Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Five Stages of Heat

This is my second summer in Phoenix and I’ve noticed a pattern of behavior that I don’t understand. Starting in April, the temperature, without exception, starts its slow, steady climb into the triple digits.

We laugh at people back East and the Midwest who are still digging their way out of another frigid winter. We scoff at the inevitable sun and heat. That’s why we live here…in the desert, we delusionally proclaim.

Then July comes and the temperature (like every July) climbs past 110 and we suddenly are outraged, insulted. We go through what I call the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Summer Grief.

First, we are in denial. June was unseasonably cool this year. So by June 20th, we absolutely convinced that there was no freaking way we could see 110 degrees this summer.

Second, we get angry. This happened last week as the temps shot past 110 for more than two consecutive days. It was as if Mother Nature punked us, played us for a sucker, took us for a mark. Yes, our anger was righteously deserved, we thought. How DARE she trick us and invite the Heat Miser to stay in our town and burn everything under the sun to a crisp. Our anger was palpable.

The third stage happened on Sunday. We start bargaining with God. We sit in our house or apartment and as we wipe the dripping sweat off the back of our neck as we sit three inches from an industrial fan used in hog barns, frantically trying to get cool, trying to get God to turn down the sun. We make deals with the Almighty that are ignored and unheeded. We promise to stop nefarious habits or give copious amounts of money to a religious charity, swearing up and down that if only God would talk to Mother Nature and stop this ridiculous heat wave, we would all be better people. Bargaining never works. The sun rises in the east, roasts the Sonoran desert for about 14 hours and then sets near Tonopah around 7:30PM.

The fourth stage of our collective Summer Grief is settling in the Valley now. It’s depression. In the morning you hesitate opening the front door to the oven that is the outside. You dread getting into the car and having your back instantly turn wet with sweat as you wait for the AC in your car to move enough air around to promote a stale breeze. You have no energy; you don’t want to go to Starbucks or Taco Bell because you’ve seen birds burst into flame in mid-air and snakes sweating because it’s so hot.

And this depresses the Hades out of you. In fact, you imagine Hell is a nice place this time of year compared to the Valley of the Sun as the temperature hovers around 118 degrees during the day and doesn’t go below 100 at night.

You pray for death, but even Death doesn’t come to the Valley this time of year. That robe he wears is too heavy and that scythe he carries is just too heavy when lugging it down Van Buren in the concrete inferno.

The final stage comes late; too late for you to realize that summer and Summer Grief is almost over. It’s the most interesting stage because you don’t realize you’ve reached it until it’s too late.

It’s Acceptance.

By the time late August sluggishly arrives, you’ve adjusted to the blazing cauldron that is the Valley. You’re mind is so numb that you forget to sweat. You’ve become quasi-Saharan. You enjoy taking three showers a day just to feel mildly fresh. You have finally figured out a system to get your Starbucks, get back in the car and not look like a bad comedian on stage in the midst of being soaked in flop sweat.

And it’s around this time that September comes and the temperature only (ONLY!!!) hits 100 degrees. You feel like Prometheus finally capturing and taming fire. You regale your friends with “it wasn’t that hot” stories and how you survived a 118 day with nothing more than a pair of khaki shorts and an old ASU t-shirt, your only liquid refreshment being a warm bottle of Yoo-Hoo.

Then it hits you – summer is over. The heat wave has broken and Mother Nature has moved back north because she doesn’t like the snow birds either.

And we’ll go through the Five Stages of Summer Grief all over again next year.

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