New York City, July 22, 2014

★ It was still cool in the morning, though with an undercurrent of dread at where the humidity might be taking things. At the far end of the West Fourth basketball court, a lone figure shot free throws. The oncoming sun, clearing the buildings, found haze on the air and greenish dust on the parked cars. A pale scrap of a butterfly, with black-tipped wings, bobbed out over the sidewalk and into a fenced-off bed of weeds. Cornering out of the shade of Broadway into Houston was like stepping into a sluggish river and beginning to wade upstream. But the struggle passed. Midday approached and the sky showed brown around the edges, but it was still comfortable up on the roof. Down on the streets at lunchtime, the shade continued to offer refuge. The Ukrainian church and the firehouse beside it had their doors open, offering a glimpse of the showpieces in their high dim interiors. Elderly shoppers paused to marvel at a white Mustang with red-and-white seats, parked with its top down. On through the afternoon, whenever the heat threatened, clouds kept intervening.

New York City, July 21, 2014

★ There was a little light in the sky when the artificial voice built into the portable speaker began announcing, loudly and repeatedly, that its battery was dying. There was full daylight when the alarm went off. Despite the promises on the front page of the newspaper, the air was damp, as if it had rolled in with the morning tide and up the island. Children were out wearing camp t-shirts or packing tennis rackets or dressed in dance clothes. Two sparrows had a dogfight in the air over the mouth of the West Fourth Street station steps, sending a feather pinwheeling down and away from them to the sidewalk. In the back room of the bar, the chess tables were still being set up. Further east on Third Street, sheets of sycamore bark lay in the planting beds and on the pavement and draped in the tops of the shrubs. The upper branches were bare waxy yellow. Out of the shade, the sky was full of glare. Clouds covered the midday sun for a moment, then let the shadows fade in again. The sky to the south was yellowish. In the later afternoon, pedestrians on Broadway were sluggish even as a sprightly breeze passed them. The room around the chessboards was still; the chess-campers were lingering somewhere out of doors. They returned at last in their own matching orange shirts, a bright file in the late sun. 

New York City, July 20, 2014

★ Bubbles drifted west on 68th Street in the sunshine. Wheeled conveyances were everywhere: scooters, bicycles, strollers, a wheeled walker. The two-year-old weaved upstream on his scooter through an oncoming line of them. He rolled expectantly up to the fence of the playground, missing the gate, looking over his shoulder at a pony-sized Parks Department garbage truck. Two games of frisbee were going on in the open schoolyard, and a boy in an Eli Manning jersey was place-kicking a football off a tee into the fence. There was humidity on the air, but still it was cool. After the playground and a long, sunny uphill, hot vapor was rising through the vent holes in the crash helmet. He woke from a nap with his head drenched in sweat, the pillow puddled with it. Down the river, in a bleary haze, a cruise ship was slowly heading off. Toward the day's end, the humidity was gone, the sky cloudless, the air near crispness. It was a little chilly for shorts, though it would have been ludicrous to call that discomfort. The sun was still warm on the nape of the neck, even on the rebound from windows on the far side of Columbus and Broadway. Ugly steel balcony railings looked like smoked glass. Groups had formed discussion circles on the edge of the artificial grove at Lincoln Center; one participant, in a surfeit of abandon, was stretched out prone on the hard pavement. The western sky at dinnertime had one swath of tiny clouds in it, strewn like barely cracked peppercorns. The sun had declined enough now that the two-year-old could no longer object to it shining in his face at the table, though if he fidgeted far enough back in his chair, he could play with his silhouette and complain or marvel that it had no eyes. 

New York City, July 17, 2014

★ Unbelievable breezes flowed though the clear, sparkling morning and in the open windows. The breeze blew down Lafayette in cool cloud shade, blew across Prince in the returning sunlight. Mothers wore jean shorts; men rolled trousers to show socks or ankles. Some gray gathered over Lower Manhattan, then–were there wet spots on the fire escape? If there were, they were gone soon enough, the whole interlude merely a reminder not to take this for granted. It would take more than that to ruin the day. It would take knives falling from the heavens. Now there was nothing in the sky but firm, well-spaced cumulus clouds. The downtown skyline shone. Uptown, the breeze yanked and shook shirttails, hemlines, pants cuffs. It flipped a necktie. Late sun passed right through banks of windows, bounced off other banks of windows. A concrete facade lit up like a lampshade. The breeze raised the river into dark blue ruffles, and the sun lit the stern of a boat cutting through those ruffles, leaving a smooth, brighter wake behind. 

