Burning up in the summer heat

When I drove past the thermometer in front of a local chiropractor’s office around 6 this morning, it was already 88 degrees.

Of course, these are the same people who claim they can cure my chronic lower back pain by yanking on my head, and induce weight loss by randomly rearranging my vertebrae. So I doubt the temperature was quite that high.

But there’s no doubt that the summer heat has arrived in full force. Our local forecast here in upstate South Carolina calls for a high of 94 today, and a series of 90-plus highs stretching through the end of the five-day forecast. Longer term, meteorologists predict a warm, dry July before we all die of global warming when the temps top out around 160° in August.

 “Spring has sprung and fall has fell,” we used to say rather ungrammatically when we were children. “Summer’s here and it’s hot as hell.”

I grew up in the largely un-air-conditioned Miami of the 1950s and 1960s. How we survived the summer heat of the tropics is beyond me. As a child, I remember friends trading baseball cards in the shade of a ficus tree and squirting each other with hoses for most of the hours our mothers had shooed us outside to play. Sweating profusely was another popular pastime.

I’ll still sometimes reference those sticky times as a badge of honor when discussing how hot a particular day has become.

“Yeah, it’s a scorcher,” I’ll acknowledge to fellow workers who return from a 60-second trip to roll down their car windows drenched in perspiration. “Not as bad as south Florida, of course. You could bake a cake in my father’s Monterey. Sitting in that Mercury was like sitting on Mercury.”

What I may neglect to mention is that a steady sea breeze and a general ignorance that air-conditioning even existed also contributed to how we were able to survive. But I’ll take any chance I can get to lend credence to the concept that I’m quite a man — leathery and melanoma-ridden, perhaps, but extremely masculine.

It wasn’t until after I left the tropics and went off to college that I became interested in using the outdoors for something other than suffering. When the jogging craze kicked into high gear in the early ’70’s, I was living in the slightly cooler climes of Tallahassee. North Florida at least had seasons, and you’d encounter an occasional one that wasn’t sweltering.

I ran mostly during the academic school year, which generally went from September to May and therefore wasn’t unbearable. When it did occasionally tend toward the brutally hot, I’d run anyway. (There was the matter of disgruntled advisors who were constantly chasing me, demanding to know when I’d take care of that Math 102 requirement).

I moved to South Carolina in 1980. At least a hundred miles inland from the Atlantic, the “Midlands” as they’re called are actually even worse than Florida (in so many ways). But I kept up the jogging for the next 30 or so years — with occasional breaks for sleep, work and having a son — and proudly became known in my suburban neighborhood as “that crazy guy who runs in the midday sun.”

Within the last few months, however, fearing my identity might soon change to “that crazy guy who used to run and now lies dead by the side of the road, a victim of heat stroke,” I’ve changed my exercise routine. Now I walk, and not just to transport myself to the bathroom. I walk vigorously, round and round in circles, trying to burn as many calories as jogging used to evaporate.

You don’t get quite as hot and sweaty as you do from running, so now I try to take care of my daily workout while I’m at work. I’ll slam down a couple of Hot Pockets at my desk, then use my 30-minute lunch break to pike vigorously around the office park. This way, when I get home at the end of a long day, I’ve already taken care of my exercise and can proceed to more leisurely pursuits, like standing next to the air conditioner.

The problem with exercising like this near work is that coworkers see you and laugh at you. The first few times I made the circuit to the warehouses in back, past the fake lake, dodging the geese poo and the turtles with Alzheimer’s who wandered away from their pond, then back to my office building, I ended up just as thoroughly drenched as if I’d walked into the lake. The heat radiated off the asphalt like a brick pizza oven, and I was the pepperoni. I was withered and greasy and smelled like curdled cheese by the time I returned to my desk.

I’ve thought of taking measures to make myself more comfortable outside. I could wear a big, wide-brimmed hat. I could remove my shirt. I could fill my pants pockets with chipped ice. None of this seems practical, however, for getting through the afternoon without the lady at the next cubicle hosing me down with Axe body spray.

I think now I’ll just take the rest of the summer off from any physical activity more exerting than respiration. Simply walking across the parking lot to my car when the workday ends at 3 p.m. is enough to exhaust me with the thermometer consistently above 90.

That dribble of sweat I’m leaving in my trail must weigh at least several pounds.

Have you heard? It's hot outside.

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