I struggle sometimes, as I suspect most people do, to watch without chuckling as grown men drive around downtown Baker City in motorized bathtubs.
Amusing spectacles aside, there is nothing funny about the Shriners’ purpose.
Although it’s a purpose which, like a fit of unbridled laughter, can also make your eyes water.
I have been fortunate indeed that none of my children has needed treatment at a Shriners Hospital. And because I’ve been fortunate I don’t know that I can truly understand, much less appreciate, what an incredible gift it is that those hospitals exist.
I have seen the smiling faces of kids whose lives have been so immeasurably improved by the generosity of the Shriners.
I have read their stories — stories both terrible and incredibly inspirational.
Yet when I see the word “Shriner” I tend to think first of parades and football games and steaks grilling in Geiser-Pollman Park.
I mean no disrespect.
Nor do I think the Shriners would be offended.
There is a certain silliness in their approach that seems to me wholly appropriate for an endeavor whose sole purpose is to help children deal with painful and frightening situations.
There are tears, I suspect, behind every story about a child who stayed at a Shriners Hospital.
But the Shriners, though they clearly recognize that it takes money to help ailing children, also seem to understand that laughter has great value. And they know that provoking laughter requires nothing more than a willingness to do something slightly ludicrous in a public setting.
Driving a bathtub, for instance.
When I watch them roll past in their fanciful miniature vehicles during Saturday morning’s parade I will laugh, as always.
But I’ll think too about why they’re out there in the sweltering August sunshine, and about how laughter can sometimes prevent tears that have yet to fall.
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I was sorely tempted to heave my fancy weather station right out the window in hopes I could get it all the way to the street, where a truck would come along and crush it into plastic shrapnel.
And I’m a man who has a greater affinity for, and collection of, weather instruments than any healthy or sane person ought to have.
But at that instant, with the sun having long since dipped behind the Elkhorns, I was not so much dismayed as outright incensed at what I saw on the station’s LCD screen.
85 degrees it was outside.
85 degrees at 9:12 p.m.
This was not merely unfortunate.
It was obscene.
Moreover it was becoming commonplace.
I like extreme weather — or at least extreme weather that doesn’t involve the government recommending that I take shelter immediately.
I don’t mind a spell of days when the temperature hovers around 100.
It’s just that I define “a spell” as maybe two or three days.
I don’t define it as “July.”
It was an awfully hot month around here, as you no doubt noticed regardless of how much time you spend in air-conditioned quarters.
Not quite a record-breaking month, but close enough — a few tenths of one degree is all that separated this July from the hottest one, in 1985 — that it was impossible to tell the difference.
The heatwave had effects that were for me predictable ones.
After several days I came to detest the combined hum of the window air-conditioner and the network of fans we use to try to disburse the artificially chilled air around our home.
I opened exterior doors with great reluctance, anticipating the dog’s breath of air rushing in as I stepped outside.
I pondered the difference between second- and third-degree burns when I grabbed the black steering wheel.
The deleterious effects of heatwaves tend to be cumulative as the torpid days pile one atop another.
On several mornings I awoke with a minor but annoying headache.
By midafternoon the ache was gone but it was replaced by a sense of lassitude that made my limbs feel heavier than usual, as though the heat had somehow affected not only the atmosphere but gravity itself.
My mouth felt continually dry no matter how much water I drank, and my contact lenses seemed to have shrink-wrapped around my corneas.
The phrase “cold front” began to take on a sort of talismanic power.
And though I came to dread the sight, I seemed incapable of resisting the urge to glance at the weather station — and indeed at any of the array of thermometers littered about my place.
(My interest in weather, as I mentioned, doesn’t border on obsessive but squats right on top of it, like Humpty Dumpty on his wall.)
They are innocent, of course, these instruments, dutifully reporting their data with the objectivity exclusive to machines.
Yet in my heat-addled mind I saw them as members of the grand conspiracy, intent on making the summer uncomfortably stifling rather than pleasantly warm.
That digital screen, still showing 85 as the late July dusk deepened to full dark, wasn’t merely informing me.
It was mocking.
And insubordination, whether from buck privates or battery-powered weather stations, simply must not be tolerated.
J ayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.