Walter Mencken 11 a.m., July 25
- Community Blog
- Right Smack Dab in the Middle
Heat Wave, Weather or Not
Here we go! Summer's first heat wave, and San Diego changes clothes like one big happy family arriving at the beach. From Otay Mesa to Escondido, Alpine to La Jolla, long sleeves and blue jeans slip off and T-shirts and shorts slip on. Lines form at barbershops for shaved heads. (I shaved mine at home.) There is a run on flip flops. Sunscreen is traded as a commodity. (I'll give you a tube of Bull Frog for your hat.) And in this hopeful writer's apartment, the hardest working appliance—usually the coffee maker—is surpassed by the air conditioner.
According to the weatherman: UNUSUALLY HIGH PRESSURE HAS SETTLED OVER THE SOUTHWEST, INCLUDING AMERICA'S FINEST CITY. THE HIGH PRESSURE WILL CONTINUE, BRINGING TEMPERATURES ABOVE AVERAGE THROUGHOUT NEXT WEEK. AVOID STRENUOUS OUTDOOR ACTIVITY. DRINK PLENTY OF FLUIDS. HATS, SUN SCREEN AND SHORTS ARE HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (That last sentence is mine.)
A Fashion Valley store is advertising a "Sizzling Summer Sale" on men's casual shorts. Cotton, thigh-length, assorted colors, for only $9.99. That's right in my budget. From my apartment I can cross the parking lot and avail myself of the bargain. But I hesitate. In the noonday sun my flip flops might stick to the melting asphalt. Besides, I don't wear shorts. My bare legs are unsightly, bony and egg-shell white, with varicose veins like purple pipes on snow. By not wearing shorts I think I'm doing mankind a favor. Yet, the beach beckons. Shorts would come in handy right now.
The change in weather affects everyone, and during the first days of the heat wave the atmosphere around town is jovial, almost giddy. Usually tight-lipped San Diegans feel the urge to communicate. Wisecracks break the silence. Hot enough for you? complete strangers ask one another. Or this one: Everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it. Smiles. So hot I fried my eggs on the sidewalk this morning. More smiles. No use griping about the weather, 'cause we're going to have weather whether or not. Grins and nods of agreement. When folks see my hairdo they can't help but ask: What happened? Fall asleep in the barber's chair? I can't help but smile. During June Gloom we seldom say anything to each other.
Of course, hot weather doesn't mean happy days are here again. Heat wilts decency. Shirtless-ness reveals beer guts. Short-shorts expose over fed thighs. Skimpy bathing suits bare botched tattoos. And in a crowded elevator it becomes evident that there has also been a run on deodorant. In the scorching heat spontaneous combustion becomes a reality. At the Fashion Valley Transit Center a woman with a homemade haircut stands in line for Ocean Beach. I am going to share the wisecrack about falling asleep in the barber's chair when she sharply turns on me. What are you looking at, creep?
Once the long line of beachgoers fills the seats, the bus driver explains that the overworked air-conditioner broke down earlier, so open the windows. But the air outside is just as hot. When the bus starts to move I find out how a loaf of bread feels in a convection oven. Passengers who aren't nodding out are fanning themselves with bus schedules. With the motion of the bus, one drowsy fellow sways side to side, farther and farther, until his head touches the shoulder of the woman next to him. Up she stands, and moves into the aisle. When the bus turns the next corner he hits his head on the window.
An argument breaks out. Some prefer hot weather, they say, because they can shed clothes until they're cool. But in cold weather although they put on everything they might still be cold. Nonsense, others argue. In the cold you can add more layers until you're warm. But when it's hot, and you take off everything except your birthday suit and are still hot, you're SOL. And from the back of the bus: Shut up already. We're on our way to the beach.
When we get there everyone piles out and runs towards the water. Laughter and shouts are as loud as the waves. Strangers share Frisbees and footballs, and say excuse me when they run through your space. I lay on my blanket watching the show. Lot's of old folks shouldn't be wearing Speedos and bikinis, but everyone is wearing smiles and that's the main thing. I'm wearing shorts but I don't care and no one else does either. One big happy family. It's a heat wave, and this doesn't happen very often.
More like this:
- No Air in North Park, Stand in Someone Else's Doorway — Aug. 15, 2012
- Is the Sun In Your Eyes or Are You Just Avoiding Me? — April 5, 2007
- Elemental, Little Fish — Nov. 16, 2006
- Fogueira Kwan Zheng Dao in Texas — Dec. 8, 2005
- River Rats, part one — April 2, 1987