The pure Hell of New York Summer
A few years ago a friend who lives in Las Vegas posted a photo of his car’s dash board, which displayed a temperature reading of close to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. “Still nowhere near as bad as New York City subway in the summer,” was his photo caption.
New York City survived its first major heat wave of 2019 this past weekend and survived is as good as it gets.
Public pools were kept open an extra hour, though one pool had to close during the heat wave. Large numbers of homes lost power throughout Brooklyn and Queens during some of the hottest hours of Sunday. In Times Square, where the heat index got as high as 110 degrees, my colleagues from Ask A New Yorker began frying an egg on the sidewalk.
To endure a New York City summer is to taste the atmosphere of Hades if Hades had fewer redeeming qualities. It was Sunday and the heat was high early. I couldn’t avoid doing the grocery shopping and I’d be subjected to consistent air conditioning, at least while I was indoors.
At the local supermarket, I got to the crowded parking lot and found a space on the perimeter. The blacktop of the lot was a welcoming carpet of black lava. I saw containers of recycled glass sitting by the can and bottle redemption machines. Four large tubs were filled with the smashed remains of recycled bottles. The image summarized the weekend’s heat wave. There in all the gleaming punishment its jagged shards could dish out, penned in for all to see, the shards seemed to taunt us. This is my time, the broken glass could boast to passers-by. I was born of a blast furnace and your city’s asphalt is a cool breeze in the mountains to be. How fragile you must be…
I stopped to take a photo of the glass. It was so simple yet so brutal.
“What’s wrong with my glass?” a man asked me. I turned to see a man in a blue jumpsuit with ear protection headphones on. He was collecting the recycled glass and thought maybe I was taking a photo to establish some kind of complaint. I explained it was unusual to see all the glass out of the machines like that and made for a neat photo. This was true. I decided that a parking lot in 100-degree weather was not the place to have a discussion about the murderous indifference of nature and human kind’s being at the mercy of the Earth despite our collective ability to damage it, especially as this gentleman was spending his day working in the hot sun collecting the industrial chum of the recycling machines.
The supermarket requires shoppers use a quarter to unlock a shopping cart from another. It also employs a locking system that stops someone from wheeling a shopping cart off its premises. Because I parked on the edge of the parking lot, my shopping cart locked up once I got it to my van. I loaded my groceries but now the wheels on the cart couldn’t move.
I was enraged and determined that I would get this quarter back if it was the last thing I ever did. I dragged the shopping cart across the parking lot to one of the docking stations where you can return cars without walking all the way back to the store. All the carts at the station had been self-locked and I would not be able to get my quarter back there. I dragged the cart all the way back to the store where an army of locked carts stood silently as I strained and cursed my way to redemption.
I managed to lock my shopping cart to another and retrieve my quarter from its infernal lock. I celebrated this victory by taking a photo of the quarter held aloft before the shopping cart in victory.
If I had looked closer at the photo before driving home I would have noticed my glasses inside a case on the seat. I have not yet found these glasses. Heat wave: 1, Matthew Sheahan: 0.
The crucible of summer in New York
If hell exists, it borrows heavily from New York City in the summertime. The unescapable humid heat that is magnified on the sidewalks and amplified in the subways, the crowded aggravation of our crumbling infrastructure, and the general unrest that foments rage where there might normally be annoyance or resignation, are the central ingredients of our sulphuric summer stew.
New York goes into its Independence Day holiday in the midst of one of its heat waves. The general state of the country only adds to the humid misery, with half the country protesting and demonizing the other half at light-speed intervals, new Internet outrages generated almost by the hour. It’s a dizzying spiral downward in civil discourse that fuels a blanket disgust made more maddening by temperatures that bake an already exhausted brain.
This work week is interrupted by our Independence Day holiday on July 4. Imagine putting up with all the outrages of national politics today but without air conditioning and in wool clothes, and you’ll see why the colonies revolted. In New York City today, our country’s divided politics are writ large across the city. People who once enjoyed vibrant conversation on the state of affairs skip such conversations; it doesn’t pay to engage in civil discourse, even on a personal level.
This week we will get through our work week, hoping it will be easier with so many people using the holiday for vacation. The trains will be a little less crowded, the traffic a little lighter and the sidewalks will be blazing hot but not quite as mobbed. Tourists will walk downtown past where George Washington was inaugurated (New York City was America’s first capital).
