Cranky behavior seems to thrive in this weather

THE FLIP SIDE

June 16, 1994|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Staff Writer

There is heat and then there is this heat, a clinging, enervating heat that compels even doctoral candidates to remain at home watching "Baywatch" rather than face what's outside.

It was 97 degrees when I came home the other day and found a van for a local air-conditioning and refrigeration company in my driveway.

Quickly I said a prayer: "Dear God, please let it be my wife fooling around with some repairman. Don't let it be the air-conditioning on the blink."

Naturally, the air-conditioning was on the blink.

On the side of the house, a sweaty man in overalls was hunched over the condensing unit. He mumbled something about a bad converter switch. Fifteen minutes later, he announced it was fixed. I paid him a lot of money. He walked away whistling, like they all do.

Unfortunately, as the Baltimore area swelters in the grip of the season's first major heat wave, many of us seem a good deal more cranky, like a bunch of 18-month-olds badly in need of a nap.

A few months ago, we were all whining about the cold weather and walking around in golf spikes so we wouldn't kill ourselves on the frozen sidewalks.

Now the warm weather is here and everyone is complaining about the heat. This endless, careening discontent is why you have so many shrinks decorating their offices in Scandinavian leather furniture and charging 200 bucks an hour, or slightly less than air-conditioning repairmen.

People are so nasty to each other when it's hot. A woman walked into a Towson book store recently and asked the sales clerk to point out the self-help section.

The clerk said: "If I did that, it would defeat the whole purpose."

Apparently, this was a little book-store humor. But the woman didn't appreciate it, having parked somewhere out near the Pennsylvania border and walked a great distance in the kind of heat that could have buzzards drop dead out of the sky.

Of course, any time the weather gets this brutal, it's the weatherman who -- you'll pardon the expression -- takes the most heat. The other day I called Bob Turk, who works for WJZ-TV and is the most famous weatherman in this city.

Turk did not yet sound harried enough to be up on a 10th-floor ledge threatening to jump while a cop with a bullhorn tried to talk him down. But the veteran weatherman knew the flak from his viewers was coming.

"There's definitely a segment of the population that . . . when things get uncomfortable, they think it's our fault," he said.

These are not just the sort of people who move their lips when they read, either, although Turk hears from some of them, too.

A couple of days ago, for instance, a viewer left this message on Bob Turk's answering machine: "My dog was run over by a car. Are you going to do a story on it?"

Turk declined, feeling that as he dissected the national radar and cloud-cover maps on that night's 11 o'clock news, there was no comfortable way to bring up an Airedale hit by a Buick.

"But people call me all the time," he said. "Sometimes they leave mean messages: 'You said it was gonna be nice, what happened?' "

Generally what happened is that -- this is a dirty little meteorological secret that Turk can't tell you, but I can -- predicting the weather four or five days in advance is almost a crap shoot. Heads it rains, tails it doesn't, that sort of thing.

So when Al Sanders and Denise Koch throw it to Bob on the late news and the five-day forecast appears on your screen, you may not want to cancel that condo in Ocean City just because they're calling for thundershowers on that fifth day.

Newspapers don't help much in a heat wave, either. Newspapers generally react to soaring temperatures with the same type of understated headlines used to blare: "JAPANESE BOMB PEARL HARBOR!"

Often, these heat-wave stories are accompanied by dopey Redbook-like sidebars titled "15 Tips For Staying Cool as a Cucumber!"

The tips generally go something like this: Stay inside. Turn on the air-conditioning. Drink lots of fluids. Duh-h-h.

Has it come to this? When the temperature runs into the 90s, do we really need someone to remind us: "Don't wrap yourself in thick plastic and jog 10 miles?"

Apparently, it's like the directions on the back of shampoo bottles: Lather, rinse, repeat. As if there's someone who, without directions, would simply lather, step out of the shower and go walking around with a head full of Prell bubbles.

Still, no wonder people get worked up about the weather. Yesterday, at a little past noon on WBAL Radio, a newsman ominously announced a "Code Red."

Even if you didn't know what a Code Red is, it sure didn't sound good. It sounded like maybe the North Koreans had finally gotten the hang of this plutonium-producing business, if you catch my drift.

But it turned out a Code Red meant that the ozone levels had reached the unhealthy stage.

Then again, so has our whining about this heat.

Not that you'll hear any more from me. My air-conditioning is working fine again, thanks for asking.

Of course, if the cable goes, that would be another story.

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