I have a friend at work who loathes - usually with energetic and colorful expletives - weather in which the temperature rises above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I have another friend for whom the longest days of the year aren't complete until he has been able to bask in shimmering waves of 90-plus degree heat, like some gila monster spread out in happy torpor upon a flat desert rock.
If I tend to either end of the scale, it would have to be toward summer, because I have a distaste for winter that only a child forced to play in the snow because "it's good for you!" can muster. It's truly hard to appreciate the crisp and porcelain beauty of the season when one's wrists are wet and chapped with snow melted into uncomfortable ice pills inside one's mittens; when one's feet snap and ache with cold, and incipient chillblains.
Still, I must admit that coming to Chicago has changed me. Summers in Chicago are inevitably moist and oppressive - sweat-daubed and reeking with the fume-rich blanket of hot weather inversion that tans our particular urban skies too many days between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
In fact, ever since 1995, when a heat wave took hundreds of lives in Chicago*, (including my cat Rissa. Not, certainly, as tragic as the human victims, but a loss we mourned), summer has reminded me that spring and fall are really the only seasons I can truly love these days.
This is not to say that I don't occasionally still love summer. There's nothing like walking on a summer night and appreciating the cool and the summer stars. I also love barbecues, and I adore swimming, and those are most definitely summer time arts. But I don't get the chance to barbecue much these days, and I haven't been on a beach for decades. All of which is my own damned fault, but it does limit those few aspects of summer that I truly adore.
So why my anti-paean to hot and cold running weather?
Simple: I was reintroduced to Chicago summer today, caught in construction-clotted traffic in an AC-deficient car for oh, about a century at high noon, in 88 degree sunshine.
Oh, my, I do not like hot weather.
* This is how much that summer affected me.
Chicago, Summer, 1995
The storms, spawned like mosquitoes in the Gulf,
reached up and embraced us with heat this summer.
The dirty air lay over us, unable to rise.
The buildings labored and moaned to keep us cool
in the merciless downtowns.
We hated our clothing, hated our skins,
We knew our sweat.
The air was thick with oil and garbage,
the effluvia of days that refused to end.
We woke to heat, walked in heat,
sank in it.
It defeated us.
We hid in airless caves, prayed for sundown.
Humid night followed cruel day and we were like children,
looking for kindness,
rewarded with nothing but another storm lingering on the lake's horizon.
Betrayed and bitter,
we leaned on our horns in the clotted intersections.
We clenched our fists
and closed our eyes.
We tasted stale salt on our upper lips,
slammed against the shimmering air, against each other
in realized desperation.
If the cool air had not surprised us,
the northern winds of final, blessed fall —
if the winds had not thinned our blood so that it ran in our veins again....
If we had not been able to breathe again,
we would have succumbed
and walked into the lake,
leaving empty streets echoing with the whine and snap of
useless air conditioners.
October 1, 1995