The only thing that signals a significant heat wave other than the obviousness of the air is the plummeting ocean temperatures that coincide.
The heat is brought to the island via a noticeable southwest wind, not only ushering in the suffocating air quality, but also pushing our pleasant Gulf Stream-influenced water back out to sea, waiting for the next northeast push to bring it back in again.
The next most noticeable thing that seems to plummet is the positive attitude of nearly everyone around me (I’m not exempt from this, admittedly), as demonstrated by observations I made in my local pharmacy last Thursday, smack in the middle of the triple-digit blanket of heat that took hold on the region.
To wit: I found myself waiting at said pharmacy for a single anti-nausea pill that would promise to alleviate my general anesthesia sickness that I would experience during my next day’s surgery (I broke my hand a couple weeks ago and the fracture took a turn for the worse, so now my hand is the proud recipient of medicinal grade metal).
The waiting area was a mess of seasonally-affected unhappy people, with tempers flaring, fingers pointing in an accusatory manner, and outright helplessness occurring on both sides of the counter.
The coup de grace of the whole scene was a 92 year old man yelling at the pharmacy intern that his doctor had not filled his prescription but now the offices were closed and wouldn’t be open again for business until Monday, but this elderly gentleman need the prescription immediately to see him through the long weekend (my heart really did go out to the guy).
The intern, to his credit, did some additional computer monitor gazing and paperwork flipping, and you could see a light bulb kind of go off above his head as he said to the elderly gentleman in question, “Wait! Is you doctor Dr. Chinkowski?” appearing to have solved some large piece of the puzzle.
However, the older gentleman raised both arms in distress and said, “Dr. Chinkowski!? Dr. Chinkowski’s been dead for two years!”
Advantage: Elderly gentleman.
Admittedly, I’m pretty sure I waited for much longer than I was supposed to, partly to witness the depth of collective frustration and distress that can only be caused by perverse inconsistencies with the weather, and partly to soak up another minute out of the path of the triple-digit heat index.
The terrible thing about a heat wave is not only the heat itself, but our inability to deal with it. Especially during these months of vacations and holidays, nobody feels like giving it the old wintertime try and just waiting it out, and who can blame us? Summer is all about the outdoors, and when we’re forced into constant shelter with little relief from the heat, the result is a stir crazy community that walks on eggshells with each other until the sweltering weather is over.
Excessive heat presents itself as the most frustrating of weather phenomenon, leaving us sitting at home, fighting dehydration, banging on dormant air conditioning units that apparently only have a cooling radius of three feet (if you’re me, at least) and to wake each day with a shorter and shorter fuse for when it comes to daily social confrontation.
So perhaps our only saving grace from this whole thing is that frigid water that comes along. At one point the shoreline ocean temperature read about 57 degrees last week, and with a heat index spiking upwards of 105 degrees, well, do the math. Mother Nature does offer us a refuge, after all, I guess.
During a heat wave, the ocean serves as one of those good and rare living metaphors. Sometimes we just have to cool off a bit, give the weather patterns their due time to linger, and save life’s bigger problems for when the temperature steadies itself back to a more seasonally appropriate reading.