Aug 09, 2011

The View from Mudsock Heights: People in Different Places React Differently to Hot Weather

By Dennis Powell | Posted at 4:55 PM

There is said to be a place hotter than it has been around here, but believers — I am among them — hold the view that if one is good, and repentant, it is possible to avoid ever going there. I知 speaking, of course, of Washington D.C.

Okay, that last sentence was a joke.

Yes, it has been hot and humid and, for the many of us who do not like these phenomena, awful. It happens, more or less the same way, each year. We are not surprised, yet there’s something in us that imparts the kind of panic that accompanies a bad cold: maybe this time it’s different, maybe this time it will never, ever go away.

But it will.

People’s response to hot weather varies. Some go inside, turn the air conditioner on to its top setting, and perch in front of it. (And, next week, they will wonder if this cold they’ve caught will ever go away.) Some, mostly but not exclusively kids, run and play in the garden sprinkler, as if being hot and wet is better than being hot and dry. Some are sensible. Some are not.

Some are forced to wear suits, and we should pity them.

Two colleagues of mine, people I know to be sane, one day last week were wearing a jacket and a sweater respectively, even though they didn’t have to.

There are two related but opposite reactions people have to hot weather that seem to comfort them. The first is making it into a contest, as if misery were a prize to be cherished — “It was even hotter where I live!” The second is claiming that no matter how bad it is here, it’s worse someplace else. (An example is a headline from Friday’s New York Times: “Feeling the Heat? Its Worse in Newark”. Well, yes, of course it is. That headline would work equally well if the word “Heat” were replaced by “Cold,” “Nice Weather,” or just about any other condition. What’s sad is that the only place they could think of that’s worse than New York City is Newark, N.J.)

Still, I fall into the latter category, the weather optimists. And southeastern Ohio makes that attitude easy.

I’ve lived in several places and it gets hot in the summer in all of them. This has given me the opportunity to observe the way people (myself included) behave — or misbehave — when the weather is unpleasantly hot. In all of them except here, the response has been quick and predictable. Already short, tempers grow shorter. Drivers, even in air-conditioned cars, honk at the car in front of them one microsecond (in contrast to the usual millisecond) after the light turns green. People grumble and growl and shoot each other for little or no reason. Crime rates soar (as the cliche goes), and police forget their politeness training. Everyone acts as if the hot weather is someone’s fault, generally the government’s, and demand that something be done about it, generally by the government. Nothing is done because nothing can be done.

The more cheerful among them greet others with a smiling “Hot enough for you?” and the next time you see them they have a piece of adhesive tape across the bridge of their nose.

That is not what typically happens around here. In six years I have heard a horn honked in anger exactly once, and that came from a car with an out of state license. No one has asked me if it is hot enough for me, and if anyone had I would not have felt inclined to punch them in the nose. Mostly, people do not comment on the weather except as it might be peripheral to another discussion, such as my neighbor saying that he hopes to do his mowing early in the day before it gets really hot. If someone asks “how are you holding up?” it is not, as it might be in some places, professional inquiry as to the best methods for knocking over the liquor store but instead a genuine inquiry about your wellbeing. The general attitude, though, is that we all know it is hot and we’ll not insult each other by treating other people as if they’re too dim to have noticed.

There is discussion of the effect of the heat on crops and garden plants, but this is always framed as a discussion of what the speaker can do to mitigate it, not what some undefined group ought to do about it.

So it has happened again. I’ve noticed another condition in which the people hereabouts are on the whole level-headed, calm, and sensible, good neighbors and good people. Again I’m proud to know them and am better for being among them. Among you.

Maybe the secret is a simple one. Perhaps the people of southeastern Ohio have known it all along. Possibly it’s something that even the august New York Times has only just discovered:

It may be bad here, but it’s even worse in Newark, N.J.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at dep@drippingwithirony.com.

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