Makes me swoon with the sound of it. Imagine a Bluesy sax in cahoots with a lunatic moon, a recording of Sleepy Lagoon. The air is syrup, in a soupy spoon, thick enough to climb that cratered balloon. Every year thirty days from the end June we get this undocumented air from Baja or maybe Beirut or Khartoum. It finds asylum in my head and with it a remembrance of a distant summer.
Low pressure trough, they say. It comes up like heavy over-ripe fruit, pregnant with its bag of water. Thunderous, tripping the sky electric enough to zap a few unfortunate folks. It’s a big show not enough to quench a thirsty plant with its tongue hanging out. But enough to monsoonal me back to those nights of sweaty summers.
What ever happened, happened to all of us. Or so it seemed to this ten-year old. The weather and the war, whooping cough, even Wendell Willkie and One World. We had our communal heroes and our shared menace, infantile paralysis and spies and the dreaded third rail.
A few inhalations carry me east to cartoons of Looney-Tunes, rain-outs and subways with sticky straw seats, August nights when I leaped in my Keds for fireflies higher than a pop fly. Neighbors slept on their fire-escape. The humidity and heat were tied in extra innings on our skin.
Fans didn’t do much but scatter the flies so people came out to unstifle themselves. So did the gnats. They swarmed by gazillions all over the front window of my father’s drug store. Windows in those days were much more than glass. They were an art form labored over by a window-dresser who, with pins in his mouth, built attractive castles from empty boxes of Bromo-Selzter, hot water bottles, Band-Aids, Bisodol Mints, Doan’s Pills, Gelusil and the ubiquitous Ex-Lax package. In the mix were an apothecary jar or two to dignify the façade.
It must have been the flag colors of the Ex-Lax sign that attracted the gnats. They covered that part of the window and gradually the rest of it in sufficient numbers to excite the neighborhood. I don’t think the store ever had such traffic, at least the outside entrance. My father possessed a natural calm which could break a fever. He needed every bit of it to persuade the crowd we were not being invaded by an alien species. Triple digit heat does strange things to people.
Whether or not any of them ventured into the pharmacy to spend a nickel for a cherry coke with two straws, is doubtful. He returned to take his place between globes of colored water and I took in a deep draft of drug store air still lodged in my memory vault. By the end of that year, 1943, he was out of business.
The gnats left faster than monsoonal air departs from Southern California. We are now pretty much back to our usual non-weather. I need real weather the way Proust needed his Madeleine, whatever it takes to recover time past.