Memories of Heat

We are in record-breaking temperatures, as is most of the country. The grass is non-existent and it’s as if we are in a reverse winter – trapped indoors, wondering when we can go outside.

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The summer after high school I got a job working food service at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Tons of high schoolers held these positions, making cheeseburgers, serving up sodas, and if you were to be punished, working the blazing hot popcorn cart, pumping coconut oil into a screaming hot popcorn maker. I didn’t mind it, but I didn’t like it. Our bosses were a few years older than us – the worst kind when you’re 18 – since they swaggered with managerial power and extra dollars per hour in their paycheck. They forced you to clean the dumpster or empty the soft serve machine at a whim if they didn’t like your face or the expression your face was making.

I biked to work that summer, or at least one way, if I could con my stepdad or someone with a car to allow my bike to be put in their trunk. It was uphill on the way there, a smooth coasting ride on the way home. If I timed it right I could hit the pedal once, sailing down Bluemound Road for more than a mile.

My skin, normally one shade above the palest they offer in cosmetics, turned a deep red that summer – I guess its version of tan. My dark hair, blazing hot in the sun, was thankfully covered by a greasy and sweaty Zoo cap.

It was hot. Hot to watch flame-broiled hamburgers slide onto warming pans. Hot to bag popcorn and do other general maintenance. And hot in our ranch home without air conditioning. I swear my body temperature rose. After work I’d shower and most nights I collapsed into bed, exhausted. I never even used a fan.

It was not the romantic summer I had envisioned for my time before college. It felt lonely and anticipatory. My mom and I would slowly collect items for my college dorm room. I nervously spoke to my college roommate from Onalaska on the phone for the first time. We exchanged senior pictures.

Half a lifetime ago, at 17.

That summer was the last summer I lived at home, minus a few weeks after graduate school. There would be more hot summer nights, but none where I could stand the heat in the same way.

 

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