When the swamp cooler kicked at 7:00 in the morning it woke me with a dusty funk. Unlike the first ignition of the heater in winter when the hot air on the cold metal vent emits a choking burnt dust smell, the swamp cooler blows hot desert air through water-soaked hemp pads, creating a muddy, slightly fishy aroma. Maybe the pads were doused in some kind of coolant or mold retardant back then, or maybe it was simply the mustiness of bacteria and mold spores that grew during winter, but hempish-chemical combination always reminded me of the inside of the Rexall pharmacy and the local hippie health food co-op at the same time. Once the cooler got going awhile, the odor dissipated. But despite the odd funk, the first burst of air in those ninety-degree Tucson mornings always smelled like a promise of relief.
That promise was always broken in the hundred-plus degree afternoons where we’d seek relief in the local pool. I spent hours with the neighborhood kids, going in and out of the cool- chlorine-and-warm-pee water. When our fingers got too pickled and pruny, we pressed our shivering bodies against our sun-warmed towels that were laid out on the concrete deck. We inhaled the chlorinated steam rising from the cement, filtered through Tide-scented towels. By the time we walked across the park to our cinder-block house across the street, we were hot and dry again. I would plant myself directly under the hallway vent of the swamp cooler lifting my matted hair off my neck. My dad invariably shooed me away, warning of catching coldor a stiff neck.” Then Mom would pull me by the ponytail into the bathroom with a brush in her hand for a half-hour of tangled hair torture.
Naturally, by the teenage years, I defied my parents. Standing under the swamp cooler vent for as long as I wanted in my navy blue daisy bikini, I combed my own hair with a wide-tooth comb. The perfumed spritz No More Tears conditioner in the swamp-cooled air created a new promise— one of peace, freedom, and independence.
- Judy Geraci