Friday, January 11, 2013

No. 510 – Burning Down One Side

Performer: Robert Plant
Songwriters: Robert Plant, Robbie Blunt, Jezz Woodroffe
Original Release: Pictures At Eleven
Year: 1982
Definitive Version: None

I knew this song when it came out, but only a bit, so I can tell a story of more recent vintage.

I can be slow to change, but Laurie is positively glacial. Since she moved to Chicago, 21 years ago to the day as I write this, she never had air conditioning—even the summers she wished she had.

Our apartment is well-shaded—less so after losing a couple tall trees in the back a few years ago during storms—and we get a nice cross-breeze down the hall from the front to the back. It’s fairly cool in the summer.

The exception is if the temperature never gets below 70 degrees, because the heat doesn’t escape—even with ceiling and box fans constantly blowing. As you might imagine, this can be a problem at night, when you really want to be comfortable enough to sleep. But Laurie liked having the fresh air. She didn’t want air conditioning, because it would cut off the breeze. As for it being hot inside, she didn’t really care.

The tipping point came in 2011. The forecast at one point in July was for extreme heat—perhaps topping 100 degrees—and as the day drew closer, a freakishly high heat index was added to the mix.

Well, Laurie wasn’t concerned about us; she was concerned about Henry, our cat. Fortunately, Janet and Cliff were away for a week. We were asked to watch their cats, and they extended an invitation to stay at their place if the heat got to be too much.

When it appeared that the forecast might be on the money, Laurie and I decided to take advantage of the generous offer. Laurie took Henry over in the morning and set him up in the guest room. After work, we’d pack our stuff and head over. Laurie wanted to make dinner at our place, but I said no way. If it’s going to be 115, I wanted no part of that.

It turned out to be as hot as forecast—the heat index in some neighborhoods hit 120, which is insane for Chicago. When I got to our place, it was sweltering. Going over to Janet and Cliff’s was a good idea, and when I got there and hit the conditioned air, I felt almost instantly rejuvenated.

I went to see Henry and saw he had eaten no food nor apparently gone to the bathroom. Laurie had said that when she set him up, he ran and hid under the bed. Apparently, he was so freaked out by the new location—and the fact he could smell two cats outside the door—he stayed under the bed the whole day and didn’t come out until I called his name.

When Laurie showed up, she agreed that making dinner there was the right call. We had an enjoyable evening and a decent sleep in the air conditioning and did the same thing the next night when temperatures stayed high.

After that, I made my play: Next year, we’re getting an air conditioner for our bedroom. I didn’t have to work too hard, because Laurie immediately agreed.

In April 2012, we went shopping for a room AC, because you don’t try and buy after it starts to get hot; you won’t find anything. We stashed the AC in the box in the basement. In May, the mercury hit 90. I installed the AC over Memorial Day weekend—a decision that proved fortuitous, because it got hot in June, setting records for most days above 90.

That was just the warmup. Because of the Italy trip, I couldn’t spend the entire week in Wisconsin and had to head home on July 4. It had been 95 the day we left, but the forecast was for above 100 on the Fourth.

The heat didn’t quite reach the Northwoods, so I didn’t feel it until I stopped for gas in Portage. I’ll never forget getting out of the car and feeling as though my face was on fire. It was 102 and humid—just oppressive.

It was just as bad at home. I immediately cranked on the AC, gathered up Henry, who was sprawled on the wood floor trying to stay as cool as anything could in a fur coat, his food and a spare litterbox and headed into my place of refuge.

We stayed there the next two days—me leaving only to go to work—as the heatwave tied a record for most consecutive days above 100. The third day missed being the hottest day in Chicago history because a noon thunderstorm cooled things off just long enough so later in the afternoon, the thermometer hit 103 and not the predicted 106. The next day, the high reached only 99, so another record was just missed.

But Henry and I were just ducky in our climate-controled abode, and when Laurie came home that 99-degree day, she pledged undying allegiance to the AC.

The glacier had moved, or melted, rather.

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