Thursday, September 20, 2012

Acclimation

It is not a long walk to the school where I work, just a few blocks. I leave early, while the traffic is still relatively calm and before the cruel sun has risen over the jungle of dusty six story buildings that spread east to the Moqattam hills. But it is hot already. By the time I arrive at work my forehead is pouring, my shirt soaked. As Ra begins his daily journey across the sky, I settle into another day of moist discomfort.

You have to know that I am not talking about a little bit of sweat - dark, damp circles on my shirt beneath the arms. That is typical. My case is more severe. My head sweats. The backs of my knees, my belly, chest, and even my buttocks are not immune to the daily drenching.

This summer, while back in Texas, I ran into a girl who had been in my kindergarten class four years ago. It is normally a joy to see former students. Although I was not a very good kinder teacher, I humor myself with the belief that I might have imparted something meaningful and long lasting upon the lives of the kids I taught - that they would have something special to carry with them that they learned in our class. I said hello to her and her mother. "How are you? Are you ready for fourth grade? Have you read any good books this Summer?" The usual stuff. She looked up at me with a quizzical expression, "So, do you still have that sweating problem?" She asked. That's what she remembered? I was stunned and embarrassed, unable to stop myself from quickly jabbing back, "I don't know. Do you still have that impurtenance problem?"
"Huh?"

People tell me that I will acclimate. I respond that I have lived in hot climates for most of my adult life. They look at me with a strange mixture of perplexity and pity. "And you haven't acclimated yet?"
 

Yes, in fact I have acclimated. It's just not particularly pretty or comfortable. Dogs shed their thick coats in the spring. Flowers close petals around delicate blossoms as the sun rises and the heat of the day increases. I sweat. It is remarkably efficient. Despite constant misery, my body temperature rarely rises above 97.2 F.

I have acclimated but not adapted. It took many, many generations of people living and mating happily on cold, rainy islands in the north Atlantic for me to become who I am physically. In context, I am really quite practical, if not beautiful. The thick, furry pelt that covers nearly my entire body ensures that I rarely feel discomfort in the cold. Even my pasty, white skin would be useful for gathering sun light if I were blessed to live in a land that didn't have quite so much.

If I can't change, at least there is hope for my children who were born in Texas. If you believe that, then you fundamentally do not understand natural selection. The best chance for my children is that they might have inherited persperation characteristics from their considerably less sweaty mother. If my moisture traits are dominant, they will suffer as I have.

The only way for evolution to work progressively, would be for me to have been so repulsive to the Texas girls I pursued in college that I would have been denied the opportunity to mate and produce viable, sweaty offspring. I would have grown old and died childless, with nothing but undesirable traits to keep me company. But I was crafty. I met Jenn in the dead of winter and courted her on the banks of a cool, spring fed river. We would sit together by the San Marcos that first Summer. Whenever my body temperature rose, I slipped into the water like a Galapagos iguana. She was smitten before she ever realized just how physically repugnant I actually am.

And now I live in Egypt, surrounded by people with dark skin and small, dry pores. I begin each day with a cold shower and then stand, drying myself in front of a small window unit air conditioner. I smear antiperspirant under each arm and across most of my torso and put on a clean shirt, dry for the moment. I gather my things and open the door, stepping out into a new day. I have not even left the porch before the first small drops begin to bead up on my forehead.







6 comments:

  1. I wish I was Smitten by the river also!
    Dmite

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  2. I, too, have yet to acclimatize. In fact, I feel the heat more acutely every year that passes. I never know whether to blame my thyroid, global warming, or what. This predisposition to extreme sweatiness must be a dominant gene, I know I passed it on to a new generation.

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    Replies
    1. Weren't you born in Central Texas?

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    2. I was born in the Netherlands.

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  3. Use baking soda instead of deodorant. It is cheaper and works much better.

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  4. I don't know how I'm just reading this one Paul, but I am laughing at my desk like a crazy person. I will henceforth picture you as a giant river iguana.

    -Jane

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