New York is the land of the haves and the have-nots: Those who have central air conditioning, and those who don’t.
The divide is stark. On the subway, there stand impeccably coiffed commuters while I struggle to hide the puddle of sweat pooling under my feet.
What heat? They seem to scoff. I still have goose bumps from my overactive centrally air-conditioned high rise on the corner of You Can’t Believe How Much I Pay for It and Just Because I Can.
The central air-challenged can dare face the wrath of the humid, heat island-laden New York summer, as long as they don’t mind lying in bed, hot air blowing across their sweaty limbs from an open window and two fans, one of which rattles loud enough for the person on the other end of the line to ask, “What is that?”
I did just that last week amid a heat wave.
Some nights it was cooler outside than it was in, the temperature in my apartment building rising the higher up I ventured. For the top-floor dweller, which would be me of course, it was gradual torture.
It didn’t help that my small room absorbs heat like a black sweater in the desert. Or that my window can only open as far as a block of wood can take it, given its absolute lack of ability to hold itself up.
“UGH,” I heard my roommate say not too far from where I sat.
He lay in bed with the lights off, his feet touching the floor.
“Are you… depressed?” I asked.
He’d had a rough day, worsened only by an arguably even rougher time installing our window units in our respective rooms. What initially seemed like our answer to the oppressive heat became nothing short of a tease.
Minutes after turning on our air conditioners, one of us fist-pumping in the noticeably cooler room, the power died.
Three times this happened, and each time the circuit breaker was unappeased by a change of outlet, an unplugged this or that, a lower setting. Three times we were doomed.
The first two instances I emerged from my room, laughing it off. “Must be a fluke,” I said. But by the third time it was clear it was a fruitless mission, the building far too old to simultaneously power two window units.
We talked to each other from our own rooms, too defeated for niceties.
“Are you sure it’s not unfair?” he said.
I’d just told him he should have his on for the night. I’d had an easy day and, despite it all, was in a great mood.
So there I was, wide awake at 4 a.m. unable to fall back asleep.
I’d say I tossed and turned, but that would have required too much energy. The sweat glands in parts of my body that I didn’t even know had sweat glands were working the night shift.
Memories of outages from simultaneous hair-drying with the former roommate resurfaced. If the circuit breaker couldn’t even take that, what made me think it could withstand two air conditioners?
My mind eventually wandered elsewhere.
I had delusions of camping out in the office. Of riding the air-conditioned subway ad infinitum. Of proposing to someone so long as he (or she) ensured we’d have properly insulated and cooled apartments in sickness and in health, and that we would move in together in that instant. Of mermaid transmogrification. Of cohabiting with my penguin brethren of the north (in the Bronx Zoo, that is).
When it’s hot, everything else is usurped by this predicament. Tossed aside are paying bills and cleaning the room you’ve neglected for months due to working too much and being out too much when you do find the time.
Googling the best places to position your fans and achieving sufficient airflow takes precedence. Which is what I did for hours, before and after my insomnia.
I was a barely functioning zombie for the rest of the day, though I somehow managed to churn out a story. I then decided to stay out that night long enough to render my body too tired to care about anything else but sleep when I returned.
It was an effective but costly endeavor. I’m still tired from it all.
Before you praise me for being an awesome roommate (which I am) and a lovely humanitarian (guilty, again), trust that my deed will not go unnoticed.
Just know the next time I have a crap day, and it’s ridiculously, sweltering hot out, my roommate better come bearing an inflatable pool, a bucket of rocky road ice cream, and an amazingly choreographed rain dance complete with artificial, strawberry-scented droplets.
He just doesn’t know it yet.
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