For all of the bad things that I've done to my body in its three-and-a-half decades of lugging me around, I have to give it credit for having the sense to tell me that I need a break. Actually, it's a direct result of some of the abuse that I get this bodily notification. For some mysterious reason that probably has more to do with genetics than the idiotic decision to play football my senior year of high school, I suffer from a deteriorating disc in my neck. Thanks to this, when my stress level reaches the boil-over point, my neck usually decides to stiffen, rendering me a useless invalid for a few days. That's what happened this weekend. And while it would be easy to say that it's the new baby that has set it off, I think it's more a combination of things, the baby being the final straw, so to speak. What the pain in the neck does is allow for me to catch up on some sleep which in turn helps with the stress levels, and ultimately makes me be a better father and partner and all-around good guy.
So while I'm on the mend, I need to dig back into the Syntax of Things archive for something that I've been reminded of a lot these last few weeks. Back in February, while sitting in the meteorologically neutral San Diego as Elaine and I pondered the possibility of moving back to the South, my one giant fear was Summer. Still is. Until last week, I pretty much tried to ignore North Carolina's heat and humidity. But a few mornings ago, I walked outside and into what can best be described as a steam bath. 6am and just sitting on the porch made me sweat. That's what really made me recall the excerpt I posted back in February while sitting in my apartment in weather-ideal San Diego (or so they say). It's from Jack Butler's amazing novel Jujitsu for Christ and may just be the best description of Southern heat that I've ever read. If you can think of one better, let me know.
A Mississippi summer is an awesome and boggling thing, a slab of steaming time, a hundred cubed: a hundred days at a hundred degrees and a hundred percent humidity. Resin bulges in big globby tears from the trunks of the pines, a sheet of paper wilts in your hand--by noon you can wipe your face with it like a handkerchief. You wake up glued to the sheets, the window fan puffing like someone out of breath huh huh huh huh blowing rags of wet exhalation over you. You think that's the sound of the subconscious mind after a few years, a window fan laboring unnoticed near you, and you get where you can't sleep without it. A lot of older Mississippians, they have air conditioning now, but somebody should market a tape of a window fan running so they could get a little sleep.
So it's morning and you rip off the sheets like Johnson and Johnson tape and go outside in your shorts. The grass is grey with dew, every blade bent in a drop-loaded curve. The trees drip. Things are soggy. The sun is just over the treeline and steam rises from the ground, the entire Gulf of Mexico soaked up during the night and filtered through buckshot mud and red clay and now evaporating back into the air.
Breakfast you have half pound of animal fat with some eggs and pork stirred into it and some biscuits for binder, so all day a thin film of grease comes over your face. Wipe it away, cold water in the basin and towel off, and five minutes later it's back.
Ten o'clock you can't believe the hammer blows of wavering heat. You've had your last rational thought of the day. It makes the headlines believable, the way everything shimmers unreal. Your mind shakes like a Shadrach air. The last scrap of fog is gone, partial pressure of water vapor is way down as the ambient heat skyrockets. The blacktop pools with liquid asphalt, barefoot children trying to skip across to the store for a Nehi (their folks make them do it to kill the hookworms burrowing into their feet). The children get stuck and squeal. Squeals turn to screams, but the sound is far away and tinny, sound doesn't carry in this heat, or maybe your ears have melted. The children char, collapse on themselves, subsumed in the asphalt. All winter their parents will drive over their trapped bones. By January the old folks' brains will have cooled off enough to wonder what happened to the kids.
I want to say that the humidity factor has never to my knowledge been taken into account in descriptions of Hell. You talking eternal fire without no humidity, a Mississippian is gonna think you mean Heaven or Southern California....