AS IT HAS been unbearably hot and humid lately, we have been having the usual vicious battles over air conditioning at my house.
The problem in a nutshell is this: As soon as the temperature reaches a point where vultures begin circling overhead, babies wail non-stop and flies drop off the ceiling, I close the windows and turn on the air conditioner, as any rational person would do.
But when I leave the house, my wife turns the air conditioner off.
I come back in, notice the house has the same breezy charm as a rice paddy in Thailand, and turn it back on.
I leave, she turns it off again.
This goes on all summer long. Whenever either of us makes a move anywhere near the thermostat, the other leaps to his feet and begins bustling about for a bicycle chain or tire iron, convinced that another full-scale brawl is about to ensue.
It's no way to live, I'll tell you that. And people wonder why I'm so jumpy lately, why I dive to the floor whenever anyone comes up behind me.
My theory on air conditioning is this: When the weather is so hot and sticky that people are keeling over on the sidewalks amid the constant piercing whine of ambulance sirens, well, call me an alarmist, but it's time to turn on the air conditioner.
When birds begin dropping face-first out of the trees and the streets are filling with the bloated carcasses of cattle (and we live in the suburbs), it's time to put on the air conditioner.
That's what central air conditioning is for. It's for staving off these types of Third World conditions and keeping us cool and relaxed instead of in a state of constant battle-ready agitation.
On the other hand, my wife's theory on air conditioning seems to be: Well, sure, it's nice to have.
But why not save it for when it really gets hot -- which is apparently when the mercury hits 210 degrees as a result of the backlash from an atomic device detonating nearby.
Until then, she says, why don't we just open some windows and get some nice fresh air?
Which would be fine with me. I'm all for nice fresh air. Are you kidding? I'm Mr. Fresh Air himself.
The problem is, there is no fresh air out there. You'd have to travel to the Arctic Circle to get any fresh air right now.
Open a window and all you feel is a rush of damp, hot air that's about as refreshing as aiming a blow dryer at your face.
So this is where we stand on the issue of air conditioning. Each time I turn on the air, my wife makes a big show of shivering and putting on a sweater, a subtle hint that the house is getting a little chilly.
What I try to point out is that she represents a medical aberration, a woman who has somehow been cursed (there's no sense pointing any fingers, it just happened) with the circulatory system of an iguana.
All you have to do is look at the facts.
A normal human being begins to feel uncomfortable when the temperature reaches 90 degrees or so and the humidity is thick enough to crawl into your pocket.
An iguana, however, enjoys such conditions and will bask atop the nearest mango tree or wherever these creatures live as long as such conditions last.
Conversely, if you were to turn the air conditioning on in the presence of an iguana, I'm guessing the iguana would start shivering and (as bizarre as it sounds) perhaps even reach for a sweater.
"Anyway," I said to my wife, "ask your doctor about this whole circulatory problem of yours. Also ask him about the darker implications, why your reactions to unseasonably hot weather are becoming so like a member of the lizard family.
"From what I understand, medical science has made tremendous strides in the treatment of illnesses such as yours. But the first step is up to you. You're the one who has to admit the problem. You're the one who has to seek help."
Of course, when I gave this little speech to my wife the other day, she didn't say anything at all.
At first I thought she didn't hear me because of the earmuffs she had on. But even when I repeated myself, all she did was pull her sweater a little closer around her and shiver.
A little later, I saw her warming her hands over the stove.
Outside, it was 96 degrees. The humidity was about 80 percent. Condition red, the weatherman on TV was screaming. Drink plenty of fluids, stay indoors in the air conditioning.
Yeah. Easy for him to say.