Home > About > Bill Peak's Library Column > A Day Grows Challenging at the Talbot County Free Library
There are plenty of people who prefer warm weather. Florida, Arizona, Southern California, that's where they want to live. But I'm just the opposite. I'm 67 now, and come June and the first 80 degree days, I feel ill. Then, slowly, I acclimatize until, about mid-July, we hit a week or two of 90+ degrees and, once again, I feel poorly. I know what you're thinking, no one likes that kind of weather, but I'm not talking about just not feeling good, I'm talking about seriously sick to my stomach.
I'm boring you with this old guy health stuff for a reason. Last month, late in the morning, on one of the hottest Saturdays of the year, something went badly wrong in our Easton library's HVAC system. At first we told ourselves we were imagining things, that it was just the Saharan light pouring through the windows that was making the air inside seem warmer than (we hoped) it actually was. But before long we had to admit the obvious: the normally light and airy library was beginning to feel like a crowded bus station in Memphis. Our director, Dana Newman, called the County to see if someone could come in on their day off to fix the problem.
By one o'clock, when I went to the Y on my lunch break, the library thermostat had climbed to 80 degrees and, for once, I was really looking forward to swimming laps. You might be wondering why, since it was a Saturday, we didn't just close the library for the day and let the County fix the air-conditioning come Monday. The problem was the weather service had issued an excessive heat advisory for the weekend, with temperatures in the triple digits, and the library had announced it would stay open as an official cooling center for those without air-conditioning not just Saturday, but Sunday as well.
When I returned, at two, the situation had grown worse. We had long since closed all the blinds, but the thermostat was now telling us the temperature in the library had risen to 84. By three, when I began a two-hour shift on the Information Desk that would take us through to closing, the heat had grown so bad people were beginning to look seriously uncomfortable. Back home in Kentucky, when the air at a summer dance became close and our dates began to look wilted, we were taught to say “Horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies glow.” Trust me, by three o'clock if everyone's faces weren't glowing, they'd definitely acquired a certain sheen.
And, predictably, I was feeling ill. By half past three, I was feeling seriously ill. Okay, now here's where I go from sharing old guy health issues to sharing old guy political incorrectness. Some of you may wish to avert your eyes.
I'm a man. Both Dana and our assistant director, Scotti Oliver—each of whom had come in on their day off to work—are women. The same Old South propriety that taught me to say ladies glow, had also taught me that, no matter how bad things got, a man's job was to stick it out and protect the womenfolk. Of course my rational 21st century self, the one that has been saved too many times to count by women stronger or smarter than I, knew this to be so much poppycock. But in some of us old guys, the precepts we grew up with—the ones that were not so much instilled as hammered into us—tend to take precedence over modern-day flimflammeries like logic.
By four o'clock, though, it had become obvious I was going to have to do something. For an old guy like me, the only thing worse than having to ask your female bosses if you can go home because you're not as tough as they, is failing to ask your female bosses if you can go home because you've just passed out at their feet. Hoping to head off such a catastrophe, I sought them out while I was still more or less in control of my faculties. I found them talking to Brian Moore, the County's remarkable Director of Facilities Maintenance, who had come in on his day off to try to fix our problem.
Brian's face was flushed. While I'd been luxuriating in the relative comfort to be found on the library's ground floor, he'd been up in the attic working on the A/C. I looked at Brian, who now seemed the very model of the man I wished to be, I looked at Dana and Scotti, both of them glowing like goddesses, and—as I opened my mouth to admit my utter failure as a man—the first breath of cold air descended from the ceiling duct overhead. Brian Moore had fixed the problem. I could have kissed the guy.
On my way home that day, I passed through one of the poorer sections of Easton. On a porch in front of one of the houses, an elderly woman was sitting on a green plastic lawn chair fanning herself. My dashboard thermometer told me the temperature outside was 101 degrees. The clapboard house the lady sat in front of stood twelve long, sweltering blocks from the library. Now you tell me, who was the real tough guy in this story?
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