The pinnacle of human achievement? It’s A/C
Go ahead and tout the automobile.
Extoll the capacity of the jetliner to shrink our great sprawling world to a manageable size.
In the pantheon of great inventions, both the Model T Ford and the Boeing 707, as icons of their respective type of vehicle, deserve all the laurels bestowed on them over the decades (or, in the case of the Tin Lizzy, more than a century).
But for my money, the air-conditioner puts both in the shade.
So to speak.
A jet is a fine device if you absolutely must get to Paris tomorrow.
But I never have.
And, I’d wager, you haven’t either.
The car, due to its more accessible utility, is a tougher case to argue against.
The freedom that the automobile affords is no trifling thing. There is, it seems to me, real magic in knowing that I could, if I chose, walk out to my Buick, start it up and then drive straight to Denver or Des Moines or Duluth.
I suppose I could get around all right on a bicycle.
But I wouldn’t want to.
Especially if my destination was Duluth.
The ability to cross oceans, or states, in a handful of hours is worthy of celebrating.
But in my view it’s nothing as miraculous as what artificial cooling has wrought on our homes and, indeed, on our cars.
(Not to mention our skin.)
I spent the latter half of the Independence Day week at my wife’s parents’ place on Brownlee Reservoir.
To say that it gets hot down there, scarcely 2,000 feet above sea level, is akin to describing The Beatles as a pretty fair bar band.
Anyway, by around 9 a.m. or so on each day of our stay, the air became so oppressive that neither a patch of shade nor a breeze brought much in the way of succor.
Unless you consider the exhalations of a kiln refreshing.
But when I slid open the glass door and stepped into the cabin, which is equipped with an air-conditioner of considerable power, it was the physical equivalent of that unique, soothing sense of mental relief that happens when you awaken, in the safety of your quiet bedroom, from a particularly nasty nightmare.
This isn’t, of course, the only way to cool off.
But it sure is a simple way.
Generally safe, too.
You could instead take a dip in the reservoir, or else search out a cave or an abandoned mine tunnel to shelter in.
Except people sometimes drown.
Mine tunnels are known for collapsing and entombing any unfortunate spelunker on the wrong side of the failure.
And caves tend to be inhabited by bats and spiders and snakes and other creatures I’d rather not rub shoulders with.
(Or whatever it is that snakes have where the shoulders are in a limbed creature.)
Air-conditioners run on the heavy side, to be sure.
I’ve bruised my arms and smashed a finger trying to wrestle mine into their window perches.
But bruises fade.
And fingers heal.
You just let nature have its way.
But that philosophy is of little consolation in July along the Snake River, when nature’s way is to make it 90 degrees at 8:30 in the morning.
The prevalence of cell phone apps seemed to me a benevolent sort of silliness until some clever programmer had to drag Bigfoot into the technological morass.
I suffer enough indignity as it is from my interest in this putative undocumented bipedal primate of the North American wilds.
I stand pretty far from the fringe, generally speaking.
I don’t listen to “Coast to Coast AM.”
I don’t consider “Men in Black” a documentary.
Still and all, a miniscule amount of the evidence proffered as proof of Bigfoot’s existence — a handful, so to speak, of the footprints, along with the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film — is compelling enough to justify my consideration.
Besides which, even the slimmest possibility that such a creature is real enlivens my trips to the woods, turning blackened stumps into hirsute beasts.
Yet now, intruding on this sober spirit of scientific inquiry like a 40-ouncer of malt liquor, barges the app “Sightings by Betabrand.”
This nefarious bit of binary code, according to its designers, will insert Bigfoot into the digital photo of your choosing.
That’s not funny.
The pursuit of Bigfoot is rife already with hoaxes.
Worse still, this app is free.
You know what this is going to lead to.
Bigfoot will start showing up in scenes of backyard barbecues, a burger flipper in one hairy hand and one of those “Kiss the Cook” aprons draped over his barrel chest.
He’ll be in the background of the family portrait on the rim of the Grand Canyon or at the entrance to Disneyland, making a “V” with two fingers over the back of dad’s head.
This is insulting.
And that’s not the whole of the infamy.
This app can doctor photos not only with Bigfoot — it can put Jesus or the Virgin Mary in there, too.
When the Savior’s visage graces a potato chip, or his likeness appears on a zucchini, well, that’s fate.
Or possibly, in the former example, a problem with the deep-fat fryer.
But tinkering with His image just to get a laugh?
I’m pretty sure that’s blasphemy.