Pre-AC cooling


Adapted from Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

We had various strategies for beating the heat at night when I lived  as a boy in a Boston suburb on  the ocean. There were fans, but their effect was unsatisfying. One option was to move into the cellar, which in our house was deep and with granite walls. Another was to sleep on a porch. You see a lot of sleeping porches, mostly facing the summer prevailing wind from the southwest, in houses built from about 1890 to 1930. Or we’d sleep on the lawn. For kids these options provided minor adventures (seeing fireflies over the lawns, etc.) but  they weren’t particularly attractive to adults, most of whom had to get up early and get to work after sleepless nights

We’d sometimes hear dance music coming up  through the rustling oak trees from a club on the harbor. This was Big Band stuff; rock n’ roll had not yet become entrenched.

Then came those air conditioners awkwardly installed in windows, which in old houses like the one we live in now seem the only cooling option because you’d have to rip up the house to put in central air.

Of course, the central irony of air conditioning is that while it may make you cooler, it makes the world hotter as we burn fossil fuel to generate the electricity to make it work and the damn things release lots of heat –into the great outdoors.  And living in air-conditioned spaces makes you less able to tolerate the outside air when you're in it. But it has certainly been good for productivity.

We lived on Massachusetts Bay and so we could go swimming but the water was usually frigid, what with  the hot-weather wind – from the southwest – pushing the warm surface water away from the shore and the Labrador Current lurking nearby. We loved visiting our paternal grandparents in West Falmouth, on Buzzards Bay, where the water was almost tropically warm from mid-July to Labor Day. It seemed that the Gulf Stream would send up little eddies to run against the south and west sides of the Cape. It smelled like Florida.