|TOO DARN HOT
I try not to complain too much. Really.
And who am I to complain to the Man Upstairs, anyway?
But still, I think I speak for all of New York when I say that SOMEONE was playing a very cruel weather joke on us.
It was April. Only April!
It was over a hundred degrees.
It was setting new records.
It was PISSING. ME. OFF.
The first day, I tried to be good about it. I cut out that fabulous picture from the front page of the Times, a gorgeous overhead shot of Bryant Park, dotted with what looked like hundreds of sunbathers enjoying the surprise heat; I tacked it onto my bulletin board at work and considered busting out the summerweight suits.
The second day was even hotter. I was soaking in sweat from my subway ride to work; the humidity was like trying to wade through a sauna. The same people cheerfully tanning the day before were sulkily wiping perspiration from their foreheads today. It was, in a word, disgusting. It was hot. I was cranky. I didn’t MEAN to look for trouble!
I never do!
“I have some news that might make you feel better,” Mel said, perching on the edge of my desk. I glared at her. You’d think the combination of intense heat and carrying a child would make her suffer a LITTLE, but no, Mel was positively glowing. She had that dewy, glossy-haired look she’d sported for most of her last pregnancy.
“I’m hot,” I whined, pushing my chair back.
Mel patted my shoulder. “Sorry, Mommy doesn’t control the weather,” she responded cheerfully.
“Oh, just something I tell Simi when he doesn’t like going out in the rain,” she said. “Chill, Cates…the weather isn’t that bad.”
I glared. “Easy for YOU to say. YOU don’t even LOOK hot.”
“Hey, thanks a lot!” She snapped.
“Not hot like that…oh, never mind,” I said crossly. “Don’t torture me in this heat.”
“Sorry.” She ruffled my hair. “Anyway, do you want to know my news or not?”
“I guess so.”
“Okay, so here’s the story: you know my cousin Debbie?”
Oy. It was going to be one of THOSE stories.
“Sure you do.”
“I don’t think you…”
“The one with the dot-com company…who sold out just in time…”
I shook my head.
“You call her ‘Debbie Does Dallas’? Blond hair, big—”
“Yeah. Anyway, she and her husband are spending the whole summer on the Vineyard, and she asked me to house-sit…”
“Where does she live? Upstate?”
Mel rolled her eyes. “NOT upstate. Bedford. It’s not so far.”
I nodded. Bedford, Schmedford. Anything north of Yankee Stadium counts as upstate in my book. “Are you going to commute?”
“For a bit. I’m going to take some time off before the baby’s born anyway. But Tris, you’re missing the point. A house in the country…fresh air…sunshine…US…”
A smile spread slowly across my face. “Party in Bedford!”
She grinned. “Exactly.”
“That’s awesome. Or it will be as long as it’s NOT like the summer share.”
Mel giggled at the memory. She would! Before Simi was born, the four of us had taken a summer share in Southampton; I’d spent the majority of our time there getting splinters from the dock, food poisoning from undercooked fish, and being capsized from various boats. Needless to say, we’d spent the next summer in Manhattan enjoying the air-conditioning. MUCH more our style. Still…
“That IS great news,” I conceded. “It’s just…”
“I dunno.” I shrugged. “It’s going to be summer soon…things are changing…I feel like I’m in school or something.”
Mel smiled and adjusted the strap of her sleeveless top. “Change is good,” she said softly, touched the top of my head one more time and went back to her desk.
They say the world’s great pianists can play the Well-Tempered Clavier from memory. The entire thing.
I’m kind of like that. Not a piano prodigy exactly, but I can recognize the sound of the Tastee Truck bells from blocks and blocks away!
What? Musical gifts come in all shapes and sizes.
I recognized that tune when I was walking back to the office after lunch, carrying a bag from the Japanese grocery filled with those little cookie-covered chocolate-filled koalas, which Mel the Hormone Machine had demanded earlier. I’m a slave to her cravings, and they get weirder all the time.
But that’s when I heard it.
Ding ding ding ding DING ding-a ding ding, ding ding DING ding ding ding-a…well, you get the point.
It was the Tastee Truck.
Right here in midtown. Unbelievable!
No sooner had I made my way toward the coasting truck than a line had formed: scrambling, scrabbling New Yorkers, drunk on heat and half a workday, lining up –
Getting ON line, mind you!
