The topic for those of us gathered at the dog park this morning was chiefly the weather: how beautiful it was today, how nice it has been so far this summer, and how ghastly it is supposed to be in the coming days. Increasing temperatures, but more wickedly, increasing humidity, is on tap for all of Minnesota. Humidity measured (I think via “dew point”) in the 60s is said to be “noticeable”, in the 65s, uncomfortable, at least for those of us who live up North and such places. Humidity in the 70s is considered oppressive. In a few days, weather forecasts tell us we will be seeing humidity measured around 73. Yuck.
Yet even with this dire forecast (which has me rearranging my list of chores for this still near-perfect day), the observation was made by more than one person at the park this morning that we here in the Upper Midwest have been lucky the last few years, with moderate winters and summers: winters have been snowy but not ridiculously so; last summer (and so far this summer) we have yet to hit 100 degrees, and temperatures in the 90s even are scattered and do not endure, and no catastrophic storms of either ilk. Someone jokingly (?) mentioned that we need to keep this quiet – with all the climactic unrest, we seem to be in a pocket of relative tranquility. While it may not last, we need to appreciate it while it is here. Humidity for a few days in the 70s notwithstanding.
“Do you have air conditioning?” was a constant question, which really was a polite way of feeling out if one had central air conditioning or utilized wall units to stay comfortable. Not all of us, especially in the city where the houses are 100 years old and more, have access to central air, but virtually everyone has at least one floor where a window unit air conditioner keeps part of the house cool. Most of us, though, don’t like going through the hassle of “putting them in” and tend to drag our feet until the first nasty days made us wish we had been more proactive. Well, that and the tendency to be proud of our staunch and stoic nature. (“No, we don’t usually put ‘em in until the middle of July”, or “It just hasn’t been hot enough yet,” shames those of us who have been weak enough to take action when temperatures topped 90 for a day a few weeks ago.)
Then came were the “I remember when….”stories. Nowadays, it’s easy to forget that air conditioning was not the norm when folks my age were children. Oh, sure, it existed, but it tended to be a luxury (even in businesses), and definitely not something that was taken for granted.
When did this happen? When did air conditioning become something that we considered pert near a necessity? I can remember as a child being so hot and so miserable in my Iowa summers that it seemed like I wouldn’t be able to endure it. But I did. And so did everyone else. Did the world simply become hotter? Did the humidity become stickier, the air heavier? Or have we as a society just become softer, less enduring? Of lesser mettle? Or was it that we have simply moved to a more entitled way of living?
There are so many other material things that we (at least the Midwest American city dwelling “we” that I see around me) take for granted and expect as a given in life: indoor plumbing, refrigerators, stoves and ovens, microwaves; televisions and even big screen televisions, game consoles, cell phones. These are not considered luxuries anymore, and truly have little to do with wealth – these are items on which modern life revolves (pundits who decry that those who live below the poverty level are not entitled to cell phones or even refrigerators, for crying out loud, know nothing of human dignity in our society and care nothing for the plight of those struggling).
Sure, some people do without. Those who cannot afford even these assumed necessities make due somehow, but at what cost to their spirit? Yes, there can be pride in what can be endured (else we would not be regaling others with our own stories of childhood deprivation), and yes, those who choose to turn their backs on such things for whatever reason – lessening a carbon footprint, marshalling expenses for other things that matter more dearly, wanting to live a simpler life – deserve some modicum of admiration. And no, that doesn’t mean that everyone, everywhere has an unalienable right to air conditioning in their homes; heck, how are college students who have decided to strike out on their own going to build character if they are coddled by air conditioning in the dilapidated upper half of that rental house they share with eight other students? (And yes, this is facetious, kinda, sorta.)
But the thing is, what used to be luxury is now something expected from the vast majority of folks (okay, urban folks, American folks). Even those of us who grew up not experiencing things like air conditioning would have a very hard time without it now. And think of our kids: how would they survive if they didn’t have cell phones, or the internet? Could they survive? Sure, most of ‘em. But would it change their lives incredibly if those things were suddenly taken away; their lives would be almost unrecognizable. (Hence the propensity of dystopia in our literature methinks.) That’s not a weakness – any more than taking away cars or televisions or air conditioning would be considered a “weakness” in the horror scenario of my generation – it would be difficult to cope if we were told we simply could no longer have these things, without anything to replace them.
I mean, honestly, when I think of how much the world has changed since I was a kid, I marvel at how flexible I’ve had to be, and all those folks who have grown up alongside me. How much I’ve had to change, in my thinking, in my physical skills, in my cultural expectations, in my ways of communicating. Then I look at my kids, and think about what they were born into, and how primitive that might seem to them when they turn 40, 50, 60, and about what they will expect out of life on a daily basis, to what they will be holding onto as “normal”. Will their experiences/skills/communications be impacted the same way mine have been? Will what they live with as a given change as much as mine has over the years? I mean, I went from a home where a typewriter was a luxury, where we had one record player (and only a handful of records) and no television for many years, where if we were lucky the phone – and we only had one – on the counter or the wall had a cord long enough to reach into the relative privacy of another room, to a fully networked cyber system for information, communications and entertainment, and individual phones kept in pockets that not only call us but sing to us and talk to us and tell us what’s going on and how to get there, the ability to write and research and correct and edit what we’ve written over and over quickly and efficiently and then share what we’ve written with others anywhere almost instantaneously… When I stop and think of all the changes that I’ve experienced in my life, I’m truly amazed.
And the next young person who makes fun of “old people” for being “old fashioned” and “unable to keep up with technology” is going to get the evil eye from me, that’s for sure. Once they’ve gone through all the changes that me and their parents or grandparents have gone though, then they can start making judgments. And they’ve better stay off my lawn while they’re at it!, gosh darn it!
Now, where was I…
Oh, yeah. Regardless of the why, our big window air conditioning unit in the downstairs part of the house is going in TODAY. There will be groans, there will be complaints – it’s not an easy task to unearth the monstrosity, to clear everything out of the way, to hoist it into place and anchor it. But by god, it’s going to happen. And then on Sunday – which is supposed to be the hottest day of the year thus far, with that oppressive humidity to boot – I’ll be able to look out the front window at everything wilting in the front yard, and be at peace. Or at least be comfortable. And in this day and age, I think those are very much the same thing.