|Center Avenue, Northbrook, June 29, 2018|
Ninety-six degrees? Two days in a row? Pshaw! I remember when it got HOT in Chicago. Such as on July 13, 1995, when the temperature reached 106 degrees, and I wrote the following, no doubt assigned to come up with something diverting about the heat wave.
That day I walked a block outside, to our dry cleaners in East Lake View. I can still remember trudging back, toting a plastic bag of clothing, feeling as if the weight of the sun were pressing down upon my head. I returned to the apartment and had to lie down, for all the good it did: no air conditioning. The heat was deadly.
Literally. I was wiped out and I was 35 and in good health. (Poor Edie was five months pregnant). For many older people, it proved fatal, and the hot spell that I had such fun with below was, even as I was flipping through quote books, was killing Chicagoans one-by-one, elderly and alone barricaded in their overheated apartments; 739 heat-related deaths by the time it was over.
And yes, I was part of the media, along with the city government and everyone else, who were slow to realize what was happening. Hindsight is 20-20. Even after the scope of the disaster started to come out. I remember wondering if it could simply be the medical examiner's office grandstanding—calling every death in the city a heat-related death, since it was so hot. A blunder, or a bid for attention made sense. The truth just seemed incredible.
The bad thing about "Hot, isn't it?" and "Hot enough for you?" and all the other variants people feel compelled to say is that everybody already knows it's hot, doesn't need to be told and is sick of hearing it over and over.
Since poets and wits have been commenting on this for centuries, the following is provided, as a public service, as a guide to more dramatic phrases that can be used in this "fantastic summer's heat."
A stranger observes that it is really very hot, and waits for your reply. Quote Coleridge: "Summer has set in with its usual severity."
The person next to you on the bus comments that, as far as warm weather goes, this is unusual. Quote Lowell: "I had not felt the heat before, save as a beautiful exaggeration of sunshine."
A guy on the elevator expresses displeasure at the heat. Quote Shakespeare: "I 'gin to be aweary of the sun / And wish the estate o' the world were now undone."
Your hair stylist points out that it's hard to know what to wear in this weather. Quote Jane Austen: "What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance."
A woman asks "How's about this heat, huh?" Quote Sydney Smith: "Heat, madam! It was so dreadful that I found there was nothing for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones."
Your officemate expresses optimism that the heat won't last long. Quote Skelton: "After a hete oft cometh a stormy colde."
The grocer observes that it is "hot as hell" outside. Point out that the phrase actually is from Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord's 18th century poem, "Recipe for Coffee" -- "Black as the devil / Hot as hell / Pure as an angel / Sweet as love." Or toss back the phrase in its original French, "Chaud comme l'enfer."
You're walking along, perspiring heavily, and you catch the eye of someone else, also perspiring heavily. Back to Shakespeare: "Falstaff sweats to death / And lards the lean earth as he walks along."
Someone bad-mouths the city for being so hot in the summer. Quote Harry Truman: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."
—Originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times, July 14, 1995