— for a Tastee Treat.
I watched the commotion for a few minutes. Where was my camera when I needed it? Or better yet, where were the Sun’s photographers? Forget the award-winning aerial photograph of the Bryant Park sunbathers…this was BETTER than that. Bigger than that!
Ow, damn it!
I think the CEO of Chase Manhattan just elbowed me in the ribs to get to his Tastee Mint-o-FunBerry Pop.
It was my duty. I had to do it. I tapped a passing tourist on the shoulder and flashed my press credentials as impressively as I could. “Pardon me, ma’am, but I’m going to need to take your camera…”
“Police?” She asked, eyes widening.
I considered saying yes, but I’d been caught impersonating a police officer once, and it hadn’t been pretty. (And that was BEFORE John found out…)
I got the camera with a minimum of lies, paid her for her film, and snapped shot after shot of the craze surrounding the Tastee Truck. It reminded me of the birthday parties of my childhood, except with more business suits and slightly more cursing.
It was GOOD-natured cursing though.
Pocketing my precious film, I considered heading back to the newsroom. I’d gotten what I wanted, right?
A good reporter is ONE of the people.
I couldn’t well publish this picture without, you know, sampling the goods…
I thought about it.
There was a time when I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. But things were different now. I knew as well as anyone that I couldn’t eat ice cream. Shouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t…
The line was calm and settled now. People were chatting in a very un-New York sort of way. I supposed the story was over…
“One VanillaNutterific, please,” I said, stepping up to the truck.
“I’m hot,” I whined the minute I stepped into our apartment. “John!”
He met me in the foyer, looking cool and unruffled. “I’m not a dog, darling. Please don’t bellow for me.”
“John, dearest!” I whispered in a much, MUCH quieter voice. “I’m hot.”
He touched my cheek. “You’re flushed…did you get sun? When were you outside?”
“It’s too hot for the third degree,” I informed him. “Is the air on? I don’t feel anything.” I strolled to the window, escaping his too insightful eye, and fiddled with the controls on the unit.
He followed me and removed my hand from the switch. “Let’s not short out our power, please.”
“Johhhhnnnnn…” I dragged his name out until it even annoyed ME.
“I can’t hear you when you whine,” he told me cheerfully. “How about a cold drink; maybe it will help you be more articulate?”
I don’t know what my problem is. I don’t know why honesty is so overrated. I don’t know anything! All I can is, it must have been a hot, hot day when little Georgie Washington confessed his cherry tree chop to his father, because hot days apparently do WEIRD things to the lying nodule…
“I had an ice cream from the Tastee Truck,” I said conversationally to John as he adjusted the air conditioning controls.
Then I promptly froze.
Well, not literally, unfortunately. I wished I could have. What was I thinking?
“Pardon?” he asked politely.
“It was for a story,” I stammered, not quite sure why my evil twin had decided to confess what I’d done. I SO could have gotten away with it! I hadn’t even gotten sick. Maybe I was developing a cast-iron stomach in my old age (please, please).
“A story,” he repeated.
“I took a great picture. A Time-Life kind of picture. You’re going to love it,” I told him breathlessly. “Front-page caliber, John. Forget reporting, I should have been a photographer! Or a photojournalist. They could use me in the middle east; I have a real eye, that’s what the art director said, and…”
Saint John of course let me babble myself out, his mouth twitching only slightly as I, starting to stammer, began comparing myself to Dorothea Lange.
“John, I cannot tell a lie,” I finished nobly.
“Oh, you cannot, can’t you?”
“No,” I said firmly. “Also, you can’t spank me.”
I trailed him into the kitchen and fished a handful of ice cubes out of the freezer tray, nobly resisting the urge to stuff them down my shirt. Or down John’s…
“Tell me again why I can’t spank you,” he suggested, pulling a bottle from the fridge and pouring two glasses of water, then handing me one.
“Because it’s TOO hot!” I told him, gulping my drink. “It violates the Geneva Convention.”
John furrowed his brow for a moment. “No, I don’t think it does.”
Damn him for being TOO knowledgeable.
“My civil rights, then,” I suggested. “We should call the ACLU!”
“The ACLU…” he looked like he was thinking, then his eyes lit up. “Tris! Have you been talking to that guy online again…the one from Ohio?”
