Such peevish July days unfit for man or mouse

July 31, 1995|By JACQUES KELLY

The liquid crystal display on the main thermostat in my dining room registered 87 degrees.

This is not supposed to happen too often. Here is a room in a 125-year-old brick house (big stone foundation, too), protected and shaded by a towering locust tree. The room's windows have exterior canvas awnings. There is a cellar below the room and another room above it that theoretically provide some sort of insulation value.

It is not and has never been air-conditioned.

The statistics tell us Baltimore is basking today in the 20th day of a broiling heat spell. I guess the 87 in what should be the coolest room in the house is about normal then.

A few years ago an air-conditioning contractor took a look at my house, shook his head and told me to consider selling. Then he realized he'd gone too far and suggested prolonged stays on the Atlantic Ocean.

It is occasions such as this that make you love a Baltimore heat spell for the ridiculous moments it provides.

I looked at a candle in my house the other day and thought to myself, "What is wrong with this picture?" The candle was leaning in a peculiar position, an angle its maker never intended. The sunlight had melted it.

My kitchen garbage can is housed on a nifty little roller device that keeps the trash out of sight and enclosed in a Z minicupboard. But with the prolonged heat, the kitchen pail transforms itself into a fruit fly honeymoon hotel. These annoying flying specks make a specialty of decaying peaches. A trip to the garbage canbecomes an occasion for batting at a cloud of airborne darters.

Old-fashioned Baltimore back alleys are best avoided when the temperature goes berserk. The garbagey odors that a prolonged heat spell cooks up are truly remarkable. Try the urban perfume known as Whiff of Three-Day-Old Crab Shell. One whiff is worth a Code Red alert for the nose.

Nature provides weird tricks.

The other morning I was gathering up newspapers for recycling when I discovered a mouse permanently attached to an indoor glue trap. This was odd. The friendly little gray rodents usually come inside to play when it gets chilly. Do mice come in out of the heat too? This poor fellow had a very thick coat.

What can you do? Avoid a Baltimore heat-and-humidity mood depression.

The heat can convert a normally upbeat personality into something worthy of Dr. Freud's couch. I often detect this when the humidity soars. But yesterday's dry, breezy air seemed to make people happier and gave them something to talk about. The temperatures made the mercury fly high, but at least the air had less oozy and obnoxious kick.

So what do I do?

I get up very early these mornings. One day last week I started the washing machine at 4:30. It's kind of fun to watch the sun come up as early as it does. It's not so merry to feel it grow hot by the time the sun would just be getting over the rooftops come winter.

You can take some consolation that this is the last day of July, because no matter what anyone tells you to the contrary, Baltimore's weather in the month that is nearly over is the absolute worst of the calendar. A Baltimore July is 31 days spent in weather prison.

One last thought for July. I dig into my collection of treasured musical moments. I locate a copy of a great Ethel Waters record. It's a 1933 Irving Berlin song.

You guessed it. It's called "Heat Wave."

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