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OK it's hot, but at least the cows aren't floating by


Out in the Midwest, people are sitting on their roofs hugging their 25-inch Sonys and watching the cows float by.

That's weather.

Here, people are talking about the Heat Index.

That's phony weather.

"You think it's like 93, but with the Heat Index it's really like 127," Toni, the woman who sits in the drive-thru booth at my bank, says. "When the human body temperature reaches like 106 degrees you get sunstroke and die or something."

Toni knows this stuff because she has heard it on TV.

It's a lie, I say from inside my car.

"What?" she says, leaning down towards the speaker in her glass booth.

I rolled down my window a little more and talk into the microphone.

It's a lie, I say. The Heat Index is a lie. Just like the Wind Chill Factor is a lie. They were both invented by TV weathermen to make the weather seem more dramatic.

"No way," she says.

Way, I say.

Toni giggles. Toni always giggles. Which is why I pre-test my columns on her. Since Toni never reads newspapers, she does not know she performs this service and she is, therefore, unspoiled as a test subject.

Out in Iowa and Illinois, they are having important weather this summer, I say. Out there, you've got to listen to the weatherman at night to know if you're going to be alive the next day. Here, all we have is heat rash and the Heat Index. It's pathetic.

"You're just saying that 'cause you don't know what the Heat Index is," Toni says.

I do so know, I say. The Heat Index is the temperature multiplied by how much a fat person would sweat if he was standing outside at noon.

Toni giggles.

Wait, wait, I say. The Heat Index is the temperature multiplied by how many minutes it takes for your underwear to bunch up!

"Oh, you!" Toni says.

Wait, wait, I say. The Heat Index is the temperature multiplied by how many minutes it takes for someone to say, "Boy, what a scorcher!"

I remember too late that Toni says this all the time and now she thinks I am making fun of her, which I would never do.

"I hear if the Heat Index gets to 140, you can explode," Toni says in a hurt voice. "So it's like not funny. My friend heard on the TV that, uhm, 300 people a year or something explode but the government keeps it quiet."

I think I heard that too, I say, which is my way of trying to get back in her good graces.

"You did?" she says. "Really?"

Yeah, I say. But tell me something, don't you have air conditioning in there?

"Oh, sure," she says. "We'd die without it."

So you have air conditioning at work and you have air conditioning at home and you have air conditioning in your car. So when is it you actually experience the weather?

"Like you should talk!" Toni says. "You're the one who's always complaining about the radar!"

This is true. I watch the National Weather Service radar channel on cable TV. This is not to be confused with The Weather Channel, which has actual human beings. The radar channel is just a picture of a radar scope.

And I watch the radar scope to find out if I have to water the lawn. I sit in front of the radar screen and root for green blobs in Ohio to turn into yellow blobs by the time they get to Maryland. A yellow blob means rain. An orange blob means a lot of rain. A red blob means you sit on the roof and hug your TV.

"They say you're only supposed to water your lawn between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m.," Toni says.

Yeah, that's why I bought a house, I tell Toni. So I could lug a hose around at 4 a.m. Besides, you go outside in my neighborhood at 4 a.m., you're gonna get shot for a prowler. It's a lot easier just to root for yellow blobs on the radar.

"How did they tell the weather before radar?" Toni asks.

In the old days, I say, the National Weather Service used weather dogs. In the morning, they would let a dog out. If he came back dry, it was sunny. If he came back wet, it was rainy. And if he didn't come back . . .

"What?" Toni says. "What?"

High winds, I say.

"No way!" Toni says.

Way, I say.

Which is the trouble. Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody has any good jokes about it.

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