“Don’t be jealous! He’s happily married, just like me,” I said smugly.
“I’m not jealous, I’m nervous,” John corrected. “Thank God for all those states between you two or you’d make a lethal combination. Now…I’m going to go turn up the air conditioning,” he said firmly. “And then I’m going to join you inside…by which time you’d better be accepting a bit more responsibility, or I’ll show you a civil rights violation, young man.”
I scurried inside before he could turn the hose on me, although, frankly, a hose seemed like a nice option right about now. Too bad we were having a drought!
“John…” I started to whine as soon as his head poked out of the kitchen.
“Look, you get the comfort seat, right by the vent,” he soothed, and I saw he was carrying a kitchen chair, which he plunked down right in front of the air-conditioning unit under the window. He sat down and patted his knees.
Comfort seat, indeed! My seat was going to be a lot of things, I thought, rubbing the offending area ruefully, but comfortable was definitely NOT one of them.
“John…it’s ONE HUNDRED DEGREES,” I informed him.
“I can read the thermometer too, darling.” He hooked his fingers in my belt loops and drew me toward him, an undeniably sexy maneuver on some occasions, an unbelievably stomach-clenching maneuver at times like these. He drew me between his knees and made short work of my slacks and …
“Tris? What on earth?”
“It’s HOT,” I said with dignity. “It’s perfectly acceptable to go commando in extreme heat. In fact, it’s probably dangerous to wear too many layers.”
He made a strange sound, almost as if he were stifling a laugh. “Good thinking. And thank you for making my job easier,” he added, drawing me across his knees, business as usual, and swatting my already bare rear a few times. “Easy access. I think I like this.”
“Don’t get used to it!” I warned him hastily as his hand smacked down, over and over, building up until, as always happened, I was ready to swear off all dairy…hell, all food altogether! I would do nothing but chew vitamin pills and do yoga! And, um…had I mentioned it was a HUNDRED degrees?
John unfortunately wasn’t amused by my promises…or my excuses.
“No ice cream! I don’t care if it’s TWO hundred degrees!” he said sharply.
“Okay,” I mumbled. “But – I didn’t have to tell you! I was honest! Where’s my reward for that?”
His response was non-verbal: a flurry of extremely hard smacks.
“No ice cream,” he said again, adding “NO ICE CREAM” in a louder voice when I started to protest. “I know it was hot, I know you wanted it, but that does NOT make it okay.”
“Sorry?” I offered. I didn’t mean it to sound insincere, it’s just I wasn’t ready to be TOO sorry yet. We were about halfway through, which meant my backside was stinging but it wasn’t so awful as to make me completely penitent yet.
“You’ll be sorry when you see my picture published tomorrow!” I howled accusingly.
John paused. “Excuse me?”
Hm. That had sort of come out wrong. “I just mean – you appreciate good photographs,” I cried hastily. “You have an eye for art! You – OW!” I said when his pause unexpectedly ended.
Ow, ow, ow.
“I’m SO sorry!” I bellowed a few LONG minutes later, and quite a bit more sincerely, I must say. John might not be able to play the Well-Tempered Clavier from memory, but he had continued playing his particular piece flawlessly through the crescendo. (Possible working title: “The Bad-Tempered Brat”?) I howled quite loudly during the final notes and then he stopped, resting a hand on my heated cheeks.
It may have been a hundred degrees outside but it was at LEAST two hundred degrees on my right cheek alone.
John, considerate sweetheart that he is, leaned down and blew gently across my burning buttocks, once, and then again. I moaned a little, partly feeling sorry for myself and partly in pleasure as his breath cooled the seared flesh.
“I know, I know,” he said quietly, pulling me up gently and then standing up himself. “How about a cool shower?”
I considered it. “Come with?” I asked.
He looped an arm around my waist and pulled me close, kissing me once, as soundly and thoroughly as he’d spanked me. “Of course,” he said, scooped my pants up off the floor, linked an arm through mine and led me toward the bathroom.
