One day last week, the temperature in my neighborhood reached 95, and the humidity made it feel even hotter. I liked it.
I woke at around five, made coffee, took my pills, said Morning Prayer, and greeted the coming of daylight over 91st Street.
I had finished this first part of my morning routine, drunk almost all the coffee I wanted, and was partway through making journal entries, when my upstairs neighbors’ window air conditioner came on. It issued a gush of dripping, which fell on my window unit. After it had run for a while, the dripping and pinging diminished. It had introduced the play, then left the stage.
My unit doesn’t have one of those felt pads on its top, and I don’t want one. The down-home, tin-roof sound is most agreeable. My childhood home in rainy Beaumont had a tin-roofed garage.
I went for a walk earlier than usual. It was already hot, though. I zigzagged from one spot of shade to the next. It didn’t help much. When I got home, I dug up a big bottle of Gatorade that was left from a colonoscopy and slugged down about half of it. I would have preferred beer – it was there in the fridge looking at me the way beer will when you’re hot, but I had work to do.
If you’re old enough to have been a child in a congenial neighborhood in the sunbelt in the time before air conditioning, you probably recall playing hide and seek or piggy wants a signal in the evening while the grown-ups sat outside drinking iced tea, fanning themselves, chatting with the neighbors who were just a few feet away doing the same thing, none of them moving much. In my experience – I think it was common – there was a comfortable sense that we were all in it together – one with each other and in the grip of the weather. Something like that was present in the park.
I got into a conversation with a park employee whose job was to pick up trash and put it in a plastic bag. She was taking a break in the shade. I opened our chat with a stock offering, “Hot isn’t it.” She agreed, and I asked her whether she might prefer an indoor job, which she didn’t, she loved what she was doing and not having a boss bossing her around, and no, the job didn’t come with medical insurance, and so on, and we had the makings of a bond. I’m going to look for her when I go down today.
I saw a man with a Labrador with a tag identifying it as a service animal. The man didn’t look like he needed help, so I asked him about the tag. He said the dog was off duty. It was his wife’s dog “She’s doesn’t get around very well. Has trouble with her balance.” After a little more talking, we wished each other a nice day, and moved on.
While I was sitting on a bench enjoying doing nothing, a passerby noticed me looking admiringly at her little yellow dog. She brought it over to say hello. “Her name is Buttercup,” she said. Later, when they had reversed course, she waved at me from across the esplanade.
In late afternoon, a thundershower took center stage, and it gave the window unit another star turn. I was in the bedroom when the first rain drops pinged. Ann took a place in a window seat, and I went to the other window, and we watched the black skies over the Hudson and New Jersey advance on us. The wind picked up and treetops in the park blew and swayed. The pinging on the window unit was knocked out of commission by sheeting rain, booming thunder, and howling wind. For a time, the city-ness of our situation didn’t exist: we knew only the force of nature. As the storm was exiting stage east, the tin-roof sound returned for a final bow.
I had a happy childhood. It was nice to be there again.
I love that you speak to strangers. My mother always did that. She would come out of the supermarket and find out that she was somehow related to a person in her checkout aisle. I’ve tried to follow her example, although when she was alive, I’d kid her about it. I’m not proud of that. I’ve discovered that most people love to have others start a friendly chat. The world can be a lonely place.
Wonderfully evocative column, Paul! I grew up in Beaumont as well (and now live next door in Hardin County) and as I write this, a thunderstorm is just finishing up. The sounds and smells of rain that issue through a screen door or window will still send me right back to my childhood, which, like yours, was a happy one. Thank you!
Thanks Paul. Another good one. Your were asking about Buechners’ obit the other day. He would call these events of your day ‘Grace notes’, the conversations, the rain drops etc. the presence of God in our daily lives. Dean
Most evocative! I grew up in Houston, before AC, and we were fine. Neighbors interacted with one another, and kids played in the streets. The last time I visited that street (a few years ago), all you could hear was the hum of air conditioners. I myself live without one. It’s possible.
Awww! Similarities abound! I grew up in the country and in a part where it rains, almost everyday even when it’s bright sunshine and we had zinc roof tops and, yes, I also loved to hear the rain coming down on the roof top. I would sleep for as long as it rained and more! Especially at nights! It’s the most therapeutic and relaxing sound ever!! Further, as a walker/jogger/runner, I also have seen some hilarious, humane situations in my morning/afternoon/evening travails! I’d love to elaborate about them, but wouldn’t have enough time and space here; but let’s say, it’s a good feeling when one says “Hi ya! I thought I missed you this morning! Enjoy your day!” And yes, I say hello to everyone I pass giving thumbs up and waiving! It’s a good thing! Thanks Paul! You never fail! Cheers my friend!