Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything

Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything

Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything

Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything

Excerpt

The first air conditioner I ever thought about was a unit that failed to keep Lois Nettleton cool in a 1961 Twilight Zone episode. (I was six years old, I shouldn’t have been up that late, and as punishment I had nightmares.) In the episode, the Earth was moving toward the sun and heating up to deadly levels, electricity was being rationed, and to emphasize the single hour each day that Miss Nettleton’s air conditioner worked, ribbons were attached to its output grille. When they suddenly drooped, everyone on camera became alarmed, and more moist, and the music took an ominous turn.

It wasn’t until the following summer that I encountered—at a safe distance, held back by parental supervision—a real air conditioner in a department store display, a clunky tan machine sitting on a table, surrounded by big boxes, and blowing for all it was worth. This one also had ribbons streaming from it. While I didn’t completely understand what an air conditioner did, I walked away thinking that all of them were required by law to wear ribbons.

Very soon after that, my Aunt Catherine shocked everyone in the family when she bought two air conditioners, one for her bedroom and one for the living room. From the (eavesdropped) reactions of various relatives, I learned that this was flashy behavior indeed, also that Air Conditioners Are for Rich People. But at the next family gathering, even though it was a leaden August night, her living room was perfectly comfortable, and it seemed that no one wanted to escape to the porch. When no adult was watching, I cautiously approached the Amana in the window, held my hand in front of the output grille… and felt a cool breeze. Astounding. Terrific. Nevertheless, there was a problem: This machine didn’t have ribbons. I hoped Aunt Catherine wouldn’t get arrested.

This close encounter opened a whole new world of theoretical summer comfort. Theoretical, mind you—I didn’t get to experience it in my day-to-day life. My parents made do with a battery of fans (one of them . . .

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