Modern Love: A Relationship In Degrees [ 2005-07-31, 11:23 p.m. ]

So you know those Modern Love columns in the Style section of the NY Times? I am obsessed with them. I have a love-hate relationship with the Modern Love column, much like my love-hate relationship with Lucky magazine and Bermuda shorts. The internet loves to make fun of the Modern Love column, and I love the internet for doing so. I decided as a sign of my love for the internet, I would write my own Modern Love column, full of metaphor and pat conclusions, and I decided that it would be a brilliant parody of the drivel which passes for ďFeatureĒ in what I thought was our most-respected newspaper. It was an excellent plan, because I had several salient points to make and do enjoy a nice metaphor. My plan was foiled, however, when I realized that I donít do parody. I donít do rants or snark or even Funny Lists very well, it turns out. What I do well is write about myself. Or at least, I write about myself a lot.

What follows is my version of the Modern Love column and if, while reading, you tilt a head or furrow a brow in response to an overworked metaphor or bit of trite sentiment, just remember that THIS IS TOTALLY A PARODY, and I like, SOOOO meant that ironically. I mean, like, I totally did. Am being ironic and clever and satirical. Really.

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On the day of my first official date with Kent, the temperature reached 104 degrees, the humidity was 30 million percent and JFK Jr. crashed into the ocean with his pretty, pretty wife. I was living in a floor-through apartment on the top floor of a brownstone in Carroll Gardens, and one that was without air conditioning. My roommate had a window unit in her bedroom, and I am sure I got ready for our date there. I think I wore an ugly blue t-shirt from the Gap and an ugly print skirt from Urban Outfitters and some ugly sandals from eons ago. I was too poor for taxis, so I walked to the coffee shop where we had planned to meet. It was not far, maybe a 15 minute walk, but there is no way - NO WAY - to walk a mile in that kind of weather with my kind of hair and show up looking anything other than beastly.

Kent was already there, sitting in the air conditioned Starbucks. Later I found out he arrived a half hour early so as to a) not be late and b) not be sweaty. He is smarter than me sometimes. At the end of the night (during which I inexplicably decided to show him all my favorite spots within a ten block radius, walking us first down one steamy block and then another), he offered to walk me home. Uh, sure...I said. And so we walked the 20 minutes back to my apartment, swatting at lazy mosquitoes and gnats and trying to pretend the whole city did not smell of dog piss and rotting garbage. Pigeons and rats and cockroaches lounged on stoops and nodded at us as we walked by, too hot to flap or scurry or crawl. 'S'up, they said, fanning each other with discarded Chinese menus.

We got to my building, and the sweat was trickling down my spine and pooling in my bra. Kent paused and said, Can I come up for a glass of water or something? I led him up the FOUR FLIGHTS OF STAIRS in my walk-up brownstone building, and opened the door to my non-air conditioned apartment. The heavy wall of heat that greeted us nearly knocked Kent from the tiny landing in front of my door. We walked in and my forearms started to sweat. Wow, Kent said, It's kind of hot in here...

I gave him a glass of water and turned on the little fan in the window. He gulped the water down and stationed himself in front of the hot breeze now blowing. He drained his glass, stood, and refilled it. The backs of my knees started to sting from the combination of sweat and razor burn.

When Kent left, he wiped his brow and thanked me for the water. He suggested getting together again and then darted down the stairs, eager, I'm sure, to find relative comfort outside where the temperature had dropped to a comfortable 92 degrees, breezy compared to my apartment. I went through a brief Bikram Yoga phase a few years ago, and as soon as I walked into that studio, I immediately thought of my old apartment.

And if Kent hadn't had air conditioning, I'm not sure how quickly our relationship would have progressed. As we began dating, I found myself ending up at his apartment more and more frequently. Sure, it was sexy and romantic and new, and sure, he lived alone while I had a roommate, but he also had 10,000 very important BTUs working hard to keep his crappy little apartment at a comfortable 71 degrees. Brrrrr, can I borrow a sweatshirt, I used to say when I stayed the night, showing up with little summer tops and capri pants. Don't hog the blankets, I would say once I started regularly sleeping over, unfamiliar with the exhilarating luxury of sleeping UNDER a comforter in August. Can we turn the A/C up a few degrees, I finally asked one night as we watched movies and scarfed pizza, I'm a little cold. In those first weeks of our relationship, we ordered in a lot. Sure, there was something sexy and romantic about cocooning with my new boyfriend, but how could I give up the air conditioning! Not all restaurants could promise the same climate, and even so, there was the walk to the restaurant with which to contend. In Kent's apartment the humidity was low and my hair was shiny. Once we stepped outside all bets were off, and I was left to wrestle with a variety or hair care products and headbands.

