Keeping Cool

breezyThough Chicago is the Windy City, air seems to stagnate in August, never moving as much as you’d like it to. Stepping outside is like being wrapped in a hot wet blanket, and I plan my path on the shady side of the street out of the scorching sun. After a long winter, you’d think a nice hot summer would be what everyone wants, but all we seem to want is a continual state of perfect weather – clear skies, 75 degrees, and no sweating. And if Mother Nature will not provide this, we want air conditioning.

Walking down the sidewalk, the occasional shop has its door open and a wave of cool air pours out. Better than any sale they might advertise, I’m drawn in for the relief. However, once inside, my temperature lowers, and I’m shivering. A sweater becomes my summer companion – to the grocery, office, or movies – because air conditioning gets too cold.

When the sun goes down, it may be noticeably cooler. However, in a condo with only west-facing windows, we lack the possibility of cross-ventilation; cooler air only irregularly blows in the windows. I’m tempted to set up a cot on our terrace, sort of a sleeping porch, but instead, we shut the windows and crank up the AC. Sleep will now be tolerable, and I’ll be wrapped in blankets.

Growing up, our house didn’t have central air conditioning. Instead, in late July, we’d install a couple of window units to cool part of the house through the muggiest days. But to cool the entire house, we used an attic fan. Behind a louvered opening in our upstairs hall, this giant fan would pull cool night air in through the windows and flush out the hot air. We’d adjust the windows to be open about 4 inches, and the pull of the fan would sometimes trap beetles and moths against the screens. We used doorstops to keep interior doors from slamming shut. The cool air would wash over by bed, and the hum of the fan would be the last thing I heard before drifting off to sleep.

Everywhere I’ve lived as an adult, I’ve wished for an attic fan. For those times when it doesn’t seem hot enough to turn on the AC, but the house won’t cool down. We live on the top floor and have a sky light and I fantasize that the condo association would let us install an attic fan there. The closest we’ll come is ceiling fans in every room. And on the rare days when the temperature drops, I throw all the windows open wide, inviting that cooler air inside for as long as it might last.

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