I never thought the day would come I’d be putting these words to paper or computer screen. But, I’ve written my last column. I’m not finally moving to Wyoming. Have no fatal disease save being banal. Not finally fed up with people. Simply? It’s just too damn hot to write another column. Or inhale. The last couple weeks? A cool spell’s been 105.
My all-time favorite commentary on heat waves came from a Mighty Signal editor nearly a century ago. A.B. “Dad” Thatcher commented in his front-page space about a grizzled old cowboy, wandering into this newspaper’s office, back when it was on Main Street. The Westerner dryly noted he was visiting to report a news story. We were suffering through a stifling Depression-era August heat wave and the bovine relocator reported that it was so hot, he had witnessed a coyote chasing a rabbit. According to his report, “…they were both walking.”
It’s been Stupid Hot.
About 50 years ago, I was married, living on the ranch. We were blessed with a gigantic swimming pool where we lived la vie submergée from July to September. Friends and sworn enemies would show up toward sunset with big smiles, cold beer and peach ice cream. One entire August, the mercury bubbled between 105 and 117. Every. Damn. Day.
The thermometer was nailed to a tree, in the shade. The pool? While it was secluded in a lovely oak grove, there wasn’t a paint swab of shadow from dawn to midnight. You couldn’t stand poolside in cowboy boots let alone bare feet without incinerating your feet. That summer, the water in the darn pool was Hot Soup Hot. You couldn’t go in. Ain’t making it up. We called Newhall Ice and they delivered first a half-ton, then, a few hours later, ANOTHER half-ton of ice, each in 100-pound blocks. In bathing suits and cowboy hats, me and the missus quietly stood neck deep in the shallow end, sipping mai tais as huge ice floes lazily sailed past.
Part of my problem of Ol’ Sol moving a few million miles closer to Earth is that as I approach Middle Age, I’m becoming more of a weather sissy. I get colder in the winter and fry in the summer. When I was younger, I was so much tougher. Surrounded by eerie heat waves shimmering skyward, I’d do chores in triple digits, run the tractor in the midday blazing sun. When it got too hot for even a snake from the planet Mercury, I’d steer the old Ford tractor under the big water tank, open the spigot and get properly, deliciously drenched with cold well water. Then I’d put my hat back on. There’s nothing like that indescribable sensation of your core temperature plummeting down to the marrow of your bones. Five minutes later, my clothes would be completely dry again and I’d be back, strafing the ancient enemy: weeds.
Life is given to us in such unfair increments. The parenthesis of Young and Ferocious is not very wide. We’re Children with boundless energy and play, yet without bank accounts or drivers’ licenses. Then we’re Young and Ferocious for 20 minutes. Then, Elderly begins at 35 and what wisdom we possess is channeled toward accumulating debt.
When I was in gladiator shape, I’d run midday during the worst smog alert. No. Not run. Sprint. I’d jog over to Hart Park, then race up one of the back trails to Bill’s castle. I’d sprint, straight uphill, without stopping, until I reached the silent movie star’s big white home.
Isn’t that something? That God can lovingly craft for us bodies to accomplish tasks at 23 that would make Hercules scratch his beard and wince: “Cripes no darn way you’ll catch me doing that…!!!”
Still. Let the record state. At some point after thumping my chest and gazing triumphantly over the pathetic SCV scenery from a Newhall mountaintop, I did, finally, stop running. Went home. Showered. Searched for an air conditioning vent to stand in front of and sob lightly.
As a teen, I had a series of wretched summer jobs. I steam cleaned carpets for about a week with a Baptist minister. Steam cleaning carpets is like moving four houses a day. In a sauna. You move bedroom sets, pianos, aquariums. Fill a 90-degree-plus house with steam. Move everything back. Repeat. It wasn’t the life-sucking, back-breaking work that killed me. It was that Baptist minister merrily adding, “Okey doke!!!” to the end of every sentence over a 12-hour day.
The worst was being a grocery store box boy.
I worked at the mega Canyon Country Safeway at the corner of Whites and Soledad in the late ’60s. Again, remember. It’s not the heat that sucks. It’s going back and forth, in and out, from Saharan to Arctic Circle conditions. I’d hate to see Safeway’s electric bill then. It was a huge store, impossible to regulate with thousands going in and out when it’s A Million in the parking lot. Don’t forget. They measure temperature in the shade, when it’s to be found. On the asphalt, you can stir fry noodles. My daily job description included retrieving hundreds of shopping carts outside, shoving a few dozen into one unwieldy mile-long metal snake, then pushing the caravan into the store. Then, drenched in sweat, I’d ask heat-stroked shoppers if they wanted their groceries bagged by color, alphabetized or would they like to eat them here? Then, I’d stock the dairy case (34 degrees) or, worse, load ice cream in the freezer. Within minutes, you could be basting in Death Valley-like 135 degrees then be shivering at -5 degrees. Repeat. Children fainted.
Amazing what the human body can take because Safeway allowed we teen peons to drink as much free fountain soda as possible up to kidney failure.
There’d be summer days I’d drink a couple gallons of Coke, then wonder why slight shaving scratches never seemed to heal.
Let some grizzled Mojave prospector top that one.
John Boston is America’s hottest writer. Visit his johnbostonbooks.com.