I like that so many times we live in a mystery novel waiting to happen--a baby rattler once hid in our night-blooming jasmine, a venom within a field of poisonous bloom. When I was twelve or so, baseball camp in Chandler, Oklahoma was an exercise in pretending sports mattered amid the sweltering heat. Waves of heat nausea, enhanced by cafeteria polish sausages, or being cautioned to watch for gila monsters, or walking log bridges as if falling into dry creekbeds might be more than inconvenient and perhaps minor fracture inducing; instead, as if the threatening heights rose above the very Chasm of Hell itself.
Even summer cool is not immune--I remember butterfly collecting with a high school biology teacher and her former student, through wetland-cooled river bottoms, in deep mixed pine and pulpwood shade. We came upon three water mocassins. I can still feel myself leaping backward, my fear of them as venomous as ever their venom might be. I remember my summer job during college at the industrial park, on sweltering July and August days, running an obsolete gunpowder grinding mill in a remote military/industrial park. The gunpowder was little one inch hollow rods, like giant hollow pencil leads. One fellow dumped huge jerry cans of these gunpowder pellets into a giant grinder, which looked like one of those quaint Euro coffee grinders writ large. Another fellow had to use a garden hose to keep the mix wet; if ever the gunpowder dried, a huge explosion ensued. The "old hands" laughed when they recalled when the co-worker named Peter had broken his leg, jumping from the tower of the grinder,the last time it exploded. My job was dumping the powder into troughs from which they could be shovelled into the mill. The mill never exploded during my watch.
The same industrial park had an industrial concern that did explode from time to time. Each time it exploded, people would get hurt. I guess they did not wet the gunpowder down there. When we were not running the mill, we mowed grass and hacked weeds which grew along the top of quonset huts and missile silos. The heat was purifying, somehow, a reminder that we were alive, even though we were driven in little "luv" trucks to the middle of nowhere to do tasks which were so unimportant that college kids were brought in to do them at 2 dollars and 85 cents an hour. During my time there,the man named Peter was let go from his job. He could not stop drinking. We watched as he wasted away, and finally, he was asked not to return. I do not know what became of him.
My first job, other than mowing lawns and similar brainless
yard type work, was for a man who repaired televisions.
Usually, I just swept and dusted on concrete floors that never swept clean and large wooden TV cabinets from which dust never lifted, while my boss readied the TVs for that day's delivery. Then we would take the TVs in his long blue "no windows" van, which must have dated from 15 years earlier. I've always been surprisingly strong, so the TVs were not much trouble; it was the corners of the hallways that could be a challenge.
My boss had been in the signal service during World War II, because he was a fascinated ham radio buff at the outset of radio. He learned to fix TVs as they came out. He felt that his job was being slowly made obsolete as "tube type" TVs gave way to transistorization. He was a kind man, who visited his elderly father in the nursing home every day, solicitous for his father's health. During our five minute break, he would pull out a large silver coin he had carried in his pocket for decades. It had worn away, as things do in life, so that one side was smooth, and one side had only the chin of the "heads" remaining. He would flip the coin, and the loser had to pay for the two small coke bottles we bought from his little red Vendo coke machine. I remember when he told me that the first Wal-Mart was coming to our area. He was glad, prices in stores would drop. His televisions, though, sold for much more than televisions at Wal-Mart did.
One Christmas season, he took me out to install new antennaes. I would be sent up trees I remember as more tall than the Eiffel Tower, scuttling on ladders somehow precariously placed on the trees. I would have to saw a branch here or there to make way for the antenna's ascent.
On top of that tree, I felt that odd roller-coaster thrill, that quiet flirtation with imagined death. My boss died when I was in law school, at age 60, of a heart attack. I had seen him only a time or two during the years since high school. I had never told him that I thought he was the greatest fellow I could have imagined working for, or how much I missed the feel of a blue cloth skirting over a luxury 27" TV cabinet. The TV shop is now a thrift store. It was hot in that shop, on a summer's day, oiling and cleaning his box of tools--things that turned TV bolts of all shapes and sides. I live in air conditioning most of the time now, but I never feel as cool as I did on hot days then.
I've never understood that feeling that death is some novelty, to be "discovered". I've always found death is all around. It was a July day not that many years ago that my grandfather collapsed. They arrested a poor lost soul here yesterday whose child died when left alone in a hot car.
There's something about hot summer days that is so alive.
But there's so much more to hot summer days than merely heat or life.