bayou, it's not this bad. The way swamp gas got started down there, people came along with tractors and bulldozed bogs and marshlands to make way for highways and houses. In Washington, they paved over open sewers.

Next thing you know, all those things that were covered up started decomposing. Start cooking with Washington's high temperatures in July, and by August we're cooking up gas with fuel that accumulated between 1890 and 1967.

Seriously, think about this. Where else on earth does 95 degrees feel like 150 degrees? Where else does air have the density of a frying pan and the irritation factor of poison ivy?

True, the urban "heat island" effect makes matters worse, with all of the concrete and pavement holding on to heat and commuter carbon monoxide long after the sun goes down.

I don't want to scare the tourists away. But it is obvious that they are already suspicious.

"Mommy, what's that I smell?" a little tourist asked as she was being lugged through Foggy Bottom. Mommy said she thought the smell was coming from a restaurant. As if Dominique's was boiling a kettle of cow chip tea, which was unlikely, wasn't it?

Then there was the elderly man who was complaining to his wife that it felt like something was crawling inside his shirt and shorts.

"Look close, it's something there. I feel it," the man exclaimed as he twisted and turned in the heat.

The woman looked and looked and began rubbing on the man's back as if trying to feel for flies, which is what swamp gas can feel like after prolonged exposure. Frankly, I thought the couple had gone mad, but other tourists were unable to tell, probably because they had, too.

Now, some people will say I am making this up.

"It was vintage Washington swamp hypothesis, and it was wrong," wrote Bob Arnebeck in a Washington Post Magazine article last summer called, "Repeat After Us: We Are Not A Swamp."

"Every year when the humidity hits, a folklore returns to our media and penetrates the cafes of Georgetown: All of this unpleasantness of climate is inevitable because 'the city was built on a swamp.' "

Semantics, Bob.

"Then how did the myth of a swamp come to life?" Arnebeck asked. "Probably because by 1816 every nonornamental tree in the city had been cut down, including many of the forests in the hills overlooking downtown. Nature had provided man with a well forested, well drained area . . . . men cut the trees and mucked up the natural drainage. So flooding of the Tiber {Creek} became more frequent until the ground just west of the Capitol became permanently soggy. In addition, the city fathers had the great notion of turning the Tiber into a barge canal. All they managed to do was turn a once beautiful river into an open ditch."

Okay, so you decide. But man-made or natural, gas is gas -- and it sure feels like swamp to me..