We had our first break in the heat today-it only went up to 93 F. After eight days stuck indoors, we ventured into Omaha early, before the sun had a chance to break through the rainclouds. By noon, the heat and steam were returning.
You see it on people-the effects of prolonged indoor living. The wrinkled clothing, unkempt hair, the eyes adjusting to natural daylight. We're like great armies of moles, emerging to forage and quickly retreat to the comfort of our homes. We give each other looks, nods of understanding. Yes, the ironing will get done when the heat breaks. Hair will be tamed with heated instruments. The mud that is everywhere will at last be scraped from between the grooves of driving shoes that are currently walking shoes. Trudging shoes. Carrying water to the plants before they die shoes.
Everyone is bloated like the frog I caught in a window well when I was ten. The frog I unintentionally killed when I stuck it in a plastic bucket with a lid on a hot Chicago afternoon. Sort of the childhood equivalent of leaving your baby in a car on a hot day, but with less emotional suffering, and legal consequences. It didn't explode exactly, the frog...it was more of a swelling, and leaking of internal organs. At any rate, not something I'd want to see again, yet everyone is walking about, skin stretched so taught it shines like buffed wax, moments from what's internal going external-and you can't sweat this swelling away. This swelling doesn't evaporate. One of those odd things like staying in the tub too long shriveling your toes rather than plumping. Eight days into a heatwave, you stop appealing to your intellect and think, "Fuck, I'll bet this is the work of witches." Or conservatives.
The worst heat-related sickness I ever endured was the summer of 1990. I was doing survey work on a site that was to be developed, but had to get the go-ahead from a team of anthropologists first (to make certain there weren't any burials or items of cultural importance nearby). We dug a few test pits, didn't find anything save that the maps furnished to us by the USGS were so far off, we had to re-survey and map the entire site. There was a drought that summer. Have you ever tried digging a test pit in clay-like Midwestern soil when it hasn't rained in weeks?
I wasn't wearing a hat. Peering down into the transit, I would read the idiot stick being held by a graduate student and shout out the numbers for someone to jot down. I never had to look up. I suppose this was where the problem was brewing unnoticed. By the time I did look up-a good hour later, everything began spinning, I had a cold sweat and awful headache. Those salt-tablet things you're supposed to use out in the field? Yeah, I wasn't using them, along with a hat or sunscreen. I was really ill for a few days, but probably fortunate not to have died. Best I can recall, I never felt hot, or had any indication i was going to fall over. Don't fool around in the heat-you don't get prizes for endurance, it isn't a contest.
Everyone is slow. So terribly, horribly, painfully slow. The forecast for the next seven days looks just as awful.
So, how is everyone holding up in this heatwave?