The summer heat in Brooklyn is amplified by the people, not just the huge crush crowding bike lanes and subway cars, but also the desire of people to be around each other for the most murderous mercury of the year. There’s a need to have some sort of shared commiseration and to assure yourself that the sweat escaping down your back like death row convicts on prison break is perfectly normal. You are disgusting and you might as well be with other people who are just as gross.
You contemplate relief in any form, from any source, at any time: free chilled white wine sample — refreshing and boozy; a blast of industrial-grade A/C when someone opens the air lock leading into a department store — wasteful but oh so much the air bath you need; the open fire hydrant on your street — steer that bike hard right and soak up a blast of city water while you can.
“Can I just have some ice?” I asked the clerk hawking beers at one of the free Prospect Park concerts on a day when even the evening shade didn’t abate the humidity. He resisted: “You can’t put it in your drink,” he said. “It’s gross. We’re not allowed to give it out.” Once I informed him that my only intention was to apply it directly to my face and neck-skin, he relented.
Few here have air conditioning (or at least, don’t want to pay to turn the machine on for anything more than somnambulant serenity) so you gather in pools of humanity to seek solace in cans of beer that have been sitting in bags of ice you bought from the bodega, or you huddle in the back of a dark bar that opens at 3 PM but doesn’t ever turn the lights up past midnight levels, lean back on their bar couch as the Freon from the one unit jammed into a window space above the door tries to fill the space with its magic, and relax into the kind of lazy, ambling conversations you can only have during the dog days, before the rude fall winds slap you into thinking you should probably be in grad school, studying for a GRE, applying for jobs, researching something in a library, dear god something that involves a book at least.
The heat wave this year was particularly brutal and came to an apex for a few 100-degree days in July. On the first of those days, it was clear even by the time I checked my morning Twitter feed to a picture of the red skyline with the text “Fiery sunrise ushers in a soupy scorcher” that it would be one we’d be talking about for years. Those of us without day jobs escaped underground to the trains and emerged miles away at a Queens beach.
Later that day, sunburned and salty, I was biking through Bed-Stuy on my way to another pool of humanity (more Brooklynites saying “Screw it – how much hotter could we possibly get?). I was thinking of the melting summer day simmering with racial tension portrayed in Do the Right Thing, when, BLAM! I’m hit in the side by what looked like a chunk of trash, possibly a mango. I looked around and saw that the projectile was launched from a group of about 10 kids on the corner in front of the bodega. My urban hackles raised up prepared to defend myself or at least shout one of those smart-ass retorts that are the primary weapon of the Too Scrawny To Fight crowd.
But when I looked down, I realized the chunk rolling down the street wasn’t a mango at all: it was an un-exploded orange water balloon.
What happened next was an emotional circle that applies specifically and exclusively to water balloon attacks: my rage at having been attacked transformed into playful, beach-like excitement at the possibility of being involved in a water balloon fight, which then transformed into an even higher level of rage because the balloon had not exploded, robbing me of its precious refreshing munitions that would have momentarily transmuted this from a 100-degree sweat-soaked bike ride to an episode of Wild and Crazy Kids.
“What a crap throw!” was the only rebuttal I could offer that encapsulated that whole cycle of emotions as I continued biking away.
It was a different story earlier in the summer, one of the very first scorchers, when we escaped the first wave of apartment heat to kill a few icy pitchers at a bar called Gowanus Yacht Club, which, in typical Brooklyn fashion, is neither on a body of water nor a club of any sort. The sun beat down overhead and the benches were full from front to back, Men in Black 3 was filming across the street and everyone was ginning up courage for the long summer ahead and talking, longingly, about the changes that would soon come to their winter-bleached skin.
Then, from above, a squelch of surprise and an explosion of water. People leapt from their seats, not sure if some sort of liquid Pearl Harbor was underway. A handful of people were drenched while twice as many were hit with aquatic shrapnel. Some bros sitting nearby went into defense mode, climbing on benches to look over the fence. They saw, running swiftly down the street, a group of about five kids probably somewhere between 12-16, laughing and glancing back. A water balloon sniper squad. Mission complete.
“Get back here!” the bro shouted, clearly enraged and a bit day drunk. He turned to his friend and made some macho posturing comments, briefly making a motion as if to leave the bar and chase them. “Chase them to do what?” My friends and I wondered out loud, making ourselves chuckle: pummel teenagers with your drunk, 28-year-old fists? Throw them into Gowanus Canal to teach them what an escalation of water hostilities can lead to?
“Oh, sit down,” someone at the bar said, and a bunch of people laughed. Our friends lifted our beers, shaking our now-slightly wet heads.
After all, the balloons exploded, we had none to fight back with, so the kids had justly won the day. And the Brooklyn summer went on and on.