It's not the heat, it's the stupidity of the conversation


My biggest problem in this heat wave is figuring out a nonviolent response to the inevitable question: "Hot enough for you?"

I don't know what to say to these people. I don't know what they want me to say.

"No, I love it this way. I don't really consider it hot until birds start falling dead out of the trees."

Actually, I know how the scene is supposed to play out.

The offender says, "Hot enough for you?"

You say, while mopping your brow with a dramatic sweep of the arm, "Whew, doggie."

This is invariably followed by the brilliant observation that it's not the heat, it's the humidity, like summer in the Sahara somehow resembles a ski vacation.

Then, just when someone is about to mention the heat index, birds actually do start falling dead out of trees. And the conversation thankfully ends.

If I sound irritable, I hope you understand. I don't like heat -- not at all. Once the thermometer hits 75, I'm shvitzing like Albert Brooks in "Broadcast News."

It reached 102 yesterday. How hot was it? Even Cal Ripken was hot.

My idea of the perfect summer vacation is a trip to London, where it's always 62 and overcast, unless it's 52 and pouring. What I'm saying is you can safely leave the suntan lotion at home. The typical Brit's idea of a successful day at the beach is if he doesn't get blown off a cliff.

A few years ago, after a delightful stay in London, I boarded the plane for the long flight home. It was maybe 55 and rainy. One woman walked onto the plane wearing a mink coat. We were about an hour out of Washington when I saw her head to the bathroom, and she came out wearing shorts. I sensed a problem.

Then the pilot came on to say the temperature in Washington was 99 degrees. I can't describe the reaction, unless you've heard 300 people gasp at 30,000 feet. It was like a giant sucking sound.

I can still remember the steel-furnace heat that hit me as I headed out the airport door, and for the first time I really understood Dante.

If you want to beat the heat, you can do what I do. I huddle in my air-conditioned den, turn off all the lights, and slip into the VCR a recording I made of that beer commercial. You know the one.

There's this west-Texas-looking restaurant/bar, straight out of "The Last Picture Show," and the camera closes in on this sweatily sultry, hot, hot, hot waitress. Until this guy walks in, looking just like the Marlboro Man before the Marlboro Man dropped dead from smoking. She pours him the beer, and the place turns into Greenland in December.

The great dilemma of this commercial is that you love this waitress with the sweat beading on her brow. But, if life were a beer commercial and it's 98 outside, you'd want this guy with you wherever you go. And even in your fantasies, the waitress is going with him, not you.

That brings us to the point of this little essay, which is, as you might have guessed, armpits.

Everybody's got 'em. Nobody talks about 'em.

In ancient times -- according to one theory -- people had extra heads under their arms. Over millions of years, the heads disappeared, but the hair stayed.

It's the hair that's the problem. Underarm hair in our culture is considered disgusting. Even in deodorant commercials, you never seen an armpit. They spread the deodorant on the guy's forearm, like the forearm is the problem.

One day I noticed a lump -- well, maybe a bump -- under my armpit, so I immediately rushed to the doctor, fearing the worst.

It turns out it was worse than that. My kindly, neighborhood, pay-before-you-leave-or-we'll-take-your-firstborn, general-care physician said I was having a reaction to deodorant and couldn't use it anymore. This is not the kind of news you want to hear during a heat wave.

"Doc," I said, "What are you saying -- I gotta be the 'before' guy in a commercial about B.O.?"

But the doctor said I could use cornstarch instead. Which I did. The problem is, cornstarch works, but only for a few hours. And what are you supposed to do, carry around a few extra ears of corn and rub them on?

My wife, who suddenly became a very concerned party, found some product made of cornstarch and baking soda, and it works pretty well, except you have this great urge to sit on a refrigerator shelf.

But, believe me, that beats sitting outside in the heat.

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