A Rough Go

It is hard to write at the moment; all of us here in Gotham have been reduced to shambling, gibbering zombies by recent meteorological events. Just a few days ago — though it might as well have been decades, so utterly has the recent catastrophe effaced any lucid memory of happier times — all seemed roughly normal, or at least as “normal” as life can ever be here in this enormous and hyperkinetic city, the crossroads of the world. But some time in the early morning hours of Saturday, June 7th, it all came to a sudden and startling end, as tragic and precipitous as a carload of promgoers swerving into a tree. The Hell-mouth is open.

Last week was pleasant enough for late Spring; a bit on the cool side, even, for some peoples’ liking (although not mine, of course). On Friday night the temperature bottomed out low in the 60’s, and may even have flirted with the upper 50’s. But then something awful happened: on Saturday morning a foul mass of humid air rolled in from the Southeast, and as if by the pull of some executioner’s lever, the temperature rose with shocking, brutal abruptness, until by the early afternoon it was in the middle 90’s.

For those of you who have never experienced a New York City heatwave, it is a hard thing to describe in words; even the incomparable richness of the English language is beggared by such unmercifulness, by such remorseless malevolence. The sun bores down through a white sky, its nuclear glare reflected, and seemingly amplified, by the concrete-and-asphalt crust that stretches gapless from river to river. The city’s towering buildings, in order to sustain life in the enormous volumes they enclose, belch great gales of heat into the greasy haze that fills the narrow canyons all around them, while the vehicles clogging the streets in slow-moving, uncountable multitudes do the same.

People come to New York City from all over the world, many of them from steamy tropical climes. But whenever I have asked any of them — whether they hail from Indonesia, or equatorial Africa, India, or anywhere else — they are unanimous in their assessment: this is worse. And yes, Dear Reader, it is. It is worse. It is worse than anything you can possibly imagine. It makes me wish I had never been born.

So, then, I must ask your forgiveness. For tonight, and perhaps for days to come, productive thinking of any sort is simply out of the question. In particular, a resumption of our musings on free will, and its bearing on moral responsibility, will just have to wait. It will be dimwitted froth or moronic japery (perhaps even both!) until the crisis abates.

So here’s a pointless diversion. Try to think of a common English word that has the following curious property: you can remove either its first or second letter, and get another English word that is pronounced the same way (that’s three homophones in all). I’ll thank you not to post the answer in a comment — not just yet, at least, so as not to spoil the game for others — but feel free to crow about it if you have figured it out, just to goad the others on. Email me if you want to claim priority, or if you are stumped, at: malcolm [at] malcolmpollack [dot] com.


  1. Charles says

    I have experienced a number of NYC heatwaves (temperatures over a hundred F), and they were not pleasant experiences. Seoul gets some pretty bad heatwaves as well–high temperatures and unforgiving humidity–but I really cannot say which is worse. Memory is such a subjective thing that I would probably have to get on a plane and fly from Seoul to New York while both cities were having heatwaves in order to judge the relative severity properly.

    Suffice it to say that my thoughts are with you. At this very moment I am sending cool energy across this vast network of tubes between us: a gentle breeze rustling through a bamboo grove, cool air rising from a crystal clear mountain brook, the sharp fragrance of pines in the mountains…

    Posted June 9, 2008 at 7:20 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Why, thank you, Charles! Just one more thing, if you can manage it: about 15,000 BTUs trained directly on the back of my neck.

    Posted June 9, 2008 at 9:54 am | Permalink
  3. JK says

    Be very careful what you wish for Malcolm,

    Recall Charles is writing from Seoul. I don’t see Charles as a particularly bad sort however. He must have some means of sending that cool energy across this vast network of tubes between us: a gentle breeze…”

    This implies he must have some means of wafting that energy towards you. Heed the warnings of our other friend from that region of the planet. Beware of… Fan Death.

    Posted June 9, 2008 at 11:47 am | Permalink
  4. JK says

    Oh and Malcolm,

    I know you’re married so this isn’t likely to offer you any chance of relief from the heat however should any of your Gotham friends be desperate: now might be a good plan to visit Antarctica.


    Posted June 9, 2008 at 12:21 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    That’s quite a news item there. 16,500 ought to do it, one would hope.

    Posted June 9, 2008 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  6. JK says

    Yes. Unless there’s a huge influx of “Gothamites” I should think for 125 residents and the period from today June 9 til just mid-August, there must be a whole lot of ,”Well that’s it for wind measurements today, how about a…”

    Posted June 9, 2008 at 2:08 pm | Permalink
  7. the one eyed man says

    Why go all the way to Antarctica when you could just relocate to the Bay Area? Once the temperature heads towards eighty, the fog obligingly comes off the Pacific to cool things down. Homes here aren’t built with air conditioners — it’s so rare that you need one that they are superfluous.

    No Schadenfreude here. No sir.

    Posted June 9, 2008 at 8:26 pm | Permalink
  8. JK says

    Well One-Eyed,

    Ya can’t make “snow angels.” That at least should be obvious even to a one-eyed gent.

    Posted June 9, 2008 at 9:42 pm | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    Peter, if there were any city outside the Northeast I’d seriously consider relocating to, San Francisco would be it. What a lovely, cosmopolitan place, and how different from its bloated and diseased sibling to the south. (And what splendid summer weather!)

    If I could just arrange a wormhole to the Outer Cape…

    Posted June 9, 2008 at 11:07 pm | Permalink
  10. the one eyed man says

    Regarding our sister city to the South, Neil Simon said that “when it’s 100 degrees in New York, it’s 72 in LA. When it’s ten below in New York, it’s 72 in LA. However, there are eight million interesting people in New York, and only 72 in LA.”

    Posted June 9, 2008 at 11:11 pm | Permalink
  11. bob koepp says

    OK, a couple days have passed without so much as a word about “the word”. I suspect there’s more than one that would fit the bill, but the one that occurred to me has something to do with odors.

    Posted June 10, 2008 at 4:14 pm | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says

    Jeanie got it, and yes, it appears you have too, Bob.

    Posted June 10, 2008 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

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