New York City, July 16, 2014

★★★★★ It was cool, utterly cool, under the gray morning. Was it getting brighter? Someone's mirrored shades, approaching up the street, looked suddenly agleam. Downtown, a fresh wind was blowing down the subway steps. The puddle around the blocked drain on the landing, days old now, had dwindled by maybe half. There were white shoe prints in the black silt layer at the bottom. A cyclist pulled out into the bike lane on Lafayette without looking, forcing an oncoming rider on a Citi Bike to swerve and exclaim. The air felt nice on bare arms, in short sleeves. One's own skin was skin, after all, with live nerves in it, something more than a thermoregulating membrane or a layer of waterproofing. By afternoon, the sun was out and shining down. Different cloud types overlayered one another, and warm eddies chased after cool ones. People played music out their car windows at a sociopathically solipsistic volume, the beats forcing their way through the crowded sidewalks, carrying around the corner and up the block. The dining hubbub at open-air tables reached restaurant-interior levels. During the walk home, the colors in the west seemed unusually dull and ugly, gray and a bleached dead off-yellow. From the apartment window, though, the tinted monochrome clouds had something going on with them after all, a photographic-plate quality, a bright amber-white scribble along the top of an undulating row of connected dark gray puffs, with more of that hot white coming up on their lower edge. Subtly, the white burned into the gray, veining it and then shredding it, and an orange light started burning up from below. Even as this developed, the sky a few handspans higher up remained pure indifferent daytime blue, with a milk-white contrail stretching fat and persistent across it and white cirrus above that, a swath of some other sky altogether. Between the high and the low a gray veil darkened into view, like the smoke of something dirty burning. Then the sun got into the gray and raised bright ripples on it, while the lower clouds darkened to inky cutouts. The smoky veil turned brilliant pink. Below it, along the horizon, ran a whole field of fine parallel lines of magenta and orange, with still some sky-blue lines running among them. Abruptly, the veil went dark again. Hot-coal reds showed behind it, and the stripes on the sky were now pink and purple. Then the brightness was gone, yet in the dull afterlight, the blankly silhouetted clouds were three-dimensional again, shaded and textured by a barely luminous brown.

New York City, July 15, 2014

★ Sweltering humidity at its purest, unboosted by any overt solar heat. For once, and briefly, it was worth stepping into the office air conditioning, after the airless stairwell. Then the monstrous chill regained its monstrousness. The outside darkened. Mobile phones whined en masse, if not in perfect synchrony, with arriving flash-flood warnings. Suddenly and quietly a solid downpour was falling–and then came a loud growl of thunder, then a sharp clap of it, then a long sustained boom. Another boom followed, sounding very specifically overhead. The street-side windows were white with rain. A roll and a crash; a roll that turned into a crash. Ten minutes went by, fifteen. The booming abated and the rain became an ordinary steady rain. The sky stayed dark, and it was noticeably cooler. The rain stopped long enough for the fire escape to dry out, then fell again on the evening commute. Once more it stopped, then, with three evenly spaced shell-bursts of thunder, returned for an indefinite soaking.

New York City, July 14, 2014

★★ An indecisive follow-up to the sweeping storms of the night before. Morning was humid gray. A couple crowded into the niche between the turnstile fence and the MetroCard machines to kiss. The air was close and still. Paulownia leaves sprouting from a traffic-calming planting bed found enough breeze to wiggle on, and then a puff of wind delivered a raindrop just below the corner of the mouth. That was all the rain, for a while. The gray became glaring, up on the roof. White edging showed, and a little blue, until it was too bright to read in. Then it darkened and dimmed again. A shower passed, carrying a harbor smell to the Upper West Side, and another arrived. Both were unspectacular.

New York City, July 13, 2014

★★★ Sun emerged, or part-emerged, and dried out the dampened gray morning. The shade was bearable, but the open areas were distressing. It was hard to guess who among the pedestrians had been out exercising and who was just walking around in exercise wear, glazed with sweat. Scrawny ears of corn were packed in ice outside the supermarket. The sun slipped all the way around the thin remaining clouds and struck full in the face like an insult. The clouds recovered; the sky darkened. Then it brightened again, and as it brightened the rain started falling, fine and dense, with pale floating bits in it like snowflakes. Shadows sharpened and reflective surfaces gleamed, while the rain still fell. If there was a rainbow, it stayed out of sight behind the buildings on Broadway as the shower finally subsided to splatting drips. Again the clouds came back, again the sun returned, just in time to play havoc with the contrast on a video call. Then the clouds once more, the sunset few patches of bleached pink. Something black–a bat?–flittered back and forth across the dimming sky outside the window. The night air was thick and unliberating. People arrayed themselves on the sidewalk to eat their sour treats from the chain frozen-yogurt shop. Lightning pulsed in the distance. At bedtime, the storm hit with a smashing sound of rain, louder than the air conditioner, followed by lightning too bright for the blinds. The wind drew sounds from outside and inside the building at once, like breaths on a monstrous low-pitched harmonica.

New York City, July 10, 2014

★★★★ An unexpected sampling of ways not to be unpleasant. The orbital muscles got ready to tighten and then relaxed, in the gentle light of a damp-aired morning. Mellow gray overtook the sky for a long spell, keeping the streets cool. Then abruptly there was almost-full warm sun. The light was clear; the sidewalks were full. Toward sundown, uptown, the neutral gray had come back again. Was air conditioning dripping, or was rain starting to fall? By the end of a trip through the grocery, in and then out on a wide-open express lane, the gray appeared to be resolving back to blue, in the ambiguous tones of dusk. Either way, the far-away west was streaked with glowing pink.

New York City, July 9, 2014

★★★ Morning was sweaty without being hot. Across what had earlier been blue sky, a solid strip of gray had formed, seeming to match the width and position of Manhattan. It stayed there for quite a while. By afternoon, it was gone, and the air was less damp and more pleasant–too pleasant, in fact, to help bake off the effects of the air conditioning when one fled to the fire escape. The gentle breezes were the answer to some unrelated problem. The clouds came back, to gather into dramatic late-day compositions of slate and ivory and rose. One ray of light broke through to light up one street corner, in golden isolation.