August Men's Room column
Recently, I witnessed a friend’s eighteen-year-old son entertain the idea of owning a car without air conditioning with all the incredulity that you or I might consider driving a car without a steering wheel. While he’s a fine young man, I found his casual sense of entitlement a little disturbing.
Full disclosure: I’m solidly middle-aged and would no sooner own a car without air conditioning in the South than I’d army crawl through hot coals in a Speedo, but in my younger years, I suffered through many miserable experiences of extreme heat that I now realize were important rites of passage.
As a teen, I attended basketball camps during peak summer heat. As we scrimmaged on black asphalt courts, it was so hot our feet sweated through our socks. So hot the soles of our sneakers were soft by the end of the day. So hot that after camp, I immediately retreated to our cool basement and fell into a wordless torpor until dinner.
During one particularly warm and humid college summer, I worked as a busboy at a fancy restaurant. Lunch shifts on the patio were hell. My required uniform was effectively a tuxedo sans jacket: shirt buttoned tight at the wrists, black pants soaking in the sun, neck choked by a bow tie. Sweat dripped from my nose as I refilled water glasses. It’s one thing to sweat profusely on a basketball court. Quite another when you’re expected to look semi-dignified as you deliver chocolate mousse to a six top of corporate attorneys. My discomfort was often compounded by crippling hangovers, and I gulped ice water at the busboy station and lingered in the walk-in freezer every chance I got.
After college, I traveled cross country in cars without air conditioning. Long sweaty drives through the Southwest with the windows down, wind whipping my face, and the sun burning my left arm. I stashed gallon jugs of water in the backseat in case of a breakdown, so I wouldn’t die of dehydration before I could hitch to the next town.
In my mid-twenties, I traveled to Costa Rica. We arrived by bus in a small coastal village late at night, the air still warm and thick. We had no accommodations reserved, so my friend and I followed a man at the bus stop holding a sign reading “room for rent.” The “room” turned out to be a storage shed for a beachfront hotel destroyed by a recent storm. Not only did the shed lack air conditioning, there wasn’t even a fan or a window. We lay awake panting and sweating and flicking away roaches until dawn. At sunrise, we burst outside bleary-eyed and sweaty, bought cold bottled water from a street vendor, and chugged it like wanderers emerging from the desert.
And what exactly do you learn from this kind of suffering?
Simply this: To live the rest of your life in humble gratitude, so that every single time your air conditioner kicks in at home or you crank it in the car on a hot day, you fully appreciate it for the blessed miracle it is.
Dylan Patterson is a writer and filmmaker who teaches English at Cape Fear Community College.
To view more of illustrator Mark Weber’s work, go to markweberart.blogspot.com.
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