This Day in (My) History

17 Jul 2002
July 17, 2002

Every year it’s the same cast of characters: Phyllis Diller, Art Linkletter, Lucy Arnaz, and Donald Sutherland. All were born on July 17. And every year I make sure I tune in on Entertainment Tonight on this day to see if there are any new starlets who have joined our group. What just a minute. Doing a Google search, there are more of us. How could I forget Earl Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason), Bernice Abbott (photographer), Peter Schickele (Schickele’s Mix and P.D.Q. Bach), Phoebe Snow, and David Hasselhoff (who turns 50 today)? We are an illustrious group.

It’s not only birthdays but events that make July 17 what it is. Good memories, bad memories. The Spanish Civil War started on this day in 1936. And, my favorite: Disneyland opened in 1955. Growing up in Southern California, this was an iconic event I couldn’t never ignore.

Unlike holidays, where we share our memories with others, our birthdays are ours. While the families of TWA Flight 800 are remembering the loss of their loved ones today, I remember coming home from a celebration, only to hear of the crash on the radio. Birthdays are “where were you” days just for each of us. They start out with a clean slate. But as one gets older each year new records are added to our birthday database.

If July 17th is your birthdayMy friend Sheryl was born on November 22 (Kennedy’s assassination). I remember arriving at LAX from China on July 21, 1997 only to find out that my uncle had died on July 17. My aunt’s birthday is December 7 (Pearl Harbor) and each year on my birthday she sends me a card but her good wishes are mixed with memories of her husband. While men actually landed on the moon on July 21, 1969 they were headed that way on July 17, so I count that as part of my day’s celebrations. It’s a mixed bag but we all have them.

So, I’m glad to add one more event to this day. I’m cool, very cool! And I’ve got Willis Carrier to thank for that! On this day, 100 years ago, he installed the first air conditioner at the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Co. in Brooklyn, NY. Where would we be with out our AC? I know I’d be a less gentler, grumpy sort of guy.

Forced air and window units are ubiquitous these days. In my old Baltimore loft I had a 10,000 BTU window unit. It was so loud I had to turn it off at night to sleep—that, of course, defeated its purpose.

But growing up in the hot San Fernando Valley in the 60s all we had were swamp coolers. Efficient and low on energy consumption, these fans in a box (hooked up to the hose outside) pumped moist cool air into the house. Many had multiple ones on their roofs. Ours was affixed to our bathroom window. And to really cool the back part of the house (its effect never reached any further) we had to really crank it up. This made for some interesting bathroom experiences.

The relatively dry climate of the valley during those years (my other aunt keeps telling me how humid LA has now become) made the extra moisture pleasant. This could never fly here in DC.

Washington was built on a swamp and moisture is the last thing we need added to our interior spaces. Real air conditioning has transformed this city (and the rest of the South). While politicians seem to abandon us throughout the year now, before AC (the House of Representatives became cool in 1928 and the Senate followed the next year) Congress was only in session during cooler months. Even with conditioned air, our elected officials’ tempers still seem to fly as much as they used to. Hot air seems to be non-seasonal these days.

But I digress. Today is a day to celebrate. The DC temp will top at 95 and with the heat index, I’m told I will feel like it’s at least 100. But this is a work day for me, in my windowless, but cool cube. Later I’m going to take a nice bike ride. I’ll get really, really hot and sweaty. And my special birthday present to myself will be one of the greatest pleasures I know on a hot, humid, code red, sort of summer day: a long and cool shower. That’s the best air conditioning I know.

Update: Just got a call from my daughter. She lost her first tooth this morning and she’s pretty stoked. Tooth fairy, did you hear that?

4 replies
  1. meryl says:

    Yeah — being in Texas… bless Willis Carrier. While pregnant and returning from an OB/GYN check up, my car’s AC stopped working. Pregnant plus Texas heat… not a good mix.

  2. David says:

    Happy Birthday Jeff from those of us who shared the Valley in the ’60’s with you. Now we have our “natural” swamp cooler….fog in San Francisco. We all know that Disneyland was opened in your honor. Walt had it originally planned for the 16th, but it was delayed. (appropriately so!)

  3. Donna says:

    Happy Birthday Jeff!

  4. Mel says:

    What a great life!! Happy Birthday and a wish for many, many more!

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