I spent a goodly portion of my lunch hour the other day searching in vain for a sheet of plastic.
This is not as refreshing as a nap.
Or reading a book, or eating Cheetos, to cite two other things I especially enjoy doing during the mid-day break.
My failure to find the plastic was particularly vexing because it is a substantial piece, measuring maybe 3 feet by 2 feet. It’s not as if I could have inadvertently kicked it under the bed, which is the long-term repository for books, maps and a variety of other items I vaguely remember and sometimes lament.
The plastic also happens to be transparent, or nearly so, but I don’t see as how that much changes the matter. I can’t very well argue that the thing is camouflaged, the reason being that its edges bristle with several finger-length swathes of black velcro.
I needed this sheet because it’s what I wedge into the window frame in our bedroom, where it temporarily stands in for the screen. This is after I have wrestled an air-conditioner into the gap, a task that my fingers consider an act of criminal stupidity.
(And one that my back, the past few years, has treated with increasing suspicion.)
Since it was already 93 degrees at noon, at least according to the most ambitious instrument in my network of some half a dozen thermometers, I considered this a quest of considerable importance.
Our other window A/C unit was droning away but I could sense that its chilly exhalations were not up to the task on a day when it was apt to still be stifling even after the sun slid behind the Elkhorns.
Real summer had arrived, and as is my custom I was ill-prepared to deal with it.
It’s not that I was wholly unaware of the heat, which is of course the characteristic that defines the season.
I had hefted the other air-conditioner into its slot back in early June, after the temperature reached the upper 80s on a couple of afternoons.
But that was a different sort of heat.
A hot day in early June lacks malevolence. You know the torrid temperature will last for just a few hours, that the evening breeze will blow with a face-soothing coolness.
But come late July, and the broiling air has more weight. There is a tangible treachery in a thermometer that reads 95 at dinner time, and any wind that blows then is an ill wind, the fevered and fetid breath of some bad-tempered brute.
Anyway it was hot.
And although I hadn’t decided to actually lug the other air-conditioner from the shed, I was mulling the idea. Only there wasn’t any point in it if I couldn’t hunt up that sheet of clear plastic.
I finally found it propped against the wall near our front door. I hadn’t the slightest memory of putting it there, although I suppose I must have done so.
With that minor mystery solved I drove back to work, sweltering because 1 mile is too short a commute for the car’s A/C to get up much momentum.
But even so I felt a palpable sense of relief.
It was gratifying to know that later, if I exhausted my patience with the oppressive air, I could take meaningful action.
A slightly smashed finger is nothing against the refreshing caress of artificially cooled air.
— — — —
It has been a particularly sunny summer, it seems to me.
This is hardly shocking, of course, in our arid valley sheltered within the concentric circles of two rain shadows, those cast by the Cascades and the Elkhorns.
Even the soggiest period hereabouts is frequently interrupted by clear days. And July and August are rarely soggy.
During a run of nearly cloud-free days my thoughts drift back to another summer, one distant both in time and in space.
The summer of 1914 in Europe was forever after celebrated as the apotheosis of the season, a span of brilliant afternoons fading to the warm golden dusk, soft and comforting.
Climate records largely confirm this.
But that summer’s reputation has little to do with statistics.
Europeans deified that summer because it was the last in a long era of general peace on the continent. But only in part — the summer was scarcely a month old when, on July 28, World War I started.
It was natural for people, during and after the catastrophe of the first modern industrial war, to remember that summer with particular fondness. It was the epitome of the “before” — before society had to confront the havoc wrought by rapid-firing artillery and phosgene gas and Maxim guns. Before Verdun and the Somme and Ypres, heretofore mere place names, became synonyms for slaughter.
The summer of 2020, the summer of the coronavirus, is a different season, to be sure. Most notably, the pandemic, unlike the war, arrived well before the solstice.
But we are living through another great upheaval, another milestone.
And I can’t help but wonder, in the years and the decades ahead, how we will think of this summer, another sun-drenched season when it seemed at times that nothing would ever again be as it was before.
— — — —
The technology of 1980 is in many ways laughably archaic.
Compared to a cellphone loaded with thousands of mp3s, a Sony Walkman cassette player seems about as complicated as a hatchet.
But in one narrow measure I believe we reached a pinnacle of achievement 40 years ago that we have yet to surpass, and so far as I can tell probably never will.
By “we” I mean AC/DC, the Australian rock band.
On July 25, 1980, the group released the album “Back in Black.”
Never before, and not since, has the electric guitar sounded better than it does in that recording.
The brothers Angus Young (lead guitar) and Malcolm Young (rhythm guitar) crammed “Back in Black” with a series of riffs, played through Marshall amps, that managed to sound even crunchier than on their previous record, 1979’s “Highway to Hell.”
The Youngs’ guitars — Angus played a Gibson SG, Malcolm a Gretsch White Falcon — combined the heavy distortion of hard rock with a precision that to my ears no band has ever equaled. The brilliance of their work is best appreciated by listening to the songs with a good pair of headphones.
The straightforward music that AC/DC played long since went out of fashion. And sadly, Malcolm died in 2017.
But I suspect that guitarists today who tried to replicate the sound that infuses “Back in Black,” even with the dubious aid of computers, would fail, and by a wide margin, to accomplish what the Young brothers did without employing a single microchip.
Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.