September's well underway, with temperatures all the way down into the mid 90s, but OMG, you guys! Did you know that we had the hottest August ever? Well, yeah. If you live in the state and opened a newspaper, website, or magazine or watched television at all last month, you surely do know, because someone ran the "Breaking News! Arizona still hot" story at least once a day. But it seriously was really hot. Still, it was better than another hottest year I remember, when I didn't have the luxury of hastening from air-conditioned cocoon to air-conditioned cocoon.
When I was five years old, my family moved here from the Buffalo, New York area. My parents -- apparently operating under the logic that "We need a change of scenery" equals "Let's move to the most opposite climate possible" -- soon narrowed their prospects down to the Phoenix area and a few similar regions in the southern United States. I remember having fish named "Phoenix" and "Mesa" while we still lived in Depew. It was all terribly exotic.
Soon, we packed up our three cats (they were less than thrilled) and our family of five, and moved to the desert. At first, we lived in apartments and townhouses, but after a couple of years we got our own place, a double-wide mobile home at the foothills of the Goldfield Mountains, just outside of Apache Junction. Mobile homes out here kind of equal houses, and at that time especially, if you lived out in the boonies -- as we did -- it was the way to go. Wood siding was added, and it looked very house-y.
We had our home. We actually had our own section of road, a sizable front yard, and seemingly a whole mountain range as our backyard.
We did not have much money, however, and now my parents were responsible for all the amenities in our home -- and paying for them. Consequently, we did not have air conditioning.
This was during a summer that hit the 120s more than a few times. I remember sitting in the car (which also lacked air conditioning), waiting to pick up my dad from work. It was 123. Squiggly heat waves emanated from the parking lot. It was like sitting in an oven that's on top of a frying pan. My mom thought rolling down the window might help. The air outside was -- surprise -- 123 degrees, so this didn't accomplish much.
We couldn't afford air conditioning of any sort for a while. However, there were a few ways we found to beat the heat.
1. Ghetto swamp cooler
We couldn't afford swamp cooling either, for some time. With neither swamp cooling nor air conditioning, fans were an absolute necessity in our house. Still, there's only so much pushing-around-hot-air that you can do with any effect. It basically just felt like giant hair driers everywhere. So we improvised.
It was simple. Take a big box fan. Take a wet rag and drape it over the fan. Presto: your own homemade evaporative cooling system. There was no sweeter experience in our house that summer than having moist, coolish air blowing directly into one's face; unless one was also blocking the fan and hogging it from one's sister or brother.
2. Visiting the mall and library. A lot.
And K-Mart. And department stores. And museums when they had free days. If we could find somewhere that was air conditioned, we practically camped out. There are few things in my life that I've savored as much as the first gust of icy air as automated doors slid apart and I walked from the oven-temperature day and heat-softened asphalt into the cool respite of a grocery store.
The library was one of our favorite hangouts. I think I completed the library's reading programs in their entirety for three summers straight. They must have thought I was insanely crazy about books. I was, of course, but mostly we were just bumming off their air conditioning.
A natural choice. We swam all the time. We went to Canyon Lake regularly, and hung out at the public pool a whole lot. But when we couldn't get to either one of those, we took a dunk in our own pool.
For those of you who remember my family's in-ground pool, that came WAY later. I mean our above-ground "pool." Such as it was.
It looked about like this:Keep in mind, I was at least eight to ten years old at this point, so this was pretty undignified. I didn't care. It was wet, and kind of cold, and if my mom wasn't looking I could splash my sister or throw mud on my brother, which made them cry, which was always entertaining.
We certainly weren't above mooching. I spent several weeks that summer befriending a neighbor. We didn't have anything in common. She once dared me to jump from her shed roof to a power line to see if I would get zapped -- and I did it. (I escaped electrocution; I think she was disappointed.) She really wasn't a good influence. But she let me sit in her air-conditioned room while eating cold pizza and watching Duck Tales, so I was her friend. Another time, we took a van we clearly could not afford; but which had astoundingly cold air conditioning; for a much-longer-than-necessary test drive. I held my face in front of the vent until my nose hurt from the cold.
My brother spent the entire summer in nothing but a pair of briefs featuring the character Mouser from Super Mario Bros. 2. My sister and I like to tease him, but we really weren't much better. I had a pair of hot pink shorts that I favored, mostly because the fabric was only slightly heavier than air. I think they were about three inches long. My sister had a very similar pair, and we'd wear them with any comfortable, small shirt we could find, which never matched. (I had an orange one I liked. No, I really don't know what I was thinking.)
My dad might have been the worst of us. He had a seemingly endless collection of what looked like well-worn hot pants from the '60s. They were usually red or yellow or some awful color, and he usually wore them with an equally awful and ill-fitting shirt in a clashing shade. My mom tried to rotate them out of circulation via the laundry pile, but they never did seem to disappear. I remember a particularly awful combination of red shorts and a "He who dies with the most toys wins" shirt that I think he must still be wearing.
I guess what I'm saying is we were desperate. Loving and happy, but sweaty and cheap and desperate. We're helping my mom move some stuff tomorrow, and her air conditioning's been in various states of not-working for the last forever. We'll only have to be in and out of it a few times, when it's not even that hot, but she's been dealing with it this whole time.
It will come as no surprise to any of you who know my mom to learn that she was the only one who probably survived the summer in the 120s with some degree of dignity and equanimity. Last month, with varied other hassles and troubles, and no air conditioning on top of it all, she didn't resort to sibling torture or sitting around in video-game-character underwear even one time. The lady's a trooper.