A Hothouse Survival Tale

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sweating buckets when the ac goes out during a heat wave

by ben krull

i turned the knob and nothing happened. don't panic, i told myself, as sun poured through the blinds.

it was a 90-degree sunday earlier this summer and the window air-conditioner in my studio apartment was dead. first came denial: the four-year-old machine just needed to ease into the june heat. all it needed was some rest.

then came anger: i cleaned my filter every six weeks, just like the operator's manual instructed. it was too young to die-i'll sue!

finally came acceptance: it was a lemon and nothing could be done to change that. i would get a new one and move on.

i headed to pc richard's on east 86th street, where my salesperson matched me with an 8,000 btu air-conditioner. but the earliest it could be delivered was friday, five days away.

checking the long-range forecast i broke into a cold sweat, on top of the hot sweat already dripping from my pores. i bought two desk fans and braced myself.

to get some ideas on how to cope with the heat, i researched ancient cooling techniques. i learned that people once avoided the heat by living in underground caves. my experience with subway platforms dissuaded me from pursuing that cooling option.

our modern predecessors would sleep on fire escapes on hot evenings. although my building has a fire escape, i never seriously considered that option.

apparently the summer streets in old new york weren't populated by drunken twentysomethings partying into the night, or by cars honking their way through traffic. besides, the sight of someone curled up on a fire escape at 3 a. m. would likely draw 911 calls from my neighbors.

that left the desk fan as the only defense against my apartment's tropical conditions. with the fans pointed at my bed, i was able to sleep comfortably through the night. the problem was when i was up and moving around.

my morning coffee made me schvitz like i was in a sauna, while walking out of range of my fans put me in danger of heat stroke.

even a cold shower couldn't help. by the time i toweled myself off, i produced enough perspiration to undo the ameliorative effects of soap and deodorant.

the afternoon my new air-conditioner was delivered i was in my apartment, happily clearing space in a closet to store my soon-to-be unneeded fans.

"this unit will never cool your apartment," the ac installer said. "you need 12,000 btus and this is only 8,000."

i had given the salesperson the wrong measurements for my apartment. i ordered a new machine but it would be two weeks before i could arrange to be present for the delivery.

the heat wave continued, making me feel like i was in a reality television show: which contestant can hold out the longest? text "105 in the shade" to vote!

clearly god was testing me. i made it through the next two weeks by repeating the mantra "this too shall pass."

on what was supposed to be the last day of my ordeal the delivery crew was four hours late. would this endurance test ever end?

this time the installation of my new air-conditioner went as planned. but the old machine developed separation anxiety.

while removing the lemon from my studio, the workmen broke my building's elevator with the unit inside. they left with the elevator and ac still stuck between floors.

despite the crew's tardy entrance and sloppy exit, i was so grateful to have a cool apartment that i gave them a really fat tip.


ben krull is a lawyer and essayist who lives on the upper east side.

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