Once inside I hopped immediately into the tub and pressed my bottom against the tile wall. Mmmm…nice and cold. John stripped under my VERY watchful eye, then joined me in the tub. Before he could reach for the faucet I tangled my fingers in the pale threads on his chest and nibbled at that most delicious spot on his neck. He made a deep sound in his throat, submitted to my attentions, then groaned and gently pushed me off. “Let me just turn the water on, honey…”
I pulled away and then giggled. John raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“It’s just…” I laughed again, struggling not to point. “It’s just we really DO need that cold shower now…”
Hastily I pressed my posterior against the tile again, protecting it from the swat John aimed in my direction. Honestly! You’d think at his age he’d take pride in his…um…vigor. And his vim.
“John…you should take pride in your vim,” I mumbled, suddenly very sleepy from all the activity, as a cool stream of water jetted over my head. John took me in his arms and tilted me so the water pounded with just the right force over my tired shoulders and back. He kissed my wet head and I burrowed it against him. There’s something so soothing about powerful pulses of water…the way they wash away all the temporary stresses, the way they bring back the shine in what’s permanent, and show you what you’ve been missing…
Thunder shook the museum. Lightning speared the sky, lit the temple within the glass. It was extraordinarily beautiful. The rain poured down in sheets, and life outside the vast windows slowed a bit. A few days ago the heat had been remarkably intense; now the people I could see on the street below shivered and clutched each other for warmth as the storm shook out stream after stream of cold rain.
I stared outside. The park looked lush and wet from the windows. I could stand here all day. I could drink in the beauty of my city. I’d come here on a whim, treating myself when a canceled interview left me uptown with nothing to fill my early evening. The intensity of the weather united everyone in the room, turned strangers into cohorts. It was nice, if a bit too reminiscent of the frightening type of event likely to create this sort of immediate intimacy.
I didn’t let it cloud the moment. I watched the white light spear the sky and listened to the tumult pounding the park.
Finally we – because we were a we now – got ready to make a run for it. The intense, sudden rain had lent the museum-goers the giddy feeling of a party, or a school fire drill: we were all outside, and something exciting and different—but not scary—was uniting us. It was, quite frankly, a positive change. It had been just me, but now, all of a sudden, we were a group: a young German tourist with a high blond ponytail, a middle-aged couple from Tennessee, a freshman at Yeshiva U., we huddled under the shield of the balcony roof before finally taking the plunge and, somewhere between running and mincing, dove shrieking down the stairs toward Fifth Avenue. As a group we clambered, dripping and nearly hysterical with laughter, onto the M2 that lumbered up to the stop just in time. It was a rain-soaked flashback to jumping in the puddles of my childhood, when we would laugh and splash each other in the streets and playgrounds.
I sank shivering into a single-seat, pushing my rain-soaked hair out of my eyes to watch the Met blur behind thick sheets of rain and we pushed off down the street. The bus had a party atmosphere too; people were calling loved ones—not to check in in frantic tones but to giggle over the ridiculous weather and share rainy public transportation stories. It was like a jovial good-bye party at an office on wheels, except it wasn’t so much good-bye as hello again. Hello to ordinary craziness, fun craziness, the kind of crisis that was all right to face: inclement weather, wet and confused tourists, overfilled gutters.
As the bus inched slowly through the sixties I called John. “I’m on the M2!” I yelled into the phone. It was nearly impossible to hear over the chatter and the thunder.
“Why?” John asked good-naturedly. Just then I realized I wasn’t quite sure.
“Get off at 59th,” he advised. “Meet me on Lex; we’ll go uptown together.”
Going downtown to go uptown; very unlike John! I leaned my head against the window and watched wet scenery until my stop.
I got off the bus, bid my companions – old and new – good-bye, and trudged eastward, my shoes squelching water with each step. I stared at the ground to keep the water out of my eyes, and stopped at Park to wait for the light to change. I had been walking with my eyes on my feet to avoid the pouring rain; now I lifted my head.
My mouth dropped open.
Park Avenue was almost completely covered in a miraculous carpet of wet pink petals. I looked up and down the street. Dozens of cherry blossom trees had shed their flowers, scattered by the wind and pasted by the rain into flat pastel velvet on the very black pavement. I stared, shocked by the simple beauty. It looked like a wedding had come through, scattering soaked bits of bouquet.
A figure across the street caught my eye. John, wet but never bedraggled, lifted an arm in greeting. A smile spread across my face, again of its own accord. Responding to John has always come naturally. I stomped hard in the puddle next to the curb, splashing water in an arc of sheer joy, and crossed the street to meet my man.