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Frozen solid

Liz West

The ice maker in our old refrigerator had some kind of thermal breakdown and began pouring a glacier of ice into the freezer. By the time we noticed what was happening the freezer was full of ice, and frozen shut. The refrigerator repair men refused to have anything to do with it and told us to wait a few days for the whole thing to thaw out. They did not forget to bill us for this expert advice.

The prospect of having no ice cubes in the middle of July left me completely cold. I don’t need ice, and I have never understood the insatiable desire for this chilly substance in the north American continent, even in Canada. It is particularly annoying in hotels and motels where ice machines, usually right outside you room, attract insomniac ice addicts all night long, shoveling the stuff into plastic buckets. What are they doing with all that ice? One thing is certain: they don't need it to keep cool. It may be hot outside, but hotel air conditioning is invariably set to the temperature of Alaska in March. Ice is the last thing anybody needs.

Summer brings on some odd behaviors. The same people who have been consuming ice all night may soon be stretched out like salamanders around the pool, broiling in the sun. Do they want to be cool, or hot? To make the answer more difficult, every sun worshipper has an iced drink close at hand. It must have been a red-letter day for soda manufacturers when they discovered that patrons could be sold a glass full of crushed ice with about two teaspoons of the real beverage somewhere at the bottom, at full price. I may be old-fashioned but when I order a drink, I want the drink, not a glass of flavored ice. How strange it is that ice, so dreaded and detested outdoors, becomes almost a love object when it pops out of a refrigerator.

We look forward to summer, but then seem to have trouble dealing with its most distinctive feature — the heat. Long Island and Connecticut do get warm in summer, but not that warm — not as warm as Florida, or New Delhi, or the planet Mercury, which has a beach temperature of about 350 degrees in mid-July. Yet some folks go to extraordinary lengths to avoid our modest summer heat and stay as thoroughly chilled as they would be in January.

The root of all these peculiar behaviors seems to be a terrible dread of sweating, which is the body’s natural defense against heat. Forty years of deodorant advertising has convinced us that the odor of ordinary human sweat is deadlier than nerve gas.

Our earliest ancestors dealt with hot days by wearing almost no clothes and sweating profusely. This is effective and free. Other nations with hot summers, like Greece and Italy, cope in part by having a different thermometer. No question that thirty degrees centigrade sounds much cooler than eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit. When it gets warm, they open windows, run low-tech fans, and live outdoors as much as possible. They drink lots of warm wine, and hot drinks, which are scientifically proven to be better than cold drinks for reducing real body temperature. When the sun reaches its blazing zenith, they take a siesta for two or three hours, and start life again when things have cooled down. Mountains of ice are not necessary. Cool, as any young person can tell you, is a state of mind.

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.