Sunday, August 7, 2011

As The Platters Sang In That Hot Summer of Long Ago, 'Sweat Gets In Your Eyes'

It’s so hot, I saw a camel carrying an umbrella and a water bottle.

Yesterday I saw a lizard in a tiny cotton wife-beater, drinking an Icee. In the shade.

I saw a gator in a visor.

It’s so hot the fire extinguishers are begging the dogs to stop by.

For more than 30 days this year, the temperature here has reached more than 100.


And dry as moldy bread.

The other day I pulled a patrolman over and asked him to waterboard me.

It’s not been cool weather.

You know those times when people around here say, “It’s not so much the heat, it’s the humidity”? This is not one of those times. It IS the heat.

(Secretly, it’s always the heat. The heat’s what makes the humidity so, for lack of a better term, humid. And the weather so hot. But that’s another story. So we’ll move on. Besides, I’m hot.)

This is the hottest year on record since 1981, when it was more than 100 for nearly 50 days. Nearly 50 hot, blazing, scorching days. Africa hot days. Hotter than seven hells, I heard a guy say.

1981. Those were the hot ’ol days, the ones I’ve always called “The Summer of Herb.”

Mr. Herb let me work for him that summer, as I was a college student who owned the one thing money can’t buy – poverty – and he was a foreman of various work crews. Somewhere in there was a soft heart, so he threw me a bone.

And a shovel.

It was the summer Mr. Herb told me and my shovel to help grade a new Arkansas road. We know it now as the Camden Bypass. We knew it then as Hell’s Kitchen.

There is not a lot of shade in your road building ventures, as eliminating shade is sort of the point. Fortunately, we were taken off that job after a few weeks and taken to an Interstate 20 rest area near Haughton. Unfortunately, we had to build it.

West of the building still standing there today, north of the westbound lanes, for a solid hour one afternoon I feel asleep while leaning against my shovel, standing, napping like a horse. Didn’t even mean to.

That rest area is closed now, a shame since I found it so easy to rest there, especially if you were hot, and limp-dishrag tired, and it had been more than 100 degrees for three weeks straight. And Mr. Herb had had to “run to Shreveport” for a minute. Sweet dreams.

Mr. Herb was not a truck air-conditioner guy. He liked to keep me acclimated, which I’m actually thankful for. We sort of stayed on a low boil every day. Our sweat rings had sweat rings.

My dad’s generation was more conditioned to heat than I am. And I’m more conditioned than the two generations since. That the National Football League has recently done away with two-a-day practices is no surprise; the players grew up with air conditioning. Mine might be the last generation that’s spent more time outside than in.

I love the heat. Love working in it. But I found out last weekend that we all have to make concessions to a summer like this one. I did yard labor in anti-poison ivy gear and nearly got heat stroke. I know because my head hurt and I slept from 6 p.m. until 8 the next morning.

I dreamed of sprinklers, of shovels and shade.