An Ode to Cincinnati’s Humidity

Because really, it's all relative.


Skiers adore snow. Kite flyers and yachtsmen are wild about the wind, farmers fancy rain, sunbathers heat. Storm chasers even go for tornadoes. Kids hungry for a day off school cheer freezing rain. And for London-based stranglers, fog is to die for.

High humidity? Hmm. Yeah. No. Sorry. No one loves humidity. No. One. Though there was a time…

Illustration by Karen Shadmi

In my twenties and thirties, I lived for the torrid afternoons of deep summer. Sun perched high in the hazy sky, temperature and humidity both north of 90, the still air suffused with the faint odor of scorched lawns, Mr. Softee truck exhaust, and the seared scalps of bald men in open convertibles. It was then I’d go for a run. Defy the urban blast furnace. Slip a pair of asbestos insoles into my Nikes and take to the blistering blacktopped streets. Six, seven, eight miles, or more. Only in this way could I boil, render, dissolve, or otherwise liquefy the fat and toxins, the Stoli and Maker’s and Merits, the Maui Wowie and Lebanese hash, the quarts of sugary-syrupy Coca-Cola, and the grease of a thousand million deep-fried anythings from the deep fryer that were in my system, then pump ’em out my poor pores. In theory.

By the time I’d get back home, there wasn’t a skin cell, not a single hair in the deepest crevice or awfulest orifice, not a filament of cotton, elastic, polyester, or performance fabric that wasn’t as sodden and salty as the Titanic’s deck chair cushions. To be so wholly sopping, soaking, dripping, wringing wet was, for me, a saturated badge of honor. I’d gone the distance, yes, but even better I’d kicked the heat’s ass, vanquished the humidity, transcended my lifestyle, outrun my self-disdain. All for less than the cost of therapy. Though I was also in therapy.

Today? I still run. But not in the double-90s. Curiously, over time, as I one-by-one dropped the butts, the booze, and the rest of my poor choices, my tolerance for logging such brutal miles waned. Leaving no one to love humidity. The ugly, insufferable bastard.

“Wanna ride bikes?” Chris would ask. “Nah,” I’d say. “We can get our gloves, toss a ball,” he’d suggest. “Nah,” I’d say.

Every August, from the ages of 9 to 13, Chris and I had a conversation like this almost daily. He lived across the street and, like me, was in exile, banished to the mean cul-de-sacs of suburbia by a maternal edict to turn off the TV, go outside, and get some fresh air. (Note: The events related here occurred before mobile devices and pedophiles were invented, when free-range children inhabited a screenless, molestless Eden.)

“Game of mumbley-peg?” “Nah.” “Catch crawdads in the creek?” “Nah.”

The activities Chris put forward weren’t unreasonable or abnormal. Far from it. They were things we’d already done many times since school let out. But it was different now. Now being the cloudless, rainless, humid heat of late summer. It made a boy lazy. Or, full disclosure, a lazy boy lazier.

“Walk to the store for a pop,” Chris might propose next. It was sticky, and I would’ve loved a pop. Just not as much as I loved not taking the 10-minute walk to get it, so, “Nah.”

The cruel irony was, by the time the dog days arrived, I could smell our return to school. I’d already begun dreading the long days, the confining classrooms, the cruel and unusual learningment ahead. Yet the stifling pre-Labor Day conditions—the baking, roasting, broiling, steaming, scalding, boiling, caramelizing meteorological situation—made any movement, any activity beyond interpreting sweat stains on each other’s T-shirts like inkblots, inconceivable.

“We could, uh, you know,” Chris would offer. His subtle way of saying we could each duck home, steal some matches from our moms, skike (skulk + hike) deep into the woods abutting our subdivision and, disregarding the parental threats, warnings, and decrees against it yet again, build a roaring fire.

“Yeah,” I’d say, “OK.” The dry heat of a fire would, I knew, be a nice change.

“Can you believe the humidity!?” asks some friend, some acquaintance, some stranger, perhaps you. “Why, yes,” I reply, ignoring the rhetorical intent, “I can absolutely believe it. IT’S A FACT. An atmospheric reality that’s plagued the Ohio River Valley for summers immemorial. The same faceless, heedless dampness local denizens have waded through every bloody year since the glaciers retreated because, FYI, glaciers are gutless.

“What I’m getting at, small-talk sensei, is that bitching about humidity in Cincinnati is like bitching about too many skyscrapers in Manhattan or too much Wayne Newton in Las Vegas or the inevitability of contracting chlamydia in Toledo: some things just are. Come with the literal territory. Grumbling about such immutables is a waste of breath and, worse, adds to the problem with your wasted, humid, 98.6 degree breath.