Sometimes, even though I appreciate air conditioning, I have a moment when I leave a heavily air conditioned building and feel a sense of relief and satisfaction at feeling the blanket of humid heat cover me when I step outside. It is good to feel the real world on your skin, to embrace reality no matter how unpleasant, because that’s what we are destined to do.
That is part of our story. New York gives its residents all four seasons at full blast. You will be hot, you will be cold, you will feel the full force of nature’s fury and blessings, sometimes within the same month. On the first day of Spring, New York City had a snowstorm. I would have gladly endured many more if it meant we would be spared the stifling heat of the summer months, but I knew better than to think we’d have such a lucky trade.
The crucible of summer in New York makes for stronger New Yorkers and spurs our innovation, our creativity, and our own more quiet revolution. Some of us will “embrace the suck” as the military puts it, and barrel through the overheated times with a gimlet eye towards the future.
Our destiny means we move through this overheated season with a desire to embrace the heat, to dive into the fevered truth that others work hard to avoid or shout down. The hot weather will pass, and we cannot huddle in the air conditioning forever. We have nothing to do but have pride in ourselves as New Yorkers and live summer to the fullest.
Spring arrives in February and that’s actually not good
Last week we had two days of spring weather in New York. This was less than two weeks after a snowstorm that had many office workers working from home.
Over Presidents Day weekend, I was upstate at the Mohonk Mountain House on a family vacation. My father-in-law and I decided to try our hand at skiing. Although we were skiing novices, we did well and zipped along on the daring Huguenot ski trail. As we made our way up a hillside, we came across an employee of the property who was maintaining the trails with a snowmobile. He noted that the snow was starting to soften so he was glad to be near the end of his rounds. We were lucky to have taken the opportunity to ski when we had it; the warm weather made the ski and snowshoe trails more difficult to use the following days. One day when we went to the outdoor ice rink, we found it closed with the ice having melted.
This past Saturday I took my two older daughters to a local playground and we spent most of our time outside with no jackets on at all. I was outdoors for an hour wearing nothing heavier than a short-sleeve cotton t-shirt and I was fine. The back of my big bald head even got a little sunburned.
In the office where I work, a few weeks ago some of my coworkers were using space heaters to help stay warm. This past week we opened the windows and even ran one of the air conditioners on the fan setting to circulate air. Two days I went to work without a coat (wore blazer jacket because I had meetings and because it’s still winter, damn it).
Isn’t this nice? Was the popular refrain, to which I say, “No!”
Please allow me to dump refreshingly cold water on your optimism. I may be a curmudgeon but I’m right. It’s not healthy for our part of the world to have 70-degree weather in January. If this were Florida or parts of the South or Southwest it would be another story. But February is for winter weather.
One of the benefits of living in the Northeast is getting to experience all the seasons fully. We get the best fall foliage in the world and a pleasant spring; we have both very hot summers and (usually) very cold winters.
Maybe a rare Spring-like day here and there is no big deal, but this kind of thing is happening with increased regularity and that’s not good. And I don’t mean for first-world problems like slushy ski trails and cranky middle-aged office workers. We need our seasons to keep our life in the balance it needs to be. Real-world important stuff like health and agriculture are thrown for a loop when temperatures spike unexpectedly.
I hate the heat and would rather stand in the cold until my face is hardened into a red, wind-burned grimace than be the summer sweat hog I become every year. I understand the weather gets warm and I adapt to that as best I can. At least let me have my winter.
What this may also indicate is that this year may be another record warm year and that we are due for another long, hot summer.
Earth Day is Not Just for Hippies Anymore
April 22 is Earth Day and no doubt many of the Earth Day observances will be obnoxious and useless. People have given environmentalism a bad name. Whether trying to tie helping the environment to New Age mysticism, linking terrorism to climate change, or comparing eating meat to the Holocaust, the mantle of environmentalism and appreciation of the Earth is a damaged one.
Just because hippies are doing it, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong or bad. Hippies were one of the first groups to organize against prohibitions against marijuana and now only the most dyed-in-the-wool authoritarian throwback wants to keep banning the weed. There are some things hippies get right, and appreciating nature is one of them, even if they do it in ham-handed and atrocious ways.
