The content of this column is for entertainment purposes only. The opinions expressed should not be construed as being for or against any politically-charged topic referred to herein. Just trying to be funny, y’all …
Nevermind the solstices; this is Texas. Our seasons are judged by the number of days you don’t have to run the air conditioner. If we get a good 10-15 days without having to run the AC in October/November, we’d consider that fall. Similarly, winter would be those days from December through February when the ACs are off and we’re huddling around a heat source. If we get a string of days in the March/April range without air conditioning OR heat, that’d make for a respectable spring. All other times, the ACs are running, and it feels like SUMMER.
Why is this? In my opinion, it’s climate change (dun, dun, DA). We’re told that climate change is the existential threat of all existential threats. What the hell is an existential threat, anyway? You hear that word all the time, especially from politicians. Dictionary.com defines it as “a threat to something’s very existence.” Hmm. This climate change business sounds serious.
I was first made aware of the climate change issue by one of the most renown scientists of the last century. In 1978, Dr. S’chn T’gai Spock had left The Starship Enterprise and was hosting a syndicated television show called “In Search Of.” An episode titled “In Search of the Coming Ice Age” opened with Leonard Nimoy shivering on a snow-covered Buffalo, New York bridge delivering the following monologue through chattering teeth:
“There is little doubt that someday the ice will return. At least eight times in the past million years it has advanced and retreated with clockwork regularity. If we are unprepared for the next advance, the result could be hunger and death on a scale unprecedented in all of history. What scientists are telling us now is that a threat of an ice age is not as remote as they once thought. During the lifetime of our grandchildren, arctic cold and perpetual snow could turn most of the inhabitable portions of our planet into a polar desert.”
Hmm. Interesting. Fast forward 40 years and we have another transcendent thinker and noted scientist, Bill Nye, telling us:
“By the end of this century, if emissions keep rising, the average temperature on Earth could go up another four to eight degrees. What I’m saying is the planet is on eff-ing fire.”
It must be one hell of an existential crisis when “The Science Guy” is throwing the f-bomb around to make a point. So, are we gonna freeze before we burn up, or burn up before we freeze? Who should we believe, and what should we do about it? Maybe a recent Time Magazine “Person of the Year” would know.
Greta Thunberg graced the cover of Time Magazine in 2019 as the new face of environmental responsibility, partly because she used her snarly countenance to lecture mom, dad, grandma, grandpa and everybody else on down the line for leaving her generation a soon-to-be uninhabitable, $#!+hole of a planet. She emphasized her point by famously scolding us all with, “How DARE you?” I don’t know, Greta … I’m gonna have to do some Googling …
Greta’s Wikipedia page lists her occupation as “student” and “environmental activist,” and indeed, she is one of today’s leading climate change champions. Just 18 years old, her accomplishments are extraordinary; I was pretty much a moron at that age by comparison. In any case, I too considered myself a “student” and “environmental activist.” Sort of. Heck—I think every student that went to PISD before 1991 considered themselves environmental activists too, albeit from a much more localized perspective. And we weren’t against climate change; we were all for it!
We all got our start in an elementary school building bereft of air conditioning. During those “summer spells,” the only remedy for the oppressive heat was to open the windows and hope for a breeze. Unfortunately, the open windows let in more than just the breeze; flies were a big problem. Stinky students drew them in droves.
You’d think by fourth or fifth grade a priority would be placed on providing all the little prepubescent pupils with a classroom climate conducive to academic success. You’d be wrong. The only strategy deployed was to designate certain teachers to give the obligatory “some of y’all are starting to smell pretty bad and you probably ought to tell your parents to buy you some deodorant” speech every couple of weeks. It was not a successful strategy.
We sweated through junior high too, but as we matured, we found more innovative and entertaining ways to deal with the hardships of the heat. If things got boring in history class, you could bait your desk with a little spittle and see how many flies you could catch in your fist. Some of the gals would catch them in their purse (thanks, Aunt Myra—I never knew y’all did that). Flies weren’t just fun; they enhanced the learning experience as well. When it was time to read “Lord of the Flies” for literature class we all felt like we were there.
The most egregious violation of societal norms inflicted upon us by school administrators came in the form of a strictly-enforced dress code. WE COULD NOT WEAR SHORTS. I assume this puritanical proclamation was put in place to keep the kids focused on their schoolwork instead of the way a classmate’s sweat pooled up on their naked knee, but it was a pretty sadistic policy if you ask me.
It was more of the same in high school until 1983 when the first endcap that joined the three wings was constructed. Students starting school the following semester were elated at the prospect of climatecontrolled rooms. Unfortunately, the only room that had AC was the computer class. Those of us that didn’t take the computer class because we thought computers would be just another here-today-gonetomorrow deal, like Pong or something, had to settle for the ceiling fans in Mr. Burkholder’s algebra class down the hall.
The ceiling fans were nice, but not enough. The original inspiration for the placing of the three main buildings was inspired by a commercial chicken house design. Wait, what? Not really—I just feel compelled to get a chicken reference in each week. Truthfully though, those three buildings were placed where they were to take advantage of the prevailing winds. The big double doors at both ends would be opened to help cool off and ventilate the buildings. When they added the endcap, they shut off the flow.
Sweltering away all day had its positives, though. You didn’t have to rely on the tired old “my dog ate my homework” routine. It was easier to just roll your assignment around in the pool of sweat on your desk until it could sufficiently pass as an illegible, sweat-soaked mess. The windows were nice, too. They afforded students a grand view of the trees and birds and beautiful things of nature, as well as a view of all the “cool kids” who walked to the alley across the street during break to smoke a cig in between classes. You certainly couldn’t get away with that kind of stuff these days.
Eventually, they got things right and most of the classrooms were properly climate-controlled by 1991. If anyone is interested in seeing a comprehensive historical account of the whole PISD climate change crisis, there’s a comment thread from a query I threw out on the “Pleasanton, Texas – High School Friends” Facebook page on Oct. 15 that has some highly entertaining commentary. Go check it out.
I don’t want to bask in the glow of a “we had to walk five miles in the snow” moment too much. We had a lot to be thankful for back then, and kids these days must deal with a lot of things I wouldn’t want to put up with. So, to the kid who is sitting in class today wearing shorts in a windowless, air-conditioned room and seething about some unforeseen and uncontrollable injustice that has been sadistically inflicted upon you by school administrators: cheer up, buddy! Things are bound to get better.