"She always began with the heat wave that baked New York City that July. 'It was 95 degrees every day,' she'd say. 'Some days it hit a hundred. And we didn't even have an air conditioner. Do you have any idea how uncomfortable it was to be nine months pregnant in that miserable little apartment?'" —from Bobby in Naziland
The heat wave of 1952 began on June 26, when the temperature in New York City hit 100 degrees. It continued throughout July. The "she" in the above excerpt is my mother, and her meteorological memories of the days surrounding my birth, amidst a frenzy of UFO sightings, are accurate.
· July 14–23, 1952, was the hottest 10-day stretch in New York's recorded weather history, dating back to 1871.
· July 1952 was the hottest calendar month the city had ever endured.
The first four summers of my life, 1952–55, were the hottest four consecutive summers on record in New York; the temperature went above 95 degrees on 41 different days. And I was in Brooklyn for all of them.
Somehow, we got through those heat waves without air conditioning. I didn't know anybody who had an air conditioner, in part because a 5,500 BTU machine, in the mid-1950s, cost about $350, the equivalent of $3,386 today. But money was beside the point. The building I lived in and most of the other buildings in the neighborhood, constructed in the 1920s and 30s, weren't wired for air conditioning. Flatbushians could only dream of air-conditioned apartments.
I can picture myself, age six or seven, lying in bed, coated in sweat and trying to fall asleep on a sweltering night. On the floor next to the bed is a little spluttering fan tilted upward, its breeze wafting over my body and doing almost no good at all. How I longed for a moment of coolness.
In those ancient days, if you couldn't afford to escape to the Catskills for the summer, you cooled off at the beach, at a public swimming pool, or in an air-conditioned movie theatre, probably on Flatbush Avenue.
These days, I'm fortunate to be sitting in a large room cooled by a 12,000 BTU Frigidaire AC. And that's a good thing—because, out of an excess of caution, I wouldn't consider going to a beach or pool, and New York movie theatres remain closed.
So I'm staying right where I've been for the past four months. It's safe here, and there are books to be written and books to be read. Summer, after all, is a good time to catch up on your reading. And if you're reading this blog, you might also want to pick up Bobby in Naziland, if you haven't done so already. It may be just the cure for the summertime blues, despite what Eddie Cochran sang in the long, hot summer of 1958.