As I write this, I am sweating. I say this not to shock you or disgust you, but because it has become a state of being. New York is a great city for sweating. Since moving to New York last August, the one thing that I have come to know for sure is that at some point each day, I will sweat. And I don’t mean sweating in the way that we all sweat everyday without noticing it (
Wikipedia studies show that humans average 10-14 liters per day—and if you don’t believe that, just read the citations on Wikipedia the internet).
No, friends, I am talking about the kind of sweat you can’t help but notice, that you can feel actively cooling you, that starts to make your skin shine and, in more dire cases, send droplets into your eyes, off your nose, and rolling down your back into your nether regions. This is the sweat that can leave embarrassing patches of darkness on your clothes, which during exercise can merge into one all-encompassing wetness that effectively renders your shirt into a person-rind, which is fitting since you now smell like a well-aged cheese. But only a minority of this sweating comes from exercise. Sure, when I go for a run I end up shrink-wrapped in a stinking UnderArmour sausage casing. That’s only part of the story.
Let’s start with summer. This past week, we had the second of two rough heat waves, with high temperatures averaging around 95 degrees. These temperatures, while warm, are certainly not the worst I’ve ever encountered. Last summer in Missouri, for instance, the weather went for weeks with temperatures like this. At work, I parked in an uncovered lot with virtually no tree cover, meaning that my drive home on those days with a 110 degree heat index meant either waiting 15 minutes for my car’s AC to blow the satanically hot air out of the four open car doors, or try to drive home quickly without the heat of the steering wheel welding my hands to the faux leather wheel cover.
Yes, Missouri was hot. And humid. I mean, I’d never wished I had gills before my first summer in Missouri. But here’s the thing. We had air conditioning. You wake up in your air conditioned home. You leave for work in a car that has air conditioning. You walk from your car to your air conditioned workplace. You leave work and go to the air conditioned store or restaurant. And you come home to your air conditioned house or apartment. You know it’s hot, and you feel it when you’re outside. But by and large, it’s possible to avoid the heat.
New York, though, has a lot of old buildings. Old buildings mean old designs and old technology. Old technology means no central air. And that is where window units come in. Last summer, we decided against buying an AC, since it was already August, and we could live with the heat for a month or two. This year, we broke down: we bought a small, 5,000-BTU window unit for the bedroom. Our thought was that we could live with the heat in the rest of the place, as long as we had a cool room for sleeping. We didn’t understand why our super, Manny (henceforth to be referred to as Super Manny), laughed when he saw the size of our unit—until the heat came.
Outside the house, there are other ways to sweat. We don’t have a car (because we’re not crazy), which means walking and public transportation. Walking in summertime will make you sweat, of course. But so will waiting at a subway station, especially if there are no functioning fans. Our nearest station isn’t particularly bad, but others along the line are almost unbearable. Today we waited for the D train at Rockefeller Center, and it was absolutely stifling. Luckily, most cars are air conditioned. The word “most” is an important distinction. When on the subway, an empty car is usually a gift from god. There are seats, no creepy people watching you, and no one to laugh when you trip entering the car. More often than not, though, an empty car in the summer means one thing: no AC. I once tried to power through a 20-minute train ride in one of these cars, ignoring other passengers’ “Hell no’s” and “You gotta be kidding me’s.” Learn from my mistake. Change cars.
This isn’t just a summer thing, though. Winter in the city, much like that too-hot hot tub, gonna make you sweat. Since you end up doing a lot of walking even in winter, you have to dress appropriately, meaning warmly and in layers. Of course, if you calibrate incorrectly, you either find yourself shivering down the street or, more likely, soaking through your long johns. In either case, you’re only dressed to get from one place to the next. If that happens to include a subway station, that sweat will probably move from your long johns through your hand knitted sweater and eventually into your goose-down parka (probably. I own none of these things).
Think going home will help? You would be wrong. Our apartment, at least, has radiator heat, which is controlled from the boiler room. As I mentioned in my post New York Lesson-XVIII, it came on suddenly, and we had no control over it. Our thermostat is effectively the window.
I say all of this not to complain, although I’ll bet it sounds like it. Really it’s just one of those things I didn’t understand before moving to the city: being in New York means you’re going to sweat. A lot. This, I think, adds its own bouquet to the aroma of car exhaust and sewage and overheated garbage that permeates the streets. Plus, there are a lot of air conditioned places to go, if you have the energy. The library. A coffee house. The local Fine Fare, where the air is so cold you find yourself shaking off a fine layer of frost after walking through the door.
Of course, I could be exaggerating all of this, and it really isn’t so bad. Maybe I’m just trying to make this post seem interesting, and the heat and the walking and the warm clothing and those unbearably hellish subway stations don’t really make you sweat like I’ve been saying. I guess I’ll have to leave that up to you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to squeegee my keyboard.