In the past, humankind took their oxygen any way they could.
Whether said oxygen seared a person’s nostrils or froze his lungs solid, whether accompanied by itchy allergens or Eau de Outhouse, he inhaled without question, never considering the possibility of an alternative.
Until Willis Carrier created the air conditioner.
Now, during summer, air-conditioning addicts and fresh-air freaks vie for domination.
Air-conditioning addicts consider Carrier their patron saint. They hole up during summer as if a three-month blizzard has struck.
I value air-conditioning on steamy summer days. Carrier’s blessed invention cools us and drains wet-cotton humidity from the air.
Yet, I crack windows a smidgen. No matter how bracing the air-conditioned breezes, I must mix fresh air to create my respiratory system’s favorite elixir.
I write every morning beside open patio doors. Riding my bike, I inhale the perfume of cool forests and wild roses that compete with blacktop’s tarry smell. I drive down country roads with windows wide open, the radio blaring.
However, I am not the radical my father is. During Louisiana’s hundred-degree weather, he runs his window air conditioner, but also throws open doors and windows to sanctify its fake chilly oxygen.
My mother, on the other hand, fostered a love/hate relationship with air au naturel. During my childhood, she chased us out of the house in the hottest weather: “Fresh air is good for you!”
Why wasn’t it good for her? The dichotomy seemed so unjust. She got to remain inside with a fan — while ironing for seven and canning vast quantities of pickles and tomatoes.
Yet air-conditioning became Mom’s archenemy. Before we entered a truck stop for Sunday hamburgers, she bundled up as if facing a November blast. Regardless of where we sat, a deadly draft lurked among the little table juke boxes.
My husband’s family, though raised on “fresh country air” (their reference to hog farm aromas), prefer air-conditioning. Drive a country road with fresh air? Only when pigs fly — and take their fragrance elsewhere.
So, as often happens, we have a mixed marriage, fresh-air freak wed to air-conditioning addict. My husband views car windows as vision aids only and had the nerve to demand I quit my crack-the-window habit at night.
After a few decades, though, he gave up. “Only God can change your mind.”
Recently I was snoozing away when a sudden wet blast, like that of a garden hose, sent me flying to shut the window.
Lightning, like a camera’s flash, lit his smirk. “Maybe God’s trying to tell you something?”
I covered my head with damp pillow and bedclothes. I prayed my husband might change his stubborn attitude. That we would survive another season in the same space. …
So we can turn our mixed-marriage attention to the winter thermostat debate.
Which are you: fresh-air freak or air-conditioning addict?
Sixtyish adults who tent camp with grown children and grandchildren ranging from six months to age ten are certifiably insane. But my husband and I reached new levels of lunacy when we accompanied a large percentage of our family group to cave.
A forest hike would bond generations, educate little descendants, and keep them off campground roads inhabited by dinosaur-like RVs. They would view a cave like those immortalized in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
However, half the campground’s population also had braved this wilderness journey. Unlike Aladdin, we stood in line … then remembered we hadn’t brought flashlights.
Despite my Boy Scout husband’s protests, the herd crept forward with only dim illumination from our phones and a son-in-law’s small flashlight. The temperature dropped 15 degrees. Chilly water dripped down my back.
Who knew what might dwell within these cold, drippy underground walls? Injun Joe, the murderous cave-dweller who terrorized Tom Sawyer? Dragons breathed down my neck. …
“I’ll bet this cave has bunches of bats!” my grandson enthused. “I think cave spiders just crawled up my leg.”
Shades of Shelob! With The-Lord-of-the-Rings passion, I brushed him from head to toe.
Now shaking off a hundred imaginary crawlies, I fervently wished he’d kept his scientific curiosity to himself.
The ceiling dropped. Walls closed in. My hips, still inflated by Christmas fat, might wedge in a fissure forever.
Would my skinnier descendants return to camp, mourning my demise, and console themselves with the four buckets of chocolate chip cookies I had baked? Would they not bring me even one to ease my passage into the next world?
Primeval fears solidified when someone called, “Time to crawl.”
My sanity finally kicked in. “No. I’m going back.”
Others turned thumbs down. The grandchildren registered a vehement protest. Our son-in-law sided with the kids. He pressed on, taking them and the only flashlight.
Now gripping my husband’s belt — I hoped — I trailed him through the darkness. Eventually, we arrived at the cave’s mouth. Whew!
Hiking to the cave’s exit, we awaited the adventurers. Anxious minutes dragged. …
Fortunately, they appeared before we summoned the National Guard. Everyone returned to camp to celebrate survival with an appropriately unsafe hot dog roast — and cookies.
Have you ever taken your kids/grandkids spelunking?
Homemade posters taped to its front windows warmed our hearts. We had not arrived at a restaurant that demanded we share an appetizer and a dessert, the kind John Steinbeck said took pride in serving food untouched by human hands. Instead, the signs shouted all-you-can-eat nights. A picture of Mr. Blaze himself adorned one window — wearing a suit and tie fit to make his mama proud, with a tortured smile to match.
The poster said he was running for mayor.
What better way to please his public than to cook up the world’s best barbecue?
Inside, I poofed my ’do because big hair and hardworking blue jeans obviously were required. The dining room smelled yummy-in-the-tummy-smoky, as it does at a family reunion cookout, when Mom tells you to go play with your cousins until supper’s ready.
The waitress, upon greeting Casey Jack and Junior Lee by name, skipped menus. She handed them shovels and steered them toward the barbecue and fish bar.
Bankrupting the Piggy Pit on our first visit wouldn’t be neighborly. So my husband ordered a slab of ribs, and I selected pulled pork. With our first bites, my husband closed his eyes. My taste buds fell in love. We paused for a moment of silence.
Then Hubby proceeded to ruin the family name. Even a Yankee knows a true barbecue connoisseur picks up ribs. Instead, my husband not only used knife and fork, he surgically removed every shred of gristle and/or fat.
Mayoral race or not, it’s a wonder Mr. Blaze didn’t toss us out of the Piggy Pit.
I ordered cheesecake for dessert. Steve overdosed on pecan cobbler, suffering sugar-induced hallucinations.
However, we turned down complimentary golf cart service that hauled blimpy customers to their cars. I am proud to say we walked out of the Piggy Pit on our own two feet.
Does Mr. Blaze know about tax rates and sewer systems? I don’t know. Still, anyone who bestows that kind of barbecue on mankind — plus infinite hush puppies — for a reasonable price must be a man of mayoral vision, with deep concern for friends, neighbors and even hungry Yankees.
Definitely a winner, in my (burp) book.
When (and where) was the last time you ate bodacious barbecue?