Each night, throughout this long stretch of intense heat and high humidity, we have been praying to the air-conditioning gods to stay strong and continue to keep us comfortable. Last Friday night I must have forgotten, in my euphoria at the start of the weekend, to say my prayers because Saturday afternoon there was a waterfall coming through the ceiling in one of our offices.
Fortunately a staff member had come in to prepare for the next editions and was horrified at the sight. The water was dripping through the Sheetrock and onto one of our newer computers, then splashing its way off the papers on the desk and the leather surface of the chair to land on the relatively new carpet. A unit in the attic had given up trying to wring moisture out of the room and had broken down, releasing its condensate. The ceiling had begun to sag in protest.
The staff member called me.
I was at home, sitting in my favorite living room chair, reading the sections of the Sunday Times that we somehow get delivered on Saturday morning. The dog lay beside me, snoring slightly, enjoying the peaceful companionship of a weekend afternoon. I could hear the birds chirping outside, even over the whoosh of the air conditioning. It was a bucolic high-summer scene — until the phone rang.
Then we went into a frenzy that has lasted until today, as the repairmen try to pinpoint the problem. One thing I can tell you. It sure is tough to be creative in the 90-degree-plus heat. But the staff has soldiered on, despite the sultry air. Yes, we have fans and, yes, we have air conditioning in the rest of the building, some of which in theory should waft into the stricken room. But it has been uncomfortable, and the staff has persevered. If your newspaper feels a little damp, I trust you’ll understand. And we are hoping the fix is in.
How did we manage before air conditioning? There are still people who do not have air conditioning today by choice. Apartments and stores weren’t air conditioned when I was in the first decade of my life — only movie theaters were, and that’s where we hung out for two features and a news short on Saturday afternoons. When we wanted to cool down on Sundays, we rode the subway out to Rockaway Beach in Brooklyn — the end of the line — then walked the blocks to the sand and the surf, marveling at the seaside breeze. We stayed there — my parents, my brother, my sister and I — until quite late before returning to our stuffy apartment, squeezing as much time as we could from our comfortable location. Sometimes it even got quite cool along the water’s edge at night. We never complained.
During the week, we took refuge in Central Park, sitting on a bench or a blanket that we might have carried through the streets. We would pass neighbors hanging over their ground-floor windowsills and youngsters lounging on the steps of their stoops. Once we reached the park, my dad would find a thicket of trees and spread the blanket for us. Stretched out, we deeply inhaled the sweet summer evening breezes that might come along. After my brother, who was almost 14 years older, purchased his car, he would take us for rides after work with the side windows rolled down and the wing windows directing the flow of air onto our faces. Once we cleared the downtown streets and reached the parkway, he could get up enough speed to make us rejoice in the stream of air.
Even when I was in my 20s and married, we didn’t have air conditioning in our car, although it was available as an expensive option. It wasn’t until we lived on the Texas air base and bought a station wagon from a local dealer for our growing family that we got air conditioning. It turned out that was standard in every car in the South. How perfectly wonderful, but we did take a bit of ribbing from our friends and family about being spendthrifts when we drove back north. That was in the late 1960s, in a world long gone.