[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

The August air outside today is thick, steamy and hard to breathe. An online weather advisory for Mercer County, New Jersey, where I live, announces that air quality in the region has reached or exceeded unhealthy levels. Exceeded unhealthy levels.

In my air-conditioned car, I drive to an air-conditioned market for refrigerated mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, red peppers, cucumbers, an avocado, lemons, a quarter of a watermelon and vanilla ice cream. I pass no other old people on my way, and very few other people. I see no young with earphones jogging the streets.

What did folks do before air-conditioning? If they could afford to get to a beach, the children frolicked in the water and the old sat with their feet in it. If they couldn’t, they darkened their rooms, fanned themselves, drank lemonade and waited for a breeze. Some of the old ones died. Few lived as long as me.

I’m not kidding. Philadelphia, which is near Mercer County (although in Pennsylvania) and shares its climate, was the capital of the new United States for the nation’s first ten years. Everyone in government went back where they came from every summer because the hot, soupy weather was deadly. Year after year, thousands upon thousands of Philadelphians died of yellow fever (carried by mosquitos), and sometimes malaria, if not respiratory insufficiency.

We may call ourselves lucky to live now, not then. But although electric power is a public utility, the price of which is somewhat controlled by policy concerns, it still isn’t cheap. Not everyone can afford to run air-conditioning twenty-four/seven. And when the demand is high, power can fail. You might also consider how long our present sources of power may last and the environmental risks connected with developing alternative sources.

A day like today reminds us how tenuous and fragile human life really is. As a wise reader recently observed, the natural world is a brutal place – from which we distract ourselves with ephemeral diversions and the comfort of friends.

Give thanks for diversions, friends, cold lemonade. And let’s hope for better weather tomorrow.



[This is the comic relief part of the blog.  Where you try to think of something funny about getting old.  Not so easy, is it?]  

Old age is … a lot of crossed off names in an address book.” Ronald Blythe,  British author.  (The View in Winter)

“Keep breathing.”  Sophie Tucker’s reply, at the age of 80, when asked the secret of her longevity.  (Attrib.)

“By the time you reach my age, you’ve made plenty of mistakes if you’ve lived your life properly.”  Ronald Reagan,  U.S.  president.  (The Observer, “Sayings of the Week,” 8 March 1987).

“Have a chronic disease and take care of it.”  Oliver Wendell Holmes’s formula for longevity.

Longevity, n. Uncommon extension of the fear of death.”  Ambrose Bierce  (The Devil’s Dictionary)

“Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long time.”  Daniel-Francois-Esprit Auber, French composer.  (Dictionnaire Encyclopedique  [E. Guerard])

The principal objection to old age is that there’s no future in it.”  (Anonymous)

The years between fifty and seventy are the hardest. You are always being asked to do things, and you are not yet decrepit enough to turn them down.”  T.S. Eliot  (Time, 23 Oct. 1950)

Get up at five, have lunch at nine, supper at five, retire at nine.  And you will live to ninety-nine.”  Francois Rabelais (Works, Bk. IV Ch. 64)

Dying while young is a boon in old age.”  (Yiddish proverb)

“I will never be an old man.  To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am.”  Bernard Baruch  (The Observer “Sayings of the Week,” 21 August 1955)

Senescence begins and middle age ends, the day your descendants outnumber your friends.” Ogden Nash.

“Old age is the most unexpected of all the things that happen to a man.”  Leon Trotsky ,Russian revolutionary  (Diary in Exile, 8 May 1935)

Growing old is a bad habit which a busy man has no time to form.”  Andre Maurois (The Ageing American)

 A ready means of being cherished by the English is to adopt the simple expedient of living a long time.  I have little doubt that if, say, Oscar Wilde had lived into his nineties, instead of dying in his forties, he would have been considered a benign, distinguished figure suitable to preside at a school prize-giving or to instruct and exhort scoutmasters at their jamborees.  He might even have been knighted.”  Malcolm Muggeridge (Tread Softly for you Tread on My Jokes)

The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.”  George Santayana (Dialogues in Limbo, Ch. 3)


 Wouldn’t it be nice to have a round of applause here?  Alas, we can’t. (Sigh.)  All these good people are dead.

 So we shall just have to thank The Macmillan Dictionary of Quotations, (Chartwell Books, Inc. 2000) instead.  

And get serious again.