The Poverty Game and Summer

July 20, 2011

I closed all the doors and windows in the house at 9 o’clock this morning. It was 81 degrees Fahrenheit inside, and 84 degrees outside.

After dinner, around 7 P.M., I opened the windows and doors again. I had just finished cooking dinner – green beans sauteed in bacon fat, garlic, and brown sugar, over boiled rice. It was 87 degrees inside, and 96 degrees outside.

I did not turn the air-conditioning on. I still haven’t turned it on. If we can make it to August without air-conditioning, we’ll have something to brag about for the rest of the summer. If we can make it through the whole summer, we’ll have something to brag about forever.

We drank ice water. We had strategically-positioned fans throughout the house. We kept the curtains drawn. We ate fruit popsicles. We dressed appropriately for the heat, and we sweated a little bit, but the breeze from the fans dried the sweat, and our bodies did their jobs, healthily. The kids’ first day of school was today, and that coincided with Waffle Cone Wednesdays at TCBY, so we each had a celebratory frozen yogurt. It was a good afternoon and evening. No one lost their temper. We stayed cool enough.

And so it has become a game. We don’t want to spend the money on electricity if we can help it because that money can be used for other things like rent or food or for a simple pleasure like a $1.50 waffle cone. We shouldn’t have to make decisions like this, but we oh well, we do have to. While we’re laughing at the absurdity of the situation so that we don’t become petrified by despair, we make it into a game. How far can we take it?

An unintended consequence of this particular poverty game is that I am becoming more comfortable with the summer. I moved to North Carolina in August of 2003 from temperate and lovely Oakland, California. I had lived my entire life up until then in the coastal plain of California, where the ocean calms the air and keeps temperatures always within the range of comfortable. My first summer in North Carolina knocked me to my knees. I had moved to the most bizarre place imaginable, where cicadas fell out of trees onto my head, the air was so heavy I couldn’t breath, and sinister vines twisted over everything they could reach. I hated it. October finally came, and I could live again.

Autumn in North Carolina is easy to love, winter is precious with its occasional dustings of snow, and spring here is nothing but enchanting. Summer in North Carolina is a monstrous THING.

I’m dead square into my ninth summer here, and I have to say, every summer becomes less and less a drag. I might even say that summer even started to become almost…wonderful…three years ago. That was the summer I went to weddings and house parties, and I DJ’d before bands played, and I would dress up in my Lucky Green Dress, wearing brooches or fishnet stockings, and I would go out into the night feeling covered in summer. Everyone’s face was slick with sweat at 1 in the morning, we were sticky, exhausted or drunk and maybe dehydrated, but people were dancing and talking and having fun.

So yes, summer, you are beguiling me, but you still haven’t completely won we over. Summer in North Carolina is filled with bugs, with mosquitoes that bite and make me itch and scar me, stinging things that fly, and beetles and cockroaches that creep and dart and crawl and spring from everywhere. And all these THINGS are out there in the dark, and I can’t see them.

But now, this ninth summer, I think that the bugs and the darkness are losing a little bit of their tyranny over me. When it’s late out, and still not quite cool enough in my room to go to bed, I like to sit outside in the night air. It’s cooler, by only a little but just enough to matter. It’s dark outside, and I can hear the things twitching and buzzing around me, but it feels so good out there. I’m starting, by just this much (holding finger to thumb very closely), to not care about those things out there in the dark. And I’d never want to sit out there in the night air if I weren’t playing a silly game about air-conditioning to keep me sane.

Summer is a beast, but it bewitches you. It has become the scent of crepe myrtle stuck to your lungs, fireflies blinking, people sweating and staying up late, popsicles melting, porch parties, tomato sandwiches, driving on the country roads with the windows all the way down, music, always music, and wearing almost nothing, and waking up to a bright morning sky. We can handle summer, and if (when) we do need to turn the air-conditioning on, we’ll turn it on. The temperature’s supposed to break 100 each day the next few days, so I’m guessing it’ll be turned on soon.

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