A Day Grows Challenging at the Talbot County Free Library
by Bill Peak
There are plenty of people who prefer warm weather. Florida, Arizona,
Southern California, that's where they want to live. But I'm just the
opposite. I'm 67 now, and come June and the first 80 degree days, I
feel ill. Then, slowly, I acclimatize until, about mid-July, we hit a
week or two of 90+ degrees and, once again, I feel poorly. I know
what you're thinking, no one likes that kind of weather, but I'm not
talking about just not feeling good, I'm talking about seriously sick
to my stomach.
I'm boring you with this old guy health stuff for a reason. Last
month, late in the morning, on one of the hottest Saturdays of the
year, something went badly wrong in our Easton library's HVAC system.
At first we told ourselves we were imagining things, that it was just
the Saharan light pouring through the windows that was making the air
inside seem warmer than (we hoped) it actually was. But before long
we had to admit the obvious: the normally light and airy library was
beginning to feel like a crowded bus station in Memphis. Our
director, Dana Newman, called the County to see if someone could come
in on their day off to fix the problem.
By one o'clock, when I went to the Y on my lunch break, the library
thermostat had climbed to 80 degrees and, for once, I was really
looking forward to swimming laps. You might be wondering why, since
it was a Saturday, we didn't just close the library for the day and
let the County fix the air-conditioning come Monday. The problem was
the weather service had issued an excessive heat advisory for the
weekend, with temperatures in the triple digits, and the library had
announced it would stay open as an official cooling center for those
without air-conditioning not just Saturday, but Sunday as well.
When I returned, at two, the situation had grown worse. We had long
since closed all the blinds, but the thermostat was now telling us the
temperature in the library had risen to 84. By three, when I began a
two-hour shift on the Information Desk that would take us through to
closing, the heat had grown so bad people were beginning to look
seriously uncomfortable. Back home in Kentucky, when the air at a
summer dance became close and our dates began to look wilted, we were
taught to say “Horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies glow.” Trust
me, by three o'clock if everyone's faces weren't glowing, they'd
definitely acquired a certain sheen.
And, predictably, I was feeling ill. By half past three, I was
feeling seriously ill. Okay, now here's where I go from sharing old
guy health issues to sharing old guy political incorrectness. Some of
you may wish to avert your eyes.
I'm a man. Both Dana and our assistant director, Scotti Oliver—each
of whom had come in on their day off to work—are women. The same Old
South propriety that taught me to say ladies glow, had also taught me
that, no matter how bad things got, a man's job was to stick it out
and protect the womenfolk. Of course my rational 21st century self,
the one that has been saved too many times to count by women stronger
or smarter than I, knew this to be so much poppycock. But in some of
us old guys, the precepts we grew up with—the ones that were not so
much instilled as hammered into us—tend to take precedence over
modern-day flimflammeries like logic.
By four o'clock, though, it had become obvious I was going to have to
do something. For an old guy like me, the only thing worse than
having to ask your female bosses if you can go home because you're not
as tough as they, is failing to ask your female bosses if you can go
home because you've just passed out at their feet. Hoping to head off
such a catastrophe, I sought them out while I was still more or less
in control of my faculties. I found them talking to Brian Moore, the
County's remarkable Director of Facilities Maintenance, who had come
in on his day off to try to fix our problem.
Brian's face was flushed. While I'd been luxuriating in the relative
comfort to be found on the library's ground floor, he'd been up in the
attic working on the A/C. I looked at Brian, who now seemed the very
model of the man I wished to be, I looked at Dana and Scotti, both of
them glowing like goddesses, and—as I opened my mouth to admit my
utter failure as a man—the first breath of cold air descended from the
ceiling duct overhead. Brian Moore had fixed the problem. I could
have kissed the guy.
On my way home that day, I passed through one of the poorer sections
of Easton. On a porch in front of one of the houses, an elderly woman
was sitting on a green plastic lawn chair fanning herself. My
dashboard thermometer told me the temperature outside was 101 degrees.
The clapboard house the lady sat in front of stood twelve long,
sweltering blocks from the library. Now you tell me, who was the real
tough guy in this story?