The luxury of deprivation by fan
CLEVELAND — Frankly, summer scares me. I cower when I hear the words 90 degrees and humid. You see, I'm armed only with fans to cool off my charming 90-year-old, un-air-conditioned house. So why don't I have air conditioning, you ask? The short answer is my house has radiators, and to get central air would require cutting holes in my ceilings.
Here's the other short answer: I'm a better person because of my fans. I watch you air-conditioned people enjoying summer until it gets a little too hot, and then into your climate-controlled houses and apartments you scurry. You have no respect for the hot temper of nature. I live closer to the elements. My windows open me to the world. I hear the sounds of summer: teenagers talking too loudly on the corner, neighbors arguing, the widower down the street playing old Sinatra albums.
Sociologists have traced the demise of community to the extinction of the front porch. Or the addition of the attached garage, which further reduces the chances of interacting with your neighbors. To this list, I add the air conditioner.
But the absence of air conditioning gives me more than a sense of community. It gives me something so few middle-class people have today - a sense of deprivation. At the risk of sounding too Zen-like, I have something most of my friends and co-workers don't have, even if I have to measure its worth by its lack.
The relatively cheap price of technology means that even blue-collar workers and low-paid service workers have cellphones and computers and MP3 players and digital cameras. Most teenagers, whether they work or not, also have most of these things.
In a world where everyone has everything, the only way to get ahead will be to have less. Deprivation will become the new luxury. We'll spin it as simplicity. Hippies will be cool again. And I will have status as a fan user.
But in the meantime, all these electronic conveniences lead to instant gratification: instant messaging, instant information, instant credit, movies on demand, 5,000 songs in your front pocket. No one waits for anything anymore - not for letters to arrive or photos to be developed, not for the library to open. Most people can't even wait to save money for the things they want. They just get a new credit card.
As parents, we hope our kids will refrain from sex and drinking as long as possible, yet we provide them with no training in withholding pleasure from themselves. They get what they want when they want it. They expect too much because we give them too much.
I also plead guilty to giving my teenagers too much, to making their lives too impossibly easy. But by giving them a fan instead of an air conditioner, I'm giving them a chance to have something their friends don't have. I'm giving them the opportunity to practice waiting - for the hot spell to break. Or for the independence that will allow them to get their own air conditioner to arrive.
I'm giving them the chance to say to their kids, "When I was a kid, we didn't even have an air conditioner." I'm giving them a chance to ponder their place in the universe from the vantage point of a sleepless night in a hot room.
That's a luxury not many middle-class kids have today.
• Jim Sollisch is creative director for an advertising agency.