It’s hot outside. And even hotter in my apartment. I’m afraid it will get even hotter in the next few weeks. The dread of heat makes me think about sleeping, because heat makes me sleepy and because it’s hard to sleep when it’s too hot.
When I was 8 years old, we moved from our small adobe (the real kind) home near Cinco Puntos into a brand-new double-wide home on wheels near the railroad tracks almost as far south on 2nd Street as the road goes in Alburquerque’s South Valley. It was so exciting because the trailer house came furnished, with furniture that matched the wallpaper and curtains that matched the carpets. My mom never cared whether anything matched—only if it was cheap–so this was a first. My parents had the trailer set on an empty lot, on a dead-end dirt road, surrounded by tumbleweeds and unfortunately, no trees. All of our neighbors lived in trailer houses too. For the first few weeks in our new place, we had no electricity or gas. Luckily, we had water. If you’ve ever lived in a trailer house, you’ll know that they don’t have very good insulation, that they trap heat inside like a big ole oven. And in the nuevo méxico sunshine, it couldn’t get any hotter. As kids, we didn’t seem to notice the heat too much. We were too busy playing outside, going to swimming lessons and doing other summertime things that need not be done in the house. It was only at night that I really remember the feeling of being too hot.
When we first moved in, we had to use flashlights at night. It forced us to go to bed earlier than usual. Even though desert nights were cool, there was not enough air circulation to bring in the outside air. Once the electricity was up and running, my brothers and I would take turns sleeping in front of the air conditioner on three dining chairs we’d pull together to stretch out on. My mom would often put a large box fan in between my brothers’ room and mine. She would shift it so that each of our rooms got the fan for a little bit–fifteen minutes toward their room, fifteen minutes toward mine. Sleeping in the heat was miserable. Three years later we moved across the Río Grande to Los Padillas. Our adobe house was surrounded by tall fruit trees and cottonwoods. We didn’t even need the fans after that. It was such a welcome relief.
There was only one other time I remember being that hot. It was the summer of 1999, between college and grad school. I stayed in an awful third-floor walk-up studio apartment in Brooklyn with my ex. I was trying to find temp work, but ended up spending most of the days in the apartment with the windows open, hoping it would cool down, the smell of pigeon crap wafting into the room from the fire escape. I never got a good night’s rest that summer because the heat made me toss and turn. That was the first summer in a long time that the electricity went out in NYC. Too many people were too hot and using up all the juice. For a week or so, I went to the law firm with my ex, spending the day in an empty office so that I could be in the air conditioning. The electricity only went out in the poor brown areas, like Washington Heights and Harlem. Of course, midtown and downtown, the financial districts, were fine. I remember being really pissed off that despite the requests of the city for folks to conserve energy, those corporate assholes kept the a.c. going full-blast. I was pissed too, because had my ex not been a law student intern, I would not have had a cool place to escape from the heat. I was pissed because there were sick people stuck in their apartments without elevator access, people who were scraping by and whose food spoiled, viejitos who were dying because the temperatures in their apartments were unhealthily high. And yet, the a.c. and every single light and computer, regardless of whether they were in use, was on in the law firm where I found refuge from the blazing heat.
It’s not even as hot in my LA apartment now as it was in the trailer or in that Brooklyn apartment. But it reminds me of how much worse it could be. Some day soon, I will have a job that will allow me to pay for an apartment with central air. Hopefully it will be in a place where sunshine abounds. I keep telling myself I’ve lived in hotter and worse conditions, in hopes that it will make me feel a little cooler. But it hasn’t worked. It does, however, remind me to conserve energy more.