A mid-summer heatwave in my Chicago neighborhood is a unique event. It’s the hot of concrete and brick radiating thermal energy in every direction…outside, inside, through walls, drifting past my door en route the second floor; a building-sized convection oven is the only legitimate description. It’s the heat of Milwaukee Avenue’s six lanes of baked pavement, compounded by a thousand internal combustion engines. Yes, it is warm.

Many years ago I abandoned air conditioning. I cope with a mechanism involving darkness and hibernation. Simply close the blinds and draw the curtains in my tall Victorian windows in order to eliminate radiant heat. Each of my small rooms has a ceiling fan to roil the muggy air, yet there remains confusion about the optimum configuration of spin. Does drawing cool air from the floor make more sense than driving down the heat layer at the ceiling? Every once in a while I change the direction and it doesn’t seem to matter. Just keep the air moving. “Daylight is a bitch”- Count Dracula.

My morning shower is an experiment in entropy. The illusion of rinsing sweat from my body and enjoying a moment of cool arid pleasure is lost with the realization there is never truly a moment without a drip of moisture creeping down my face, in or out of the spray. The water offers only momentary temperature relief and the bath towel may as well be a plastic bag. We earthlings exist in an “ocean of air”: this is proof. I move from one state of super-saturation to the next. Sweat, water, sweat…it’s all the same mass of wet air with only an occasional change in density.

Dinner is a surreal event. My bachelor regimen stores personal-size portions of food in individual freezer bags ready for quick thaw and prep. Currently, chicken is in abundance. A plan forms for two frozen chicken breasts and a jar of Trader Joe’s Garlic Sauce in the slow-cooker. Almost zero effort and a small heat footprint is perfect for this situation. Upon removing food from the freezer, there is spontaneous temptation. I hold the frozen bags against my cheeks and then massage my temples. I find a smooth spot and gently hold the icy filets against my eyes. With chin to chest, I rub the upper Trapezius muscles of my neck, left and right, up and down, and an involuntary groan escapes my lips.

My prep area looks through an open window and there was my neighbor, having a smoke on her porch, staring. “Hi, Delores.” She extinguished the cigarette and retreated indoors without a word. Carry on.

The key is to limit exertion of any kind. I sit still and catch up on a mountain of neglected reading, make a to-do list (with no hope of completion), and drink cold lemon-water. A check of the weather forecast predicts coming relief, a summer storm, brief and spectacular, within the hour. Let’s hope the neighborhood fares well in the shower, we can both use another thorough rinse. Soon, as predicted, the ambient light dims and the clouds lower in the sky. A stillness falls and in the quiet I can hear the grind of a dozen window air conditioners mixed with the infernal screeching of the cicadas. “Stillness” in the city is a relative concept.

Suddenly, a breeze. The cool gust feels like a kiss on the back of my neck. A shiver runs through my body, travels down the spine to exit the ventilation ports on my Keds. I close my eyes an assume the posture of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, arms spread wide, and allow the new air to circulate my being. At that moment there is a rumble of thunder. Controlling the elements like this will take practice.

  • Joe Tortorici