Baltimore's summer just warming up

June 22, 1995|By JACQUES KELLY

I know it's a Baltimore summer when I get a lot of reading done.

What else can you do at 3:30 in the morning when sleeping has become an impossibility? The bed sheets feel like wet Kleenex. The air is stifling. Your head feels like a concrete block.

It's the heat, always the heat.

Baltimore's annual romance with a blast furnace brings on its own set of circumstances.

You can smell it, especially in a room that's been closed for a while. If a house has been shut for a week, watch out. I think it's the odor of broiled dust, wax, old plaster and wallpaper paste that mingle to produce a particular June-July-August smell.

Jolting mercury drives out the waterbugs. The mother of a friend of mine claims the waterbugs first appear at the time of the first shad run in the spring. She's right. Even a slightly warm night in March will draw out these creepy crawlers. If they're stirring before Easter, you can only imagine how they'll be dancing on a brutal summer night.

Water bugs are slightly less obnoxious than rodents. And their presence is considered fairly normal in a house. They don't carry the domestic stigma of a mouse or a rat.

But like scurrying rodents, they often misbehave in front of company.

Such as the other night when I was seeing a group of guests to the front door. My friends stepped off the porch and made a noise as if Bela Lugosi in a black cape had jumped out of the lilac bushes.

The source of the commotion was a piece of bread the size of a quarter that someone had tossed on my front path. That wedge of bread had become the center of attraction for what seemed like 25 gnawing and intent waterbugs.

It did seem like something televised on a National Geographic special -- "The Bugs!"

The guests started stamping on them. The animal rights people in the party protested. What difference did it make? There's always another waterbug on a hot summer's night.

So many people's homes are centrally air conditioned they miss the joy of this torture. Not mine. That would take the fun out a heat spell.

So now we have seven weeks of summertime agony before that stretch of August rain (usually the week you've booked the expensive apartment at the ocean) when the temperatures break and the days get shorter.

But it's only the Solstice, and there's a lot of summer suffering left.

My own idea of the worst of a Baltimore summer is one of those days when the humidity creates a white heat, a glare that almost becomes a blinding silver haze.

It's a light that proves the most protective sunglasses powerless. And it lasts seven or eight days.

The summer intensifies a curse of Baltimore's geography. You ++ can see the mess we live/breathe in. The harbor sits at the bottom of a natural mixing bowl of dubious air. The sides of said bowl terrace down from Patterson Park, West Baltimore and Cherry Hill.

But it's only the Solstice, and there's a lot of summer suffering left.

On hot and clear mornings, you can see the filthy ozone-smog layer. The environmental scientists have terms for our air quality: Code Green, Code Yellow, Code Orange and Code Red. We all know better. If you do a pack or two of Luckies a day, it's a perpetual Code Red.

Summer is the time of the year when people smell of a talcum powder dusting, or worse.

Baltimoreans love to lob around the cliches about how hot it is.

My favorite came from Aunt Dorothy.

"It's as hot as the hinges of Hades," she exclaimed as she fanned herself on a front porch green wicker chair.

One particularly nasty and sultry day this week, I was riding across the 28th Street Bridge when the driver said the only remedy he knew for the heat was a snowball.

"What flavor?" I inquired.

"Spearmint," he replied.

I don't know about that one. No thanks to spearmint.

That made me think. How hot is hot in Baltimore?

Hot is when a Baltimorean declines marshmallow on a snowball (spearmint or any other flavor). When you turn down the sticky stuff, that defines the ultimate limits of torrid.

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