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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.

New York City, July 8, 2014

★★ Armpits. Men had given up or allowed themselves to give up and were walking around wearing tank tops. Early clouds, separated by fissures of blue, had drawn briefly together and then dispersed, leaving the sun impeded. Leaves tossed in a not at all cooling wind. A truck forced its way through a crosswalk, sending its rear wheels up over the curb for extra emphasis. A man with a butterfly of sweat darkening the back of his pale orange shirt body-checked his way off the B train, desperate to reach the A across the platform. Up on the street, a woman fanned herself with a folding fan in mid-stride, then folded it away again. BMW motorcycles, plural, were parked at the curb, and Vespas, with innumerable bicycles up on the sidewalk. The air in the shade felt hot and solid; the sun hurt. The buildings on Broadway needed to be taller. Even toward dusk, as the departing light traced the verticals on the Empire State Building, it was still stifling out. Only long after dark did a sudden rush of wind relieve it. READ MORE

New York City, July 7, 2014

★ A pigeon puffed up and hunkered down in the top level of the fountain. The heat was baking, but still not crushing or unbearable; it raised a sweat but not a soaking one. A seed puff floated along at a companionable pedestrian rate till it reached the windward edge of a dumpster and sank. Cold streams of air conditioning crossed the sidewalk. On the subway, a bright-eyed young woman told a young man on other side of the doorway that she was heading to the beach, that she was going to see a movie there, that her birthday had just passed. They smiled back and forth and chatted for a few stops, and then they lapsed into the silence of strangers and he put his earbuds in. A man with a bucket partially tore down some posters from a plywood barrier, then started brushing on a poster of his own. The air conditioning drip pattered on the awning of the office entrance. It was still baking hot as the sun lowered, blindingly. A wash of taxi-colored light passed all the way under a cab, lighting the Broadway pavement. Late at night, the orange sky was raked with lightning bolts. Their shapes registered through eyelids, on uncorrected and astigmatic eyes. Rain crunched against the windows.

New York City, July 6, 2014

★★★★ Out in the open, the clarity was a bit punishing. Noise seemed muffled, the colors bleached out. The side street was tranquilizingly dark and breezy; the avenues piercingly hot. Just inside the Park, liquid birdsong flowed. A sparrow ate a Cheerio in the shade of a parked stroller, crunching it with sharp, predatory strokes of its beak. Indoors, a small and active fly had ridden the fresh air currents through the window, and the relative dimness made it all but impossible to pick out and track. The once-empty blue sky acquired a few ribbons and dotted clusters of white. A hot eddy lifted and spun some sidewalk garbage. Heavy-duty squirt guns took up positions around the playground; a boy in a wheelchair, injured leg elevated, carried one across his lap while another boy pushed him in and out of combat. Even in the benevolently shadowed end of afternoon, the unfiltered sun was harsh wherever it reached. The heat from the kitchen stove, combining with the late-day sun load, was overwhelming. The air conditioning had to come back on.

New York City, July 2, 2014

★★★★ Haze stained the horizon. A man in a sportshirt sat on a bench with a newspaper in his lap, chin on his chest, apparently dozing. The garbage smell of Prince Street was stronger than ever. Storms were closing in, but as thunder rumbled in the late-afternoon, the menace still seemed theoretical. The west was gray, the east blue, the sky in between unsettled. By Columbus Circle, the light coming down the station stairs was dusk-blue, two and a half hours early. At 72nd Street, it was dark and raining hard, but not too hard to walk through without an umbrella. A pedestrian went sprinting across oncoming traffic, unnecessarily unwilling to wait for the signal. The rain abated to scattered drops, just long enough for the walk home from the store, then came splashing down harder than before. Whitish clouds were moving underneath the inky ones. Lighting flashed again and again. The seven-year-old, counting the interval between light and sound, estimated it was a fifth of a mile off. The show continued all through dinner: starkly defined lightning bolts, an amplified snare-drum roll of thunder, the downpour in the dark. And then, from behind the silhouetted apartment towers, a fiery yellow glow appeared. It spread up the western sky, dispelling the premature night, a sunrise in reverse. Photographs of the sky's colors are always disappointing and inaccurate, and there was no sense even trying now. Everything was in that lambent, elusive register. The lemon yellow went to an orange-chased purple, through improbable intermediate stages, as it gradually stopped spreading. Time flowed its usual way again; the bright fraction of the sky got smaller and more intensely orange. Still there were white slashes of lightning above it.

New York City, July 1, 2014

★★ A house sparrow wallowed on its side in a planter, its gray feathers fluffed and disheveled. The air was institutional plexiglass. Passengers on the platform stepped toward the doorway of a 1 train car and flinched back, feeling the lack of air conditioning. The air conditioning on the B train was working and dripping copiously into the car. Outside, a stagnant patch of shade was no better than direct sun. The heat grew thicker in the streets–nothing extraordinary, just conventionally sweltering. Nowhere was comfortable, even as the sun fell behind the buildings. On the way down Broadway to find gelato, the two-year-old was a squirmy, ever hotter and grumpier burden on the neck and shoulders. The return trip would be by subway: the trains inexplicably late, the station air stupefyingly hot. Dessert was soft in its styrofoam box after one stop.