It’s not the heat, it’s the stupidity.
Summer is the season we take leave of our senses, our brains addled by the heat. It’s hard to think straight when the air we breathe is as hot and viscous as our own blood.
I used to associate summer with being a kid. It was something to look forward to: no school, fireflies, ice pops. Summer worked only because we had seasons back then, distinct periods with distinct weather.
I guess global warming means we’re entering a state of perpetual summer, which might once have sounded great but now is dangerous and depressing, a place where, to paraphrase “The Chronicles of Narnia,” it’s always summer and never Labor Day.
Some of the dumbest things I ever did I did in summer. I ran away from home in summer. Well, sort of. I left a note that I had run away, then went into the garage, pulled down the folding ladder in the ceiling, climbed into the unfinished storage loft above it, and pulled the ladder up behind myself.
This was when we were living in Texas. How to describe summer in Texas? Well, it’s like Washington was last week: searingly hot and lung-drowningly humid. I don’t know what it’s like there now. Probably the surface of Mercury.
I sat up in the attic next to the Christmas ornaments and baby albums and waited for the note to be discovered and the wailing of the Kellys to begin.
After two hours bathed in sweat in that convection oven, I climbed down and rejoined the members of my family, who had never found the note.
Was that the same summer I cut off the tip of my finger with a lawn mower? It might have been. Or that might have been a few summers later.
You have to remember that back then there weren’t as many safety regulations as there are now. Summer meant putting out our eyes with BB guns and accidentally trepanning one another with lawn darts. It meant fracturing our spines on Slip ’N Slides. It meant washing down red M&Ms with red sodas tinted with Red Dye No. 2.
And it meant that if you were lazy, you could adjust the cutting height of your lawn mower without actually turning it off.
I thought I’d save myself the trouble of having to yank the starter cord again by leaving the mower running. I knelt down to move the little levers at each corner, but as I wrestled with a wheel on the right side, my left hand slipped under the deck and I felt an odd sensation: a little tug and nip.
When I pulled my hand back and looked at my middle finger, I remember thinking “That’s not so bad.” The digit hadn’t decided whether to bleed or not. Then the end of my finger suddenly blossomed like a crimson rose and I ran into the house, the malevolent mower whirring away behind me.
My finger’s fine, thanks. It was just the very, very end that got sliced off like a piece of deli loaf. That finger now sports a fingerprint that would amuse an FBI loop-and-whorl expert — and lawn mowers now come with what they call a dead man’s switch.
These days, it’s safer to spend summer inside, if you can. That’s where I’m trying to spend mine.
Our house is in summer mode: AC set to a patriotic 76 degrees, ceiling fans switched on upstairs, where the bedrooms are. It never really gets cool up there, but the fans help push around the sultry air, and we sleep under a single sheet.
Memories of summers past are baked into the very bones of old houses, and the hotter it gets, the more our house reveals itself. The smell of cigarettes is released from the plaster, the vice of some previous owner. The doors, swollen by the heat, stick in their jambs. The joists creak.
The attic? I don’t go there. The basement — cool and forgiving as the grave — is the place to be this summer. And maybe forever.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.