Newark: Too Darn Hot
”He remembered. And he thought that a man’s memory was a pointless game created by idle gods.”Paco Ignacio Taibo, The Shadow of the Shadow (Sombra de la sombra)
Yesterday, Newark, New Jersey, the city of my birth, set an all time heat record. It was 108. That qualifies as undisputably miserable. And ridiculously hot. And crazy making uncomfortable. And, as well, absolutely a danger to your health, both physical and mental. I’m sweltering somewhere else. But upon hearing on the radio that the record was set, my memory, that pointless game created by idle gods, took me back to the early ‘50’s in Newark.
I remember that particular record setting day well. A real scorcher. I think I was told it got to 103. It was unbelievable, even to a kid who had access to a kiddie pool and a garden hose. My mother was worried that it was far too hot for the kids to play outside. As if playing was something anybody felt compelled to do. But being inside was impossible: it was like a furnace. We didn’t have air conditioning. That was a luxury only for the well healed. It was like that other icon of wealth, color television: unattainable. Don’t even think about it. I think we had some box fans we got at Two Guys From Harrison, a store that folded before it could morph into a big box. That was about it for cooling the house. I don’t remember ever opening the distant fire hydrant: too much trouble with no tools, and too far away. I remember when we first got the fans. What a relief. What did we do before then when it got really hot?
I think we did nothing. Or as close to nothing as possible. I think we sat patiently in the shade. And drank iced tea. Or Royal Crown Cola. Or were supposed to. I remember my grandmother saying that it was far too hot for the kids to run around. They’d get all sweated up. Like we wanted to run around. No, they should sit in the shade too. Fat chance. I remember the day. I was wearing a bathing suit and sneakers. I went from hose to pool to hose to shade to pool. Repeat and start over again. The adults sat in the shade and moved as little as possible. Eventually, they would say, it will begin to cool off. Eventually. That qualified as wishful thinking. They’d say it was too hot to cook. The fact is that it wouldn’t really cool off. But you could lie down with the fan blowing right on you and eventually you’d fall asleep.
And then I heard the bells. The ice cream truck. Headed down Bond Street, through the glare of the heat rising from on the black street pavement toward us. If ever there was a day when Lester’s white truck was an anticipated relief. Yes, he had chocolate pops. And orange ice pops. And cherry too. Yes, but it’s so hot, kid, that they’re all kind of melty, you know what I mean? So what. We don’t care about that. We want some. Yeah, can we have them? Yeah, it sure is hot. See you tomorrow. So we sat in the shade and gobbled them down as fast as we could. And, of course, we got sticky chocolate and sticky orange all over us. Our faces. Our hands. Our bare chests. Our bathing suits. No matter. We were cool for an instant. And happy. And the mess was just another reason to sit in the pool. And get the hose.
It was just too hot for anything else. It was too darn hot: