Monday, July 11, 2005

The Chill of Summer

An inventiory of my closet recently reminded me of several summery dresses and skirts I possess but haven't worn in quite some time. I couldn't remember why they were languishing in my closet, and the temperatures being in the high 90s, I decided now was the time to extract them and put them to good use. I started with a little sleeveless denim, above-the-knee number. Cute, I thought. Why haven't I gotten this out sooner? Summer's been in season a while now. This is perfect.

Out I went into the arid fiery day. I met my sister for lunch, looking summery and cool. The sun beat down but I felt well-dressed for it. Entering the restaurant I was suddenly reminded of the reason the airy little dresses were hidden away. Like an arctic blast, the air conditioning pounded down on me, rendering me with goosebumps. It was 97 degrees outside, yet I stiffened and chilled like celery in ice water. Oh yes. The ol' freeze-ya-to-death-in-the-middle-of-summer routine we are forced to face every year.

Now, don't get me wrong...I'm grateful for air conditioning. I don't know that I could live in this high desert environment without it. Our swamp cooler is running constantly throughout the day during this season while we await the cooling monsoons. As I mentioned in a previous post, I am much more well-tolerant of heat than cold, and I'm usually good to about 93 degrees, then the heat overtakes me and I start to feel wilty and cranky. Air conditioning helps that condition. I just prefer logic be utilized and the air be conditioned, not iced.

A swamp cooler is a pretty basic contraption, actually. Water is pumped onto birch pads and a fan blows over it, forcing the cool air through the vents into the home. Almost ingenious, really, and normally pretty effective for a desert locale such as this. Swamp coolers, though, were a new mystery to us when we first moved to New Mexico. Coming from the humid, muggy midwest we couldn't fathom that moisture would be put into the air to cool a home. In our first, teensy efficiency apartment there was a switch to turn on the air and a thermostat, so ignorant little Ohioans that we were, we turned on the air to cool the stuffy flat and went to bed. Some time in the middle of the night we were shocked awake by the blaring, incessant and hellacious beeping of the smoke alarm. It turned out that swamp coolers don't turn off when the air reaches the desired temperature, they're a manual device. The air had gotten too cool, the thermostat registered and turned on the little wall-mounted heater, which in turn started to smolder an afghan which was thrown over the back of a chair next to said heater. We jumped up and threw the poor afghan -which was painstakingly handmade for me by an elderly aunt- into the shower to extinguish the smoke, pulled the batteries out of the smoke alarm and peeked outside to see if our poor, elderly neighbors were needing emergency attention due to the heart-stopping noise our alarm elicited. Our landlord came and gave us a crash-course in swamp cooler function the next day.

More educated now, we utilize our swamp cooler efficiently and regularly. So the fact of air conditioning is not an issue for me. It is the fact that too many business establishments set the air at glacial chill that bothers me. Why, when it is 97 degrees, must I tote around a sweater? Wear long pants? Forego the adorable little sleevless tops I possess, which are perfect for hot weather, I may add. Why? Why the extremes of temperature? It's a mystery. I may never figure it out. It seems not only illogical but ineffecient energy usage, too. I know I'm not the only one. I've seen other women yanking on jackets or sweaters to fend off the interior shivers. Then, when we depart, we are hit with the reverse blast-the sizzling outdoor air-and with one accord we quickly peel off the coverings, the hot air actually welcome relief.

It's silly. I call for common sense! I ask for a logical temperature to be utilized! I want to wear my sundresses and my sleeveless tops! I'll get the chance soon, when winter arrives and the same establishments have the heat cranked up.


Dr. S said...

I couldn't agree more. Apparently in Japan, businessmen are no longer allowed to wear suit jackets and as a result, air conditioning temperatures can be lowered in order to save energy.

In my own country, Australia, it's not uncommon to see people doing business in (good) shorts, short-sleeved shirts and, for women, the kinds of light dresses and skirts that you're describing. Why? Because our summers sizzles, just as they do here, and air conditioning isn't the norm there.

I was just telling my non-driving daughter, who was here visiting and complaining about having to get around everywhere in cars, that the real energy problem is buildings and I intend to blog about it very soon. That's not to say that cars aren't a serious problem but we don't seem to understand where energy is really being wasted, which is in (over)heating and (over)cooling buildings, and it could easily be changed.

Dr. S said...

Oops, I made a typo and can't change it! :)

Diane said...

I agree. Whenever I go out to eat I take a sweater with me in the summer as most places are way too cold!! They must keep it that way for the employees and not the customers.