★★ The coolness was gone again, even at eight in the morning. Teens abled with their backpacks and another teen with a backpack hurried to catch up. A napkin flapped down to the plaza in the clear light. Cirrus clouds wisped this way and that on the sky. In the evening, a breeze pushed back on the way down into the subway steps, sustained like the air coming over a sailboat's prow. No such wind reached the midblock stretches east of Penn Station, becalmed in the oncoming dark.
★★★★ Smells moved individually on the air currents, rather than hanging together in one stale accumulated stench. The sun had a little sharpness to it, but high clouds screened the worst of it and it no longer had the angles to unleash its full power. Summer's late bid at awfulness had collapsed like all its previous attempts. The roof was pleasantly warm, mingling with moments of pleasant coolness. Ample late light reflected gold here, copper there. Only in the subway platforms and the apartment building's back hallway was the air still close and hot.
[No stars] The long-lost dog days had trotted up to the door, weeks late and unapologetic, smelling of decayed things they'd rolled in. Overhead was a bleary mix of haze and thin unbounded cloud. A blinding glare reflected off oncoming cars and the surface of a grime-speckled curbside puddle. Production-crew workers were sticking greenery into the chain-link fence around the non-public garden, till it combined with the flourishing street trees to present a sinister jungle lushness. By midday the sky had settled out into blue and white, and the heat had not gone much beyond the earlier unpleasantness. Visible haze had abated at rush hour, but the air was thick and dead. Down in the subway, the atmosphere was nauseating, unbreathably thick and laced with rot and air freshener, or rotted air freshener. Worn-out sunflowers leaned against a community garden fence, and behind them were dead brown corn stalks and ragged-looking broccoli. Out in the night, the air had begun moving, but it was no more refreshing than the stagnant air had been. On the way back from the supermarket—with bags of near-overripe fruit and dispiriting vegetables—a sustained wind blew up the avenue, hot and full of construction dust, raising a heavier sweat to catch and hold the flying grit.
★★★ Mist gathered on the windshield of the car and trickled up it in the darkness. The wipers swept it clear and it accumulated again. Orion and Sirius were up in the sky. Off to the left, down low, the sky was beginning to lighten. It grew brighter on one side of the air terminal, ever-lighter blue streaked with lilac. The lilac turned bright pink, then pale pink. Beyond the parking garage, swirls of orange and purple were forming. Out the water-streaked window of the shabby old regional jet, white edges started to show. The plane taxied past what looked like the previous night's unused plane, then cleared the end of the building, and the sun itself came into view. It had an unpleasant brown tint to it. The engines pushed; the condensation streamed away; the plane rose. Pines receded in a blurry haze. The raw pink earth of a nascent subdivision passed below. Now the sky around was striated in Greek-restaurant blues and whites. Far away to the east were near-vertical cumulus formations, towers or sugarloaf mountains. The sun was clean white and warm against the cold unchecked blasts from the broken overhead air conditioner valve. A pebbly layer of clouds slid under the plane, and then a lumpy thick one, a landscape of unreal hills, cliffs, a river delta. And past that, in the far middle distance: a whole metropolis, a Manhattan of blocky phantom buildings crowded together, stretching on and on. It lasted till the plane banked and descended through blank gray, then on through layers on layers of clouds, a napoleon of light and shadow, till there was a glimpse of solid prosaic cul-de-sac landscape below. Then there were city roofs, rectangles shining within rectangles, and waters speckled with sailboats, and then as the silhouette of the plane crossed an apartment tower, the distant hazy outline of the actual Manhattan. From the ground, the only sign of the extravagances overhead was one ragged ivory mass, under mundane-looking cirrus. The deep freeze of the M60 bus opened out onto a hot stench of garbage. The morning streets were quiet. A white pigeon, flecked with a few spots of black, strolled on the bricks outside the apartment building. By midday more clouds had gathered. The two-year-old was a little disheveled in his swing on the playground. In the Gray's Papaya it was stifling enough to raise a sweat. The clouds kept moving through the afternoon, piling up, turning lovely purples and golds by dinnertime, as the seven-year-old spotted rocket ships and passengers in their shapes. Out in the dusk, an airplane flying medium-high over Amsterdam Avenue clipped the bottom of one low cloud and for a moment its shape grew indistinct, while its lights solidified into a yellow fan. A moon just shy of the first quarter stood above the ballet theater as Eugene Onegin played on the screen on the opera house, to an audience completely filling the plaza. Body odor wafted from the seats. The seven-year-old stood to the side and ate gelato and listened to the music; the two-year-old ate gelato and looked at the screen and pointed out when an airplane passed.
★★★ It was not hot yet on the way to nine in the morning, over wet, newly washed sidewalks. The air had gotten clearer overnight; the sky was a sharp blue. Cigarette smoke floated in the early light on 81st Street. The heat and haze came on, but with no power to chase people away. A group sat in the shade in the not-really public park with food, a stroller, a little dog in a harness. The tops of the honeylocusts in the sun were a green fluffy line going down the street. The clouds were blurry and discolored, even relatively high in the sky to the north. The warmth stayed in the streets after the direct sun was gone. Still, going up into it was more appealing than waiting on the hot platform for a 1 train for a forecast six minutes. A blinding shaft of light from the lower middle of One57 lit the faces of people sitting on benches on the Broadway median—three blocks up and more than a full crosstown block over—and went on to hit the sidewalk and building face on the west side of the street. Sewage smells came from someplace, or places. A light sweat came on, in proportion to the accumulated exertion of the walk. Bright orange spots appeared in the sky, maybe a half-dozen different possible cloud-screened suns. Then they resolved into a single thick pink streak.
★★★ Haze stained the edge of the sky. The two-year-old decided he wanted a sweatshirt, and had to be talked into settling for putting it in his backpack. The air was thicker and more difficult to breathe than it had been for weeks. By any standard other than the blissfully anomalous one of the preceding weeks, though, conditions were still gentle. The subway platform was not quite stifling, but the blast of air from an incoming train felt refreshing. The air conditioning on the crowded 1 was up to the task, by a narrow margin. On the D, condensation dripped and puddled on a seat. Aboveground was nicer than below. The haze submerged the Empire State Building and the Freedom Tower, but at midday, an enormous pile of snow-white cumulus stayed pristine up above it all. Even as the western sky went gray-white, a little freshness lingered. A Japanese maple on a rooftop stood up purple-red against the sky. Heat ripples cast wavy, trembling shadows on the apartment wall as the sun slipped behind the neighboring towers.
★★★★ An orange flash of sunrise came off a building to the west and through a crack in the blinds. The morning was cool still but humid. The uptown train came to a stop with a wash of heat across the platform, raising a sweat. On the ride downtown, a couple carried matching beach chairs. Every line of mortar was distinct in the upper-story brickwork. By midday, up on the roof, the sun was hot. It was pleasant to let it pin the body down in a chair, to feel the black plastic hot but not hot enough to hurt through a shirt. One eye had to stay squinted shut for a while, till acclimation set in. A blue-white haze enfolded an airplane and tinted the Freedom Tower; a blue-white glow flooded the retinas. By rush our the streets were shady and cool again, with a breeze moving through them. Dazzling beams of light came through gaps in the buildings without warning. The sun went down behind a line of bright-rimmed blue clouds, with nacreous ones above.
★★★★★ Sunshine came slamming down, and the shade was near opaque by contrast. Out on the Sheep Meadow bodies were mashed into