I’ve lived in California my whole life. I thought I knew what summer was like… I considered myself an expert on warm, sunny, flip-flop weather. Bathing suit weather. Air conditioning weather.
But I was not prepared for summer in New York.
The air is thick with sweat. Dense and still, it presses in all around you as soon as you step outside. A thick hot mist envelops with every step you take to the train station and back again. Descending into the dungeon-like, fiery, still heat of the subway station is even worse. You stand waiting—praying—for that long golden light to come plunging from the darkness, for the cool silver bullet to open its doors and whisk you away from this hell-like hotness.
Beads of salty perspiration make their way in rivulets down your back, neck, legs… Puddling against your neckline, waistline, back of your knees. You are sweating. But so is the ground you walk on, the buildings you cross between, the air you breathe in and out. The city sweats too. Everything seems damp with this omnipresent, all-encompassing Heat. And when it rains, it’s as if the sky itself is weeping from the smoldering sun, spontaneously bursting into fat, lukewarm tears that rain down, dampening already damp bodies. Even rain does nothing to cool the swelter.
Last week I was walking home from work, crossing the final blocks until I reached the solace of my cool room and my cool bed, where I was planning on dropping everything I was carrying, peeling off every layer of clothing, and laying scantily clad beneath my beautiful, gorgeous, magnificent, wonderful, holy air conditioner, when I saw two children standing behind a table on the sidewalk. The air was thick with 6 o’clock heat, and I wondered what two adorable kids in a rich neighborhood were doing standing outside voluntarily. I had to see.
So I crossed over to the side of the narrow, tree-lined road and saw that they had tall, icy pitchers of lemonade and iced tea and were pouring them into little clear plastic cups. Now, I am a firm believer that children should never stop selling lemonade, and will consider it a great societal grievance if young ones ever lose the entrepreneurial ambition to pander watered down beverages to passers-by, so a smile began to play on the edge of my lips when I saw them there.
As I approached the little propped up table I saw a hand-crafted sign, as child-run lemonade stands are wont to have. Except this one said, “Free Lemonade and Iced Tea.” …What? No quarter? No dollar? You don’t want any money for video games or comic books or Frappuccinos? You’re standing out here in this heat, pouring iced tea for strangers, and you don’t want anything for it?
I walked up to the little boy, his blonde hair swooping across his forehead, blue eyes lowered shyly to the ground, and asked for, “Lemonade and iced tea together—half and half. Is that okay?” He nodded his head and poured me my special Arnold Palmer. I asked, “Is it really free? …What are you doing this for?” Still avoiding my gaze he shuffled and said, “It’s for the church. We know it’s hot and we want people to be cooler.” I looked back at the “Free Lemonade” sign and saw that at the very bottom was scrawled, “Donations accepted,” and my gaze traveled up to see a little blonde girl come tumbling out of two wide wooden doors. Church doors. I hadn’t noticed until just right now that we were standing in front of a church.
I pulled out the biggest bill I could find, and handed it, folded, to the boy. “Thank you very much,” I said. His eyes still fixed on the ground he shuffled his feet and smiled softly, “Thank you.”
As I continued my walk home, only two blocks more at this point, I sipped from my sidewalk purchase and thought, “I’m happy to be in New York in the summer."