Saturday, September 6, 2008

Uncool thoughts

Sometime during last year's monsoon season my apartment's air conditioning failed. The building in which I lived is old by Phoenix standards and appears to have been built on the cheap. Perhaps that is why rather than each unit having its own central air all units are cooled by a single enormous chiller.

Some part in the chiller broke, and maintenance had to order its replacement, which took a few days to arrive. In the meantime we tenants had no air conditioning. Those few days were especially humid, and the tenants were a bit hot about the situation. They were complaining to each other about how terrible the heat was and how unfair it was that management wasn't going to refund any of that month's rent. Saying such things was highly abnormal, for tenants don't usually talk to each other. We make beelines between our front door and our car and otherwise spend our time in our comforting isolation of closed windows, closed doors, and enclosed air. But for those few days people were up and about during evenings because it was cooler outside the walls than inside. And I could almost pretend I was living in a community, one pulled together by shared suffering. They were the most remarkable and the most uncomfortable days of that summer. And like with the flip of a switch the chiller was repaired and those days were over; we closed our windows, closed our doors, and returned to our isolation.


I am fascinated by the differences between people's genotypes and phenotypes. The genotype is an organism's blueprint, its overarching design, or pattern. The phenotype is the actual pattern realized by that organism. A person's genotype may dictate that she has crooked teeth, bad eyesight, and brown hair. Braces, surgery, and hair dye may cause her phenotype to have straight teeth, perfect vision, and blond hair.

The human genotype hasn't changed much in the last few hundred years, yet our phenotypes have changed radically. Our teeth are straighter. Our eyes are better. More of our women are blond.

We're not well adapted to hot temperatures.


Somehow I never made the transition to air conditioning this summer. I figured I'd go without for as long as it made sense to do so, which so happened to be indefinitely. The effects of doing so have been numerous and positive.

Firstly, I never became saddled with the distinction between indoors and outdoors because I had no cold air to preserve. My windows remained open, through which passing sounds kept me connected with the outside. And it didn't matter whether I went outside or stayed inside because either way I would be a sweaty mess, so I went wherever I wished without consequences.

People in Phoenix say that the summer lasts for about four months; for me it lasted only two. This was a totally unexpected result. During all my summers in Texas and during my first summer in Phoenix, my definition of a hot day was one in which I would be uncomfortable without air conditioning. Without air conditioning as that anchor my definition changed to a day that was hotter than the previous one. I was totally acclimated to the heat once the days stopped getting hotter sometime in July, and that's when summer ended for me.


Another fascination of mine is discovering the unnecessity of things previously thought necessary. I consider this to be a condition of both having a wonderfully provided-for childhood and adolescence as well as being somewhat weird by nature.

The default for me is to look around at others and mimic them rather than figure out when and how people are, in fact, doing things that I have no interest in doing. Discovering unnecessities requires effort, and each such discovery gives me a heightened sense of empowerment. I lose one dependency and its associated upkeep, and the number of prerequisites for my happiness decreases by one. I step closer to the illusion of invulnerability.


I slept on the floor this summer because my memory foam mattress was too insulating. I unrolled each night my bed, which consisted of a comforter and a single sheet together acting as padding, and slept under my apartment's one ceiling fan. The strange thing is that I discovered that sleeping on a floor is quite pleasant when one chooses to -- cognitive dissonance at work? My bedroom became abandoned and I learned the unnecessity of it and my bed.


This week I continued the westward push, this time by a distance spanning no more than a par three. I moved into another unit within the same complex. My new unit is a studio and is much smaller, which offers me the twin advantages of having less carpet to vacuum and less rent to pay. It also happens to be a better layout and more effective use of space, and I'm very happy about the move.

And so goes the cascade of effects started by my curiosity of living without air conditioning.


About a week before I moved, my previous building's air conditioning went out for a few days. Or so I heard.


Emily said...

Craig, I completely agree with your sentiments regarding our perceived and true need of material things. I always feel an acute sense of excess when I return from spending a couple weeks or months in developing countries. However, what causes even more mental dissonance for me is how easy it is for me to glide right back into "needing" things like a higher thread count sheets. The adage is true... “Be careful that the things you own don’t start to own you” :)

Ted said...

I see internet access is still a necessity. I suppose we all need some entertainment.