Eventually the weather changed and the humidity went the way of Italian Ice stands and tube tops, and without really noticing it, I found myself in a serious relationship. Over the course of the summer more and more of my belongings had migrated to Kent's apartment, equally eager to escape the sticky heat of my apartment. October came, and I realized one Sunday night that my parents had called me at his apartment, knowing that was where I would be. By November we were talking about spending the holidays together. (Also in November I discovered that the winter climate in Kent's apartment was less favorable, frequently hovering in the 80's. I'm so HOT, I would complain...)

Without really planning it, I wound up living with my boyfriend. I watched 1999 become 2000 from his (or was it our?) apartment, horribly sick with the flu. I bought a bed frame for us. I still had my old apartment, which my roommate was living in, using my bedroom for extra storage, but I only slept at that address once every other week or so. The weather and real estate market conspired and somehow created a situation in which I lived with a man with whom I'd never discussed living together.

Life is funny that way, and when summer rolled around again weíd sit on his (I mean our) bed and play cards and read stacks of magazines and generally avoid doing anything outside in the August humidity. ďShould we look for our own apartment?Ē one of us eventually asked. I think it was me.

Kentís little apartment had a non-functional stove, one small closet, a pink bathroom and no cable. But, it was well located, cheap, and equipped with the aforementioned air conditioner which somehow managed to be powerful, efficient and silent. Summer passed and soon I was bringing sweaters and boots to Kentís from my old apartment. We took a trip to Napa and bought a map of the wine country. I had it framed and hung it at Kentís. Maybe we should look for our own place, he said.

We looked at one apartment with two bedrooms, high ceilings and a big deck. It was on a beautiful street in a lovely building. It was also twice the rent of Kentís apartment. We decided to wait a few more months and look again in the spring. That Christmas we bought a tree at the church lot on Henry Street and dragged it up the three flights to Kentís apartment and wedged it into a corner. I bought us a star for the top of the tree, caught up in the fantasy of playing house. Or junior one bedroom, as it were.

In March of the following year, we moved into our current apartment. It was late enough in winter that we didnít notice the poor heating, and early enough in spring that we had no idea what the lack of cross ventilation would do come summer. Our apartment is on the ground floor and stays cool through June, usually. Then July arrives and the cabinets swell with humidity and there are no windows to open and the air just hangs on me like a wet towel and the counters are sticky with heat and a musty, crusty smell is sometimes detectable, a smell that would be charming in a lake cabin but is much less so in Brooklyn apartment. When we moved in our landlords pointed out the powerful air conditioner nesting in a cut-out in the bedroom wall. Youíre gonna love it, they said.

On the third really hot day of 2001, the air conditioner broke. I boasted of the two years I lived without air conditioning. Itís not so bad, I sniffed, we donít need a new air conditioner. Besides, I added, this mother was BIG. Where would we find a replacement for the industrial a/c unit extolled in our lease?

Two days later I called in HOT to work and said I would need to take a personal day to wait for the HVAC repair man to come and save me from myself because if I had to spend one more night in the sub-tropical hell that our apartment had become, I was offing myself with an overdose of Sno-Cones and sleeping pills. He never came. I sat and sweated and waited and waited and remembered falling asleep in my old apartment wearing nothing more than underpants and a scrunchie with a floor fan pointed at my face, and thanked my lucky stars that Kent came into my life at the precise moment the mercury crept above 90.

Within a week our landlords had replaced the broken air conditioner and Kent and I were again sleeping comfortably under the comforter and under the comfort of a new apartment, a new air conditioner, a new stage in our lives. We bought furniture and linens. September of that year was hot and sad and we held each other tightly on those nights, comfortable in our new home.

When I am cold now Kent knows to cover me up with the gray cashmere blanket I bought on sale and when itís hot I pull the old fan out of the closet, the fan that used to blow cool air from the bedroom towards us, sitting on his old couch, watching old movies, in his old apartment. Summer in New York can be oppressive, thick, heavy. It is sticky and close and slow, and it took me a while to get used to. I grew up in the land of 104-degree-days, cool nights and zero humidity, but after enough summers in New York, I finally grew to appreciate the haze and heat and humidity. Two years ago the lights went out and Kent and I sat on our stoop and sweated with our neighbors. I showered by candlelight, too sticky to sleep, and then nearly wept with joy when the power came on the next morning and we were able to crank the a/c again.

People talk about coming in from the cold, but for us, it was what I found when I came in from the heat that made all the difference. I cooled off, calmed down, and settled in, comfortable at last.


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