Dog Star

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 6:45pm

Some folks don’t like the cold winters of the Northeast, that’s why these reasonable people of means go to warmer climates and dodge the snow, ice, heating bills, dead batteries, slick roads, black ice, broken snow shovels, snow blowers, power outages, sore backs, bread and milk shortages, cabin fever and domestic angst. The rest of just deal with this nasty weather and look forward to the warm temperatures of the verdant spring and the beachy summer. “The dog days of summer” are characterized by a hot and sticky mugginess that can bring out the worst in people. Hot temperatures and hot tempers are nothing new. In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Act 3, Scene 1. Benvolio is telling his pal Mercutio to calm down while he’s strutting like a bantam rooster — and talking smack — through the hot streets of Verona. “The day is hot; the Capulets, abroad; And if we meet shall not ‘scape a brawl, for now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.” Of course, this scene sets up a major conflict between Mercutio and Tybalt in the play; Shakespeare worked the hot weather into this scene perfectly. 

“Oppressive heat,” while being music to the ears of coastal businesses — when announced by the weather folks — can be a noxious term for those who work outdoors. Moreover, tempers do flare. But, I feel that most folks are mindful to be on their best behavior and intuitively know that they need to conserve energy so they can do whatever activity they are involved with at the time. I mean, who wants to go to the beach all jacked up from a confrontation for a parking space or a long line to get on a ferryboat? Just sayin’.

About 15 years ago while working in Newport for the ferry company, I met a guy at Fort Adams who had a beautifully restored wooden sailboat called Dog Star. I loved the name for some reason and went on to research what the name meant. I hit the Redwood Library because it’s a cool place literally and figuratively. The Romans called the star Sirius — the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog) — Dog Star. Sirius is the brightest star in the summer night sky and the Romans thought it generated extra heat in the summertime. Subsequently, through the ages, we ended up with the phrase “dog days of summer.”

Our own dogs are also wily — like the Romans — when it comes to hot weather. Sailor the cockapoo and Tuppence the Scottie fly low and slow when the temperatures go high. They find the coolest place in the house and stay still. Conversely, their humans go outside in the heat to run around and do the heavy lifting humans need to do — the work thing. The dogs look at us go out the door and then resume the position of doing a mindless drill of breathing slowly and sleeping. They know that their humans will take them outside when it gets cooler even if their humans are dog tired from racing around in the unbearable heat throughout the day. Furthermore, while heading to groomers on a very hot day this past summer, the Dude and Dudette hustled on the quickstep inside the door to the air-conditioned dog hangout where they could socialize and get cleaned up and look ahem, cool. Dogs are smart and they understand climate change.

My sister has a friend originally from the south who said of a hot day this past August, “It’s hotter than fish grease out there.” I’ve never heard a phrase like this and I burst out laughing when my sister said it. Here are some other examples of hot weather hyperbole: “It’s hotter than the hinges of hell.” “It’s hotter than Hades.” “It’s hotter than a cat on a hot tin roof.” “It’s so hot that only mad dogs and Englishmen go outside.” “It’s so hot you can fry an egg on the road.” “It’s wicked hot.” “It’s hot as a bastid.” We can use all the words we want but, in the end, when it’s hot and the humidity is 100 percent, it’s just not fun. And, it can be unhealthy — especially for geezers.

We all have found ways to cope with these dog days — which seem to be getting hotter. (I’ve worked at the Block Island Ferry docks since ’74, and the past few summers have been brutal.) I wear a vented Tilley Hat, and grease up with Bull Frog 50 when I’m working and drink lots of Gatorade, which I freeze the night before at home. We need the electrolytes, which basically keep us thirsty and help us avoid dehydration. The heat does a tap dance on this geezer’s head these days; therefore, the noted precautions are not an option in this kind of weather. Finally, the Dog Star has moved from its vaulted celestial position in the night sky, and this fall the cool north winds have arrived in abundance.