Heating it up 

The smell of cocoa butter, cheap rum and burning charcoal creeps under the blankets and up my nose like one of those urban myth insects that devours your brain while you’re sleeping. I try to ignore it and the already-warm rays of morning sunlight shining in through the window, but before I can pull last night’s empty pizza box over my head for shelter, the Lizard of Fun bursts into the room.

"Wake up!" it shouts, clacking a pair of barbecue tongs. "It’s officially summer!"

"Nuh-uh," I say sleepily. "Not until June somethingth."

"OK, then why did that paper you write for make a summer guide already?"

"They’re progressive, I guess."

The Lizard ignores me, and gets busy smearing itself with cocoa butter. "Whatever, whatever. Who cares? We can celebrate summer early. Do you want barbecued eggs for breakfast?" For some of us, summer is a time of unbridled revelry, a nonstop funfest from May to September. ("Who thinks that?" asks the Lizard, adjusting its beer-funnel hat.)

Such folks love everything about summer – barbecues, beaches, bare skin – and, most of all, love to revel in the scorching heat. "Hey, for us cold-blooded ones, summer’s as good as it gets," says the Lizard.

For others, summer is a season of slow torture – think about how it feels to be an oven-baked potato and you’re on the right track. We’d rather freeze our butts off in air-conditioned comfort for five months than set foot outdoors when the mercury rises.

"Aw, come on," says the Lizard, dragging me out to where the barbecue is already radiating heat waves into the warming morning. "How can you not like summer? It’s the only time of year when fun is officially on the agenda. Have you ever heard of ‘February fun’? Or perhaps ‘November frolic’? It just don’t happen."

True enough. Summer is the time for craziness, urban myths and other strange phenomena. It’s no fun watching for UFOs when you’re experiencing the cold of outer space in your own back yard, and remember, crop circles might turn up in suburban lawns from time to time, but when was the last time you heard of a snow circle? And then there’s that old belief that more murders happen when the temperature hits 93 degrees. "And I’ll bet they’re perpetrated by party poopers who get weird when the lights come on at closing time, too," says the Lizard.

"That proves my point. Summer has become dangerous. We don’t know how to handle it any more."

"Freak girl, let me point out that you’re the one who faints at the sight of an ice cream truck, not me," says the Lizard, tossing strips of bacon on the barbecue. "Rare or well-done?"

Protecting yourself from summer isn’t all that bizarre an idea, really. These days, you need to protect yourself from all kinds of previously innocuous activities, such as eating deli meat or attending high school.

"Yeah, those wacky teenage fads," says the Lizard. "Last year it was baggy pants and tongue piercings. This year it’s bomb threats and assault weapons. What’s next, amputating limbs for kicks? Did you know lizards can drop their tails when under threat? I’ll start a trend!"

"I’m serious," I say, putting on my sunglasses and floppy hat, and moving to the shade of a new-leafed tree. "Summer doesn’t mean carefree living any more. That barbecue lighter fluid you’re using, for example – that’s part of the problem. It’s bad for the ozone. And that barbecued bacon, well, some scientists think it could be carcinogenic."

"Whining is carcinogenic," says the Lizard. "You want fries with this?"

It’s gotten to the point where summer is one big hazardous minefield – you try to get cool, you find out the air conditioner is bad for the atmosphere. You put the top down and go for a car ride, it makes smog. You head out to the woods for some deep shade, and repellent-immune mosquitoes the size of crows are already hanging out, listening to Ted Nugent CDs.

So, you try to enjoy the sun, but because all those air conditioners, cars and spray cans have wrecked the ozone layer, you have to wear sunscreen thick enough to be sewn into trousers.

"Enough!" shouts the Lizard, serving up a plateful of breakfast. "I can’t have fun under these circumstances!"

"What, because it’s impossible to get comfortable?" I ask, dodging a dive-bombing bumblebee.

"No, because it’s impossible to enjoy a beautiful summer morning when someone’s complaining their ass off!"

I take a bite of chargrilled hash browns. They’re not bad. The sky is blue and the sun, yes, is shining.

"Well," I say tentatively, "I suppose this beats standing in line for three hours in the middle of the night just to buy a Darth Maul action figure."

The Lizard threatens to put my precious Phantom Menace figure directly onto the grill.

"Hey," it says with a grin. "If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the season."

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