The Friday before Labor Day, my wife called me at work.
“The air conditioner’s dead,” she said.
There was something about a storm and a sudden flash and a huge boom.
I’m a little fuzzy on the details. Most of what she said was drowned out by the giant sucking sound of hundreds of dollars flying out of my wallet.
The AC man was summoned. A quick triage of the air handler confirmed the worst: wires, fuses, control panel — all fried.
“He has to order the control panel,” my wife said over the phone. “They’re going to FedEx it. It’ll be here Tuesday.”
I did the math in my head.
Four days without air-conditioning.
Four days laid bare to unadulterated Florida at the end of August. How would we survive?
My first act was to buy beer.
That night, we let civilization slip from its traces a bit. Dinner was over the coals; bedtime was later than normal. Following the lead of the dog and cats, the boys and I sprawled out on the living room floor in the path of the fan.
Not exactly Thunderdome, I know. But any excuse to stop shaving is good enough for me.
My wife, a fan of neither Florida nor camping, trudged up the stairs. Our bedroom had become a stifling hotbox, and she was our Col. Nicholson, suffering on our behalf. Also, I wasn’t up there snoring.
Had we lived in a leaky old Seminole Heights bungalow beneath an ancient live oak, life might have been better on the second floor. But we live in a 10-year-old tract house in a treeless, porch-free stretch of suburbia. And so, upstairs inspired a whole thesaurus of new words, none of which I can print in this newspaper.
After more than 20 years in the news business, I’m used to finding myself at the mercy of forces I can’t control. I knew I couldn’t fix the air conditioner, but I also knew I didn’t have to be miserable.
The long, hot weekend became an excuse to hit the pool and linger under cool showers. Indulging my Southern roots, I took to lounging on the couch beneath the spinning ceiling fan. My wife, a Yankee and AC devotee, looked upon this as loitering and prodded me to find something better to do.
In the end, what began as a promise of torture became a lesson in appreciating life’s subtleties.
I became attuned to the way the sun moved over our house through the course of the day. I drew the dining room curtains against the morning sun and put the fan in the living room window. The enormous jessamine vine looming over the living room window shielded the room from the afternoon sun.
My dawn and dusk walks with the dog revealed a hint of autumn coolness creeping into the air. The feathery touch of the fans alleviated the sweltering feel of downstairs at bedtime.
By Monday night, I was hardly sweating.
When Hector, the AC man, returned on Tuesday morning, I was tempted to tell him to go away. Generations of Floridians lived without air-conditioning. I could do it, too.
I was the only one who felt that way.
Hector got a hero’s welcome when he pulled his van into the driveway. Over the course of the morning, he got our air conditioner running again.
It wasn’t simple. Friday’s blitzkrieg also fried the thermostat and lobotomized the heat pump, which was convinced it was January and kept trying to turn on the heat.
Hector persevered, installing a new thermostat and bypassing the heat pump’s brain damage.
The bill wasn’t as bad as I had feared, either.
Since Hector left, we’ve returned to living in a 75-degree house and sleeping under a comforter. The dog and cats want to cuddle, not spread out on the cool floor.
I do miss sleeping on the living room floor, but next month’s Cub Scout camp out will no doubt cure me of that.