Earlier this summer, my 26-year-old nephew, Matt, used my summer cottage where he entertained a number of his friends for an overnight party.
He later told me how much he and his friends enjoyed the house.
Yet, just last weekend he offered to me on complaint.
“Uncle Mike. I love your house, but there is one thing your really need there."
I looked at him, not sure what to expect. What modern convenience was lacking for him and his 20 something year old buddies, all of whom grew up in the comfort of Chicago's suburbs. Television? Play Station.
“You need air conditioning."
My reaction was swift and clear.
“I will never put air conditioning in my summer home. The house is over 100 years old and it never had air conditioning in the past. We don't need it now."
“Uncle Mike. My friend was ready to drive out to Wal-Mart and buy one. He couldn't believe you didn't have one."
“Matt. Didn't you read the instructions? When you get to the house, open the windows and the doors, turn on multiple fans and within a half hour or so the house will be fine.
“But it was over 90 degrees outside! Why do you object so much to air conditioning?
I got testy.
“Its just not "¦ uh "¦ natural."
“Natural? Well, what is so natural about a fan?"
I then admitted to him and other family members who were sitting around our dinner table another truth.
“Since moving into my apartment in Rogers Park last year, I've never installed my air conditioner. There is one sitting in my closet, but I resist installing it. I don't need it. Living near the lake, I get a nice cross breeze."
Matt interrupted me.
“So, when it is over 90 degrees and humid outside, you claim that you are comfortable in your apartment? Come on!"
“Ok. I admit, that over the course of a summer, there might be a couple of week spell where it gets a bit uncomfortable. Even with fans blowing, it gets hot. By there is some principle that takes hold here – the same resistance that overtakes me when Mitch (my son) enters my car mid summer and he immediately blasts “maximum cold" on the air conditioner – we don't deserve the immediate gratification. We ought to suffer a little bit. We ought to do without some of the luxuries that life in a modern day offers us... Why? Just because!
My nephew and his brothers looked at me and just shook their heads in disbelief. They couldn't understand me.
I have thought about this discussion several times in the past ten days, and I've focused on it with greater intensity the past 24 hours as temperatures in Rogers Park pushed over 90 degrees. Still suffering from a reaction from a bad ethnic meal I had the previous evening, I went home early from work yesterday, a Friday afternoon, at around 3:00PM, and I lay on my bed. Though the ceiling fan and two stand-alone fans were humming away, they did not offer me much relief. I was tired, melancholy – I had no desire to do anything. I woke up two hours later immersed in my sweat. I lay in my bed. The moment of capitulation arrived. I went to the closet, lifted the air conditioner, and, with the assistance of a friend who happened to be nearby, we slid it into the open window. We turned it on, and we were immediately met with a cool refreshing draft.
So this year I made it until August 20th before submitting to the challenges of a hot Chicago summer.
And what is the point of resisting, when I could have enjoyed comfort weeks earlier, when the temperatures first started rising?
Was I simply motivated by a desire to do what is environmentally correct? Or, was I acknowledging that we only can appreciate the luxuries that modern life offer us if we first go about trying to do without for a while.
I'm not sure, but I do know that I've truly enjoyed writing this blog post in the comfort of a nice cool room on an otherwise oppressively hot summer afternoon.