The Great Indoors

If you can't stand the heat, stay in the kitchen -- all summer

I'd like to meet the jerk-off who decided that founding a city in the middle of the desert was a good idea. I've been gunning for this guy (because it has to have been a man -- no woman would be stupid enough to set up housekeeping inside a kiln) since I arrived in this blistering hellhole more than 40 years ago, dragged here by parents who didn't bother to ask if I wanted to come.

"You were 14 months old!" my mother moaned when I called to whine about this the other day. "Your brother had asthma, we had to come here. And anyway, I'm tired of this discussion -- we've been having it for four decades. It's not my fault it's hot here. Deal with it."

I have dealt with the heat, mostly by hiding from it. For a period of months -- say, mid-April to late October -- I celebrate summer with blackout shades and a four-digit electricity bill. I lie as still as possible under chilled sheets in the cool dark, a cold compress at my forehead, an iced beverage clutched to my chest. I never set foot outside my house before 8 p.m., and then only grudgingly, because the fact that it's still 103 degrees outside for hours after sunset is enough to make me levitate with anger.

I've been hiding from summer so long and so well that I can no longer process sunlight. When I fell asleep for a few minutes on the beach in Italy last June, my entire body erupted in hives that stayed with me for more than a week. My body and mind, I've decided, have joined forces in rebellion against having been yanked from my former Midwestern home -- a more temperate place, a place that actually has seasons and where summer does not last six months or cause death and drought -- at such an early age. My housekeeper, Kim, has a different view of my aversion to our sizzling climate.

"You're a freak," Kim tells me. "If you don't like the heat, move to Seattle." But I cannot. Because as much as I loathe Phoenix -- its miles of heat-soaked pavement, its backwoods culture, its endless strip malls -- I'm addicted to its winters, its affordable real estate, and to the proximity it affords me to my large family, all of them headquartered here. I may live in a blistering hellhole, but I've gotten to watch all 11 of my nephews and nieces grow up (which is as close to child rearing as I care to come).

And so I skulk through summer, hiding like a vampire in my home, dodging the blistering daytime hours with a series of safety measures carefully designed to shield me from the sun. I arise early, so that walking to the curb to retrieve my morning newspaper won't result in sunstroke. (My plan to pay the paper boy extra to plant the paper directly on my doorstep was foiled when I discovered that the paper boy is in fact a woman of about 60 who delivers newspapers by tossing them from her car window.) Once safely back inside, I prepare a blender drink made entirely of frozen fruits and frozen yogurt, then settle down to watch my stash of summer movies, all of them set in wintertime (The Thing From Another World, in which a group of scientists discovers a giant man-eating carrot in a snow bank in the Antarctic, is a fave) or in New England during the holidays (Christmas in Connecticut is a horrible film, but it features snow in nearly every scene). I play Christmas music while I work, dressed in gauzy fabrics and surrounded by snow globes and pine-scented Airwick solids. I keep an oscillating electric fan trained on me at all times, even when I'm eating Popsicles, which is pretty much always. And when I nap, it's on sheets I've kept cold in the crisper drawer of my Frigidaire.

I'll meet you for lunch in the summer, but only at restaurants that offer covered (or, better yet, underground) parking, and only if you promise not to order anything that will come to the table in flames. I'd rather you come visit me for lunch, so I can serve iceberg salads and gazpacho and probably some sherbet -- all of them brought to my door by a local grocer wise enough to offer delivery service to summertime wusses like myself.

In fact, I have most of my stuff delivered during the summer: dry cleaning, dinner, drinking water. PETsMART keeps annoyingly sunlit hours, but I've discovered an Internet pet food company that will ship a month's worth of kibble straight to my door. Reading about cooler climes helps (I always reread Ethan Frome and The Snows of Kilimanjaro every July), and while the library doesn't see much of me when it's hot, straight-to-my-door Amazon.com certainly does. And there must be other summer-hating spazzes like me, because I've discovered a local company that will come to my home to recharge the Freon in my car -- an essential service, since the only thing worse than being stuck on I-17 in August is doing so without properly functioning A/C.

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