Humidity: It's not the heat, it's the floating snakes

 

(This Dave Barry column originally ran August 23, 1987)

The main reason my family and I moved to South Florida is that we, like so many others, wanted to live in an area of extremely high humidity. We had been living in the Philadelphia area, which is reasonably moist, but which also suffers from long stretches of drier weather -- we called these stretches "fall, " "winter" and "spring" -- that really got on our nerves. "If I hear one more gloriously multihued leaf rustle in the crisp autumn air, I shall go insane!" we would frequently remark.

We dreamed of life in a better, damper place; a place where your hair doesn't dry out from your morning shower until late the following week; a place where, seconds after you remove saltines from their airtight wrapper, they turn into a grayish paste suitable for minor woodwork repairs. You can imagine our joy upon discovering South Florida. We felt like the legendary Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who, upon landing here, gazed at the sugar-white windswept beach and the glorious riot of tropical vegetation and said: "!Oye! !El oxido ha cerrado mi armadura!" ("Hey! My armor is rusted shut!")

South Florida owes its tremendous natural wetness to the fact that it is bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by the Everglades, on the bottom by a pulsating mass of decaying swamp matter and on the top by a layer of steaming air so dense you can let go of a small object, such as a paper clip or Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and it will just hang there, in midair, suspended by humidity like chunks of pineapple in a Jell-O dessert. This is why you never hear the mosquitoes down here before they get you. They don't have to flap their wings. They merely float in the humidity, motionless, with their little bloodsucking tubes pointed straight out, waiting for you to bumble into them. Also, on certain days there are airborne snakes. This is one reason why, during the height of the Humid Season (March through February), most people never go outside for any length of time except to be buried.

All of this makes air conditioning very important, especially at night. I find it very relaxing to lie in bed, listening to the soothing drone of the air conditioner. "Drrrooooooonnnnnnnnne, " it says, until I'm just about to nod off, at which time it says: "YOUR ELECTRICITY BILL SO FAR THIS WEEK IS THREE HUNDRED SIXTY SEVEN DOLLARS AND EIGHTY-TWO CENTS HAHAHAHAHA." This makes me think maybe I had better give the air conditioning a break, so I turn it off and open the windows to let in the refreshing night air, which comes oozing through the screens like barbecue sauce through a paper towel, carrying with it the pleasant, rhythmic whoop of a burglar alarm going off in the distance: The Official Noise of South Florida. I welcome it, because it means that All Is Well. A real burglar would have deactivated the alarm long ago.

Thus comforted, I look at the clock: 2:37:31 a.m. Already! Where is the time going?! I lie back down and try to get some sleep. I am lulled by the gentle creak of the ceiling fan just a few feet overhead, spinning faster than the eye can see, weighing maybe 75 pounds, put up by some previous owner who probably bought it at Homes "R" Us and installed it himself using kitchen cutlery, and now it's up there right over my body, suspended by maybe two bolts that have been vibrating since the Ford administration, its whirling blades capable of slicing through human flesh like a machete through French toast . . .

Maybe I'll just turn the air conditioner back on.

"FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS!" it shrieks joyously into the night, causing several snakes to thud to the ground. I check the clock, which is now running slowly backward, as it often does during periods of high nighttime humidity.

But eventually dawn arrives. The sun, clearly in a bad mood, barges up over the horizon, promising to bring us what is always described as "a Perfect South Florida Day" by weathermen sitting in studios with 30,000-ton refrigeration units. I get up, take a shower, remove as much moisture from my body as possible using an automotive squeegee, then poke my head into the closet and shout: "Who wants to go to work?"

"Me! Me! Take me!" comes the excited, high-pitched reply from millions of tiny mildews, their eager anticipation causing my shirts to reach their sleeves out to me in heartwarming fashion. I select an outfit, grab my briefcase and am ready to face a new day. Watch out world, here I come! I open the front door, and

WHAP!

There is nothing quite like the feeling of stepping out into a Perfect South Florida Morning, except possibly the feeling of falling headfirst into a swimming pool filled with hot pork drippings. Within seconds, I have developed armpit stains the size of habitable islands. Gripping my briefcase in my teeth, I make my way toward the car, using an energy- conserving sidestroke.

"Here he comes!" whisper the mosquitoes. "Hold still!"

Read more Dave Barry stories from the Miami Herald

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Miami Herald

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