Quick: Name three good things that have happened as a result of the heat wave. Only one of them can involve new ways to ingest tequila. Please note that the following have already appeared on other people’s lists: learning to fold a bandana into a headband, realizing after long afternoons indoors that Ellen DeGeneres has a knack for lightweight interviews, settling the argument over what produces the worst thigh burns (vinyl beats leather, but not by much), finding out that folded cardboard windshield screens are useless when they burst into flame after one hour.
Maybe I can give you one that hasn’t been considered: the realization that a long stretch of uncomfortable, dangerous, earth-threatening, skin burning heat is, at least, democratic.
Santa Monica residents would never be so callous as to brag to friends that their ocean-adjacent address provides them with summer temperatures 10 or more degrees lower than, to pick an exotic location, the Valley. But this time, this summer, that really hasn’t mattered much: the heat has beaten us all down.
Oh, sure, friends will visit and the first thing out of their mouths will be, “Gosh, it’s so much cooler here.” But what they mean is, at their place it felt like an oven. Here, in breezy Santa Monica, it feels like an Easy Bake Oven.
The thorough discomfort and danger of this summer’s heat wave may become one of the more unifying national events of our time, or at least of the time since the pre-Bush/Cheney days when America enjoyed democracy and representative government. The heat is without elitism or social barriers. It can’t be appropriated by the religious right. It’s happening to all of us, and we can’t blame the terrorists. Ironically, the only one taking some heat on this heat is Al Gore. People are now asking, “What did he know and when did he know it?” Of course Gore was ringing a bell all refused to hear long in advance of this summer’s heat.
In a column in the Los Angeles Times, Meghan Daum suggests that the heat brings on crime because people are unhappy and uncomfortable. But then she goes on to offer a somewhat tongue-in-cheek theory that the heat also manifests in “deeply personal ways as well, leading to kind of existential malaise…” She points out that waiting in line to buy an air conditioner at Home Depot caused her to think of all the other ways her life might have gone, including getting married earlier in life to a man who by now would have bought an air conditioner.
Daum means for her reflections to shine light on the examined life. But what she coincidentally underscores is that, regardless of her current economic stature one way or the other, she had to stand in line at a building materials store to get relief from the heat just like every other person of every stripe waiting in that line. From that we might surmise that during what some are calling a “heat storm,” all mothers with crying children waiting in line for ice cream are equal before the heat and the teenager behind the counter shoveling the ice cream. Nothing about a Santa Monica or a Brentwood address gives you “skips” in line or express ice cream service. To borrow from Shakespeare regarding the sameness of all humanity, “If you bake us all with hundred-plus temps, do we all not sweat? If you make us stay indoors and endure reruns, do we all not get out our Caddyshack DVD’s? If with our airborne emissions we make the earth a pancake griddle, do we all not finally act on global warming?”
See, here’s where we might, with apologies to Dr. Strangelove, learn to love the sun bomb. Though it will stand as sad commentary on our ability to think ahead, this summer’s heat may finally bring the understanding that we cannot use the atmosphere around our planet as a garbage can for waste and hope that nature won’t bite back. Everyone united by our current democracy of sweat and discomfort could conceivably share that epiphany. Ignorance and denial will plague us forever, but maybe our days of blowing off something like the Kyoto protocols are behind us. Now, if you’re done sitting there reading this, turn off the fan. Power blackouts are also very democratic.