“But really, that’s not the half of it. Fact is, people here used to consider humidity a scourge because it’d soggy ’em up and weigh ’em down for a week or a month or all goddamned summer; the entire city forced to spend hours, whole dragging days, living in a stifling, thick, stagnant, sultry soup. A soup only infrequently cooled by the blessed vented breeze of a window AC unit or a late night, windows-down, over-the-limit drive through Mt. Airy Forest.

“Cut to 2018. Today’s version of oppression is the three-minute walk from where you parked your climate-controlled car to the air-conditioned office where you have to wear a sweater to keep from shivering. Or the 100 feet between your parking space and the ever-mild, thermostatic Stepford-ness of the mall. Or the split second blast of mugginess you feel when you open the back door to let Fido out of the McAmbience.

“Don’t you get it? We’ve reversed the paradigm. On a daily basis, heat and humidity are now felt, give or take, for approximately the same lengths of time air conditioning used to be. The bane of shorts-and-sandals weather has been rendered inconsequential. Tangential. Toothless. Uncomplainable.

“But it’s even bigger than that! For a huge swath of people, those transient moments in the elements are the 1 percent of their life that doesn’t feel exactly like they want and expect it to. The only day-part that’s not presettable, programmable, climatically perfectamente. This is a culture where, if our happyplace sweetspot is 72 degrees with low humidity, we not only set our cars and homes to provide us with those conditions year round, but we keep our homes sealed and our car windows up even when the outside conditions are 72 degrees with low humidity.

“So it would seem our annual beef with humidity isn’t that it’s a protracted hardship or lengthy period of discomfort but that it’s a niggling imperfection, a brief interruption of service, in one’s manufactured, personal perpetual weather bubble. So, back to your opening remark, I say, yes, I can believe the humidity. What I can’t believe is the hubris of the question.”

B Dub
I just want to look like all the other nonconformists, man. The counterculture antiestablishment love-beaded cannabists whose subversive ranks I aspire to. And on a good day, I do. A good day being defined as humidity under 80 percent. Dry air is crucial for my untended, untamed mop to submit to my will—parted in the middle, hanging long and straightish, and stylishly unstylishly past my shoulders.

On the flip side, my tonsorial mellow is harshed during the high humidity days of summer. That’s when my hair exerts its independence, flies its follicular freak flag high. For saturated air provokes and emboldens my curls, curls normally too passive and weak to overthrow the established order. It’s in this creeping mugginess that my long locks abandon my shoulders, shrink up and kink up in tight undulating waves, that my masculinity struggles to refute. And the frizz? It rises to the level of an affliction. One Jesus himself would be powerless to assuage.

Truly, I am cursed. With just a few extra points in the humidity column, my head full of radical fit-right-in hippie magnificence magically, tragically shape-shifts into the ’do of some twisted, mutant child of Shirley Temple and Angela Davis. An existential crisis sprouts from my useless 20-year-old melon: Keep the hair and look like a joke, or cut it and look like a narc. Man, I can only hope life gets easier from here.

Dr. Roberto
Mid-August, Cincinnati. Behold all the suffocating heat and moisture of Satan’s armpit. Or, perhaps, dare I say, the Nether Lord’s nether regions. Isn’t it fantastic?

For only in such environmental extremis is it feasible for me to sit out on the deck, midday, naked to the world save for a thick, glistening slather of nuclear-blast-strength sunblock, fingers dancing over a MacBook keyboard bespattered by the drizzling rivulets—the headwaters, as it were—of perspiration spilling off my face and scalp and (can it be?) teeth, typingtypingtyping, hoping my feeble skills of transcription can capture the rapture, convey the visions, illusions, and delusions of acute dehydration, the human body’s own natural, organic pre-Haight-Ashburian way to hallucinate one’s testicles off.

Are there dangers? Hmm, well, it depends on how one defines dangers. Dehydration can cause diarrhea, vomiting, involuntary line dancing and public typing in the nude, as well as a compulsion to tell others about one’s diarrhea, vomiting, involuntary line dancing, and public typing in the nude. But such perils mean nothing to a man in pursuit of wisdom and a free high.

I began my research promptly at 11:46 a.m. It is now 103.8 FM. That’s ¿39876? Angstroms—or twice as many demi-angstroms—of full solar radiation, according to my calcubrations. That said, it’s unclear how long or how wide it will take to achieve my stated purpose.

Wait! Diarrhea or vomiting has begun, not entirely sure which. But it’s beeyoooteeeful. Dehydration is God! ’Scuse me while I kiss 9-1-1…

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