IN FRESNO, summer temperatures commonly reached three digits. I guess I must have been about seven or eight-it was the summer of second grade, between second and third grades, so I must have just turned eight-the temperature in the late afternoon reached a high of 119º. A lunatic was setting fires all over town, and people were asked not to use their hoses so that the fire department would have enough water pressure to fight the fires. Nobody could sleep at night, and productivity fell like a stone. Grownups just dragged around, living for a cold beer after work. I'm not sure if there were still people who had actual iceboxes that used blocks of ice, but I do remember that a for-real iceman, leather apron and shoulder pad and big silver tongs, came through our neighborhood and people bought ice. Crystal clear, huge blocks of ice. They weighed fifty and a hundred pounds. I imagine that in that kind of appalling heat early 1950s refrigerators tended to break down or simply not be able to keep up, and lots of folks fell back on ice to keep things cold. The iceman always gave us kids big daggers of glassy, freezing cold ice to suck on. It made your fingers go numb, and the cold drips falling on a naked tummy (or your sister's naked tummy, to be precise) sparked shrieks all up and down the block.
Kids are pretty easy to please. We were equally glad to get big chunks of glittering black tar from the blacktop gang that was repaving the street. Wonderful to chew on, but when you tracked the stuff into the house, it got taken away.
Kids loved the heat of course, but this was at the height of the polio scare so all the public pools were closed. We had a big plastic puddle in the yard that got moved around once a week, leaving a round saucer-landing patch of yellow grass. One afternoon I prevailed on my mother to let us be a little bit wasteful of food, and together with my brothers and sisters and neighborhood kids and, as I recollect, my mom, fried an egg on the sidewalk. It didn't actually fry, of course-we didn't put grease on the sidewalk first-but it did cook convincingly. We didn't eat it, but a dog did.
That summer we had a plague of grasshoppers. They were everywhere, scrunched by the thousands beneath wheels, bicycles, and inevitably feet. My sisters got good at tiptoeing everywhere, walking without actually touching the ground. The grasshoppers were interesting, with their improbable blue eyes and their habit of spitting tobacco juice, but there were just too many of them. They ate everything green and at night you could hear them crunching away-millions of tiny jaws chewing through the fig trees, the grass, the bushes, leaving only a bare branch. By the middle of summer-eaten by birds, mashed by cars or bored with Fresno-they were all gone. Boy, was it hot.
August 26, 1994
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