There is no American in history who embodied personal greatness and strength more than Theodore Roosevelt. And Teddy Roosevelt never met a nature preserve he didn’t like. To him, men who sat around inside all day were pussies who deserved to be thinned out of the bloodlines. Enjoying the great outdoors is a necessary part of life Roosevelt would tell you if he were still with us today, and anyone who doesn’t appreciate nature is some kind of effete nincompoop who should have no say in civic affairs. Even after he was president, at a time when most people retire to the quiet life, Roosevelt nearly died on an expedition in South America. You can go to the American Museum of Natural History today and see animals that Roosevelt went and shot so you could enjoy looking at them today.
Theodore Roosevelt would rightfully despise hippies and other layabouts but he would approve of Earth Day.
In order to appreciate the world and the great outdoors, it has to be there and in good working order. If you’ve ever gone to a favorite camping spot and found logging going on nearby, or seen heat-induced drought dry up streams in a favorite deer hunting spot, you will be drawn to the cause of the environment not matter what your politics.
Environmentalism used to be the exclusive province of more left-leaning groups, but now there is much common ground and elements on all ends of the political spectrum have found reason to embrace elements of the environmentalist movement.
And contemporary Earth Day observations will feature a lot of DIY community organizations acting independently and doing things that involve lower-cost, non-government solutions to some of our problems. For example, my wife is one of the founders of our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group, which is a cooperative that allows members to get fresh produce from a local farm. Flushing CSA is taking part in several Earth Day events, and CSA groups are one of a lot of different cooperative organizations out there that are doing very direct and helpful things outside of what is normally thought of as environmental activism.
Earth Day may still be stigmatized as a lot of nonsensical claptrap, but that’s not excuse not to do something that is helpful to the Earth. It’s what Theodore Roosevelt would do.
New York Summer Hate List
Summer is a time to burn with hate. The heat brings out the worst in us. The discomfort makes us loose our tempers, see the worst in everything. The constant sweat and stench of the summer boils our rage quickly. In New York City, hate levels are at a natural high given the crowded nature of the city. The summer season pushes our hate levels to its highest levels; global warming will exacerbate this.
Here are biggest reasons you will rightfully be consumed with hate this summer:
Heat: Meteorologists forecast that this will be a long, hot, and humid summer. In the city, the heat is worse than elsewhere. The blacktop and concrete absorb and reflect the heat. Large buildings wall in hot air, car exhaust, and other sickly fumes and heat-emitting odors. We also have the worst of both words with our heat: we get very high temperatures and very humidity.
Crowds and Traffic: New York attracts lots of tourists and we need them here. I will go out of my way to help them and give them information. But they are legion and they don’t know how to move about the city. They clog our sidewalks, subways and escalators to an aggravating degree. Our city requires a fast pace and a knowledge of how to courteously use mass transit and otherwise comport oneself in public spaces. The German tourists who dumbly stand in front of an open subway car door at Grand Central Terminal risk being trampled into strudel stains on the platform. The Chinese tourists who don’t know how to stand in a line make me dread the shape of our future world. There are plenty of New Yorkers who are stupid and ignorant and invite righteous anger, but they’re a constant variable and can sometimes be shamed into compliance. Tourists don’t know better, don’t want to learn and think everything is a big joke.
Bugs: Our city is overrun with roaches. I once live in an apartment that was so roach invested that I developed the ability to kill them with my bare hands without registering an ounce of disgust. The hot weather makes roaches reproduce faster as their eggs don’t take as long to hatch. Did you know that you should spray a roach with bug spray after you crush it to death in order to kill its eggs? Yes. Do that. The heat also brings more mosquitoes, which can now spread diseases like the West Nile Virus. Joy.
School Being Out: When I was in school I loved the summer. Now that I have moved on to adulthood, summer marks the time when teeming masses of juvenile delinquents take up valuable space on subways and sidewalks. Yes, I remember being a young person on summer vacation, and I’m sure I was a big jerk back then too. All the good students are busy working jobs, going to summer camp or spending time with their families. The youth you see out and about in the city are probably being idiots or committing crimes in between getting one another pregnant.
The Happiness of Others: The yellow face of the sky burns us as it mocks our unhappiness. People who revel in the stifling heat and painful sun can’t help themselves in expressing how happy they are. The better humans who are turning red and blistering are looking for ways to get shade and are not cheering their increased chances of skin cancer. Let the heat of the sun consume those who find joy in the midst of our suffering. May their grinning countenances be melted into a rancid plasma that will flow like lava and kill some roaches.