The dog days of summer

Well here we are smack in the middle of the dog days of summer. Normally we think of this time as the hottest part of the year and this year. As rainy as it’s been, we may have been spared some of the heat, but the summer is not over yet. Strangely enough, the expression does not actually refer to the heat but rather an astronomical event. It seems that from early July to mid-August, the star Sirius appears to rise and set with the sun. As the brightest star in the sky, Sirius was also part of the dog set of stars in ancient Greek and Roman mythology. It was believed that the combination of Sirius and the sun combined to make this the peak of the hazy and hot days of summer. Thanks to the association with the canine constellation of stars, this time of year came to be referred to as the “dog days” of summer. When the mercury reaches over 80°, it’s not hard to feel listless and lazy, especially with no air conditioning.

In the office where I work, the AC unit traditionally dies this time of year. It is serviced regularly; however, on our side of the building the unit falls victim to any unit whose air flow draws from a column of air between buildings. AC units are built to cool the air down about 20°. Sadly for us, the column of air heats up to around 110° between the heat of the city and all the other AC units trying to vie for a cool breeze. This means that while other parts of the building may be a chilly 70°, we are lucky if it gets to be a balmy 80°, and that includes the humidity. Yes papers on my desk stick to my arms, my staff look like they are about to pass out, and rational conversation takes a hiatus. We supplement this time of year with fans on everyone’s desk and encourage everyone to get in as early as they can before the heat of the day. There is a good reason to take an afternoon siesta, but this is naturally frowned upon.

The catacombs of Penn Station, the platforms where everyone exits the train, are equally hot. Traditionally the phrase “catacombs” refer to the ancient burial grounds under the streets of Rome. During these “dog days,” the poor commuters are the walking dead in the heat of the tunnels, as they wait their turn to get up the flights of stairs that lead to the street and a possible breath of fresh air.

The cars of New Jersey Transit are a hit-and-miss situation with the AC as well. It might be freezing, or there’s no AC at all. It kind of prepares a commuter for what a day in the sticky city might become. I have chosen to sit in many a car with no AC just to get a seat and pray for an uneventful trip to or from Port Jervis.

Fortunately, these sweltering days will not last, and before we know it the beautiful crisp weather of the fall season will be upon us and the dog days a thing of the past. For now, stay cool.


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