When it comes to summer, some like it hot. “The hotter, the better,” those folk say, smiling through their sweat and sunburn. I’m not one of them. I bless the day Willis Carrier was born. He was the genius who designed the first air conditioning system in 1902, launching an industry that would change the way we live, work, and play.
Kudos also to Frederick Jones, an African-American mechanical engineer who was the brains behind the science of mobile refrigeration. Without Mr. Jones’ patents and inventions, we might still be using ice and salt to preserve our food. Don’t get me wrong: over my years on the beach, I’ve learned that a lot of ice goes a little way, but in the dog days of summer, ice—even Yeti ice—eventually becomes just another sad puddle of water at the bottom of the cooler that leaves that last few submerged cans of beer or soda more lukewarm than ice-cold.
Some folks who live in hot climates believe in eating hot food—spicy food—because it makes you sweat, and, because sweat evaporates quickly on dry days, you feel cooler quicker. On humid days, however, you’re out of luck; the air is already saturated with water so the cooling effect of sweat is much less noticeable.
In the Middle East, wind towers have been cooling hot folk for centuries. The technology is simple and inexpensive: wind towers create downdrafts and cross-ventilation, two traditional methods of cooling a home in the days before electricity. Modern power grids can get overloaded and fail, but not wind towers; they’ll keep on producing cool, fresh air as long as the wind blows. Many traditional homes in the Middle East also have lattice windows that promote air flow, provide shade, and afford a modest and private view of crowded, public spaces.
But in the arts, it’s a bit of a different story because, well, some do like it hot. Billy Wilders’ eponymous film is a classic of American comedy, one of the first films selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” While it would probably be banned in Florida today, when it premiered in 1959, “Some Like It Hot” told the story of two zany musicians (Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis) who disguise themselves as women to escape from gangsters whom they witnessed committing a crime. When each one of them falls for a bombshell vocalist and ukulele player (Marilyn Monroe, of course), all manner of mayhem ensures.
Finally, in poetry, some like it both hot and cold. In “Fire and Ice,” Robert Frost uses fire as a metaphor for burning desire while ice is a metaphor for hatred, the yin and yang of human emotions, two equally destructive forces that each have the potential to end civilization:
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great.
And would suffice.
Hot or cold: it’s up to you
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.
His new novel “This Salted Soil,” a new children’s book, “The Ballad of Poochie McVay,” and two collections of essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.