August insanity

Here’s something I wrote last August. It’s long, but good. Summer will be here soon enough (although it’s hard to believe with this never ending winter.)  It’s a diatribe on the craziness of U.S. society, sprawl, air-conditioning, and climate change.  It’s my first post and I’m not sure how this web-site works. Hopefully you can read and enjoy and even write back!

The insanity blog

I’m driving in my car, 10 miles, to the pool. I’m on an 8 lane road, going 45 miles an hour past strip malls, more strip malls and yet more strip malls, behind them is farmland. I pass construction. Where the road hasn’t been widened to 8 lanes yet, it is in process. Eventually I turn and see some new housing developments being built. I can’t keep the insanity out of my mind. Not my insanity, the insanity of this, this that I am driving through, the fact that I must drive through it to get to an open pool to swim in in August. This is because it seems to be one of the only open pools in August in this crazy town. The others all close for yearly maintenance in August. August?? August!!! It is 90 degrees out. August is the hottest month of the year here. The pool is an indoor pool, and like the other new and “modernized” indoor pools in town, it is climate controlled. Let me translate that for you. It is air-conditioned. Did you say air-conditioned????????? A swimming pool????????? Yes, welcome to the land of insanity. Yes, we’ve air-conditioned the swimming pool for you and made sure the locker rooms were refrigerated. Welcome to the land of insanity. It’s 90 degrees out. I put on a sweatshirt to pass through the locker room. The idea of getting naked in there is awful. The idea that I will have to come back in to that refrigerator wet and nearly naked after having soaked in cold water for 45 minutes is unbearable. Gratefully, there is a door that leads directly outside from the pool. After my swim I use it and drive home in my wet bathing suit. Through the construction, past the strip malls, heavy traffic, insanity. The drivers of many of the other vehicles have their arms hanging out, smoking cigarettes. Not only does this city seem to have the highest percentage of swimming pools per capita (albeit almost all closed in August) than any other city I’ve ever spent time in, it appears to have the highest number of smokers too.
Two days ago at work we kicked off the semester with a 3 hour meeting in a freezer. Not literally a freezer, there wasn’t any food there, well, actually there was food but the purpose of the room is not to keep food frozen (although it doubles nicely for this), the purpose is to hold meetings, in theory anyway. The walk-in beer cooler I visited in Toronto was warmer than this room in which a 3 hour meeting was held. Let me remind you, it is 90 degrees outside. It’s not close to freezing outside with a bad draft in the room. That might actually make some sense. No, this is intentional. Welcome to the land of insanity. Welcome. Stay. The people of this country are like Stepford wives. “Welcome.” They stare at you glassy eyed and seem to state “anything warmer than air-conditoning set at 55 degrees in an airtight building would be intolerable. We’d all immediately die of heatstroke if it were any warmer. Welcome. Stay.” How can these crazy people be saying this, I wonder to myself. I’ve just gotten back from Toronto where the temperature was almost exactly the same as here but most public places and private homes seem to have either no air-conditioning at all or if there is any, it is set at such a reasonable temperature that I can easily wear the same summer clothing outdoors and indoors. In my 3 hour meeting, by contrast, I wear several layers of shirts, sweatshirt, two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks and gym shoes, a down jacket and hat and can only tolerate 25 minutes of the meeting before I have to go back outside and warm up again. A few years ago I traveled to Southeast Asia where the daytime temperature was similar to the 90 degree weather we’re having today, but the humidity levels much higher. It was 4am (I had just flown in). The first night in my hotel room I was hot. I took a cool shower. And then I turned off the fan to go to sleep. I was drenched in sweat before I even got into the bed, it ran down my skin in rivers. I turned the fan back on and went to sleep. I wore extremely lightweight cotton clothing during my travels around SE Asia and still sweated a lot. The local young women wore heavy, tight, long pants, designed to look like jeans with long sleeved shirts. In Viet Nam women also wore gloves and face masks outdoors, to keep the sun off their skin. In Malaysia and Indonesia, many Muslim women wore an additional outer layer of clothing and a headscarf. Their long dresses and cloaks had beautiful designs and I inspected some in fabric shops thinking of buying some. I discovered that they were all made out of polyester. Polyester!! In 90 + degree heat and high humidity. And none of them were sweating.
The stepford wives repeat: What’s wrong with you? Its not cold in here. 55 air conditioning is quite normal. The computers would all melt if it wasn’t this cold in here. We keep it this cold for the computers. In SE Asia, just as hot and much more humid, I went often to internet cafes, tiny non air conditioned rooms jammed packed with computers. None of them melting.

One friend is honest with me. She says, “you aren’t fat enough. If you were fatter, you’d be warmer.” She has a good point. I am only 10 pounds overweight. That’s probably 50- 100 pounds less overweight than most other people in this state. Overweight is now considered normal. Obesity is considered a bit chubby.

I continue my drive. As I get closer to my house, I pass through the African American part of town. My students will not go to this part of town. They are afraid. Since I live next to it, I drive, walk and bike through it and frequent the stores and restaurants in it. Today as I drive through I pass several youths holding signs for a Prayer Drive Through. It appears to be something like a car wash, except that your car doesn’t get washed. Maybe your soul does. The anthropologist in me wants to go, wants to drive through. I’m wearing only a wet bathing suit. Will this faze them? I think probably not as many other people walk around town wearing shorts that are about as long as underpants. But the anti-Christian in me is horrified yet simultaneously laughs at the concept. I keep driving. So many cars, so many cars in this town. I’ve heard it is the city with the highest number of cars per capita after Los Angeles. I want desperately to walk around town. I think to myself. How can that horrible 7 mile strip mall construction and suburban housing development have been permitted? How is it that in this day and age they are still allowing people to build such car centered living and working places????? Does this city have no urban planning commission?????? How is it that we can continue to not only pollute and destroy the planet, but actually design communities so that they will continue this process for decades to come????? And of course I know why. Because those of us in the most polluting of countries, those of us using the most resources on the planet, those of us who are causing global climate change cannot see it happening. We cannot see the effects of our insane lifestyles because the people on the planet who live in the tropics are the ones feeling the effects. Hurricane activity and extremely heavy rainfall is destroying those countries and will continue to do so, according to climate experts. They will continue to pay and we will continue to remain ignorant. Our media will help us with our ignorance. Broadcasting nonsense all day long instead of news. Today, for example, the headline was “18% of Americans believe their President is a follower of Islam.” Tomorrow the headlines will say “18% of Americans believe their president is a Disney character.” The media will broadcast whatever they can find to distract us from real issues. And, of course, anything that will feed the fire of anti-Muslim sentiment.
I continue driving. I pass two men out in the street at the intersection. I have seen them before. They dress professionally, in suits, although today they don’t have the suit jackets on because of the heat. Across their chests is a munitions sash, but instead of bullets, each compartment contains a tiny scroll. In their hands they hold a pile of newsletters about The End Days. The End Days. Hurricanes ravaging the planet, Polar Bears going extinct, the media burying their heads in the sand by diverting our attention from the global water crisis to what the president’s religion might be. I begin to wonder if maybe the African American men with the End Days newsletters are actually the only sane people in this town.

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