One Year, Two Summers

Real life in Southern California

In the summer of 1970, Washington, D.C., turned ugly. Ugly not because of the war in Vietnam, or political scandal, or urban riots. Ugly because it was hot—101 degrees perspiration-gathering-on-the-tip-of-your-nose and in-the-small-of-your-back hot. The heat wilted trees on Eye Street. Wiggling upward, it visually bent the brownstones. It withered gardens. In cars on Connecticut Avenue, sweat pooled on vinyl car seats as drivers expletive-deleted third-degree burns delivered by heated steering wheels.

But at the White House, the air conditioning was set at a cool 67 degrees, and in the study, President Richard Nixon hunched over to warm his hands above the toasty, glowing embers of the fireplace. Outside, the heat waged a war of attrition against all forms of plant life and the elderly, but for all the president knew, he was in a winter wonderland. The forces of nature were not only being ignored but also defied.

Nixon—Orange County's native son—was chilly.

It is surely a mixed blessing that I share a Tustin office with Dr. Alan. He has the back office—no windows or doors—and I have the front where I can open my door to the real world. When the weather is warm, Alan sets the inside temperature to 64 degrees. When it is cool, he sets it to 78. Weather permitting, I open my windows and the outside world vents in. Here's the rub: We are connected to the same thermostat. This means that on a warm summer day when it's breezy outside, I could share this climatic heaven. But I don't. On these days, Alan's space heats up, the thermostat is triggered, and my office becomes a Dairy Queen walk-in freezer.

I tried to deal directly with Alan by arranging a tempered settlement. No luck. Alan is an uncompromising butt. Next, I shut the louvers on my vents, but the mechanism won't close completely, so it produced a modulated whistling sound not unlike a Ural Mountain blizzard. Next, I tried blocking the vent, but the air pressure shifted somehow and sucked my well-intended piece of cardboard into the duct lines. The ensuing racket caused office-wide panic and hysteria. According to the landlord, there is only one alternative, an air-duct vasectomy. But if my vents are permanently snipped, I won't have any heat when it's cold outside.

Alan lives in Mission Viejo. When it's raining, it is not unusual to see his computer-activated lawn sprinklers in overdrive. When it's dry and 100 degrees, his back yard looks like a Brazilian rainforest. Alan's idea of seasonal change comes from New England, where Alan comes from himself. In the holiday season, he talks of painting icicles on the windows, buying a flocked Christmas tree and night-skiing on artificial snow. Like I said, a butt.

Now it's summer, and still—no matter how hard Alan struggles against nature—spring, summer, fall and winter will not adjust to his weather scenario.

The truth is California has five subtle but distinct weather seasons. I didn't say four. However heretical this might sound to calendar traditionalists and Four Season Theory Advocates, we have five seasons: two springs, two summers and a season of rain. Start and end where you like, they are as follows:

False Spring: late November through mid-January. Following the Indian Summer light rains. Can you remember a Rose Parade that didn't mock Midwesteners?

Rainy Season:mid-January through March. When our piers and beaches are swallowed by the ocean.

Second Spring:April through June. Late-night-and-early-morning-low-clouds, followed by warm afternoons and evenings.

Summer:June through August. Too hot to handle. Beach-Blanket Bingo Hellco-starring Charles Manson and the Night Stalker. Lock and load.

Indian Summer:September and October. Blistering winds and cataclysmic fires broken by lessening heat and season-ending light rains.

As Alan decorates his home and office with the trappings of a four-season calendar, he is oblivious to what exists outside. Take a look, my poor, dumb friend. Orange County is not a tropical paradise or a Cape Cod oceanfront or even a desert. We live in a unique Mediterranean land sandwiched between mountains, desert and sea.

Late last year, Alan took me out to dinner to thank me for minding his house while he and the wife vacationed in Singapore. I never mentioned to him that I disconnected the computerized lawn sprinklers that week, giving his rainforest some tough love. If he had been informed of my garden therapy, Alan wouldn't have been picking up the tab at Five Crowns in Corona del Mar that sultry evening. I drove down PCH—72 degrees—windows open (passing a promenade of skateboarders, joggers and wealthy locals in their swimsuits and shorts), parked across the street and walked through the Indian summer evening to my destination. When I opened the door to the Five Crowns, the air conditioning hit me like an Arctic blast across the province of Quebec. Inside, waitresses were head-to-toe in layers of Olde English costume. There was a Newport Center businessman in a three-piece suit. An Ivana Trump look-alike in fur. A pair of rosy-cheeked children in cardigan sweaters. Near the bar was Alan. I took a moment to observe my friend in his native habitat, sipping a drink, eyeing the buxom waitresses and playing with his cocktail napkin. Adjusting his alma-mater tie, he turned and walked over to a roaring fireplace where he stooped to warm his hands.

Could it be that Alan, this restaurant crowd and the man who brought us Watergate are kindred spirits? This much I know: they need to get in touch with our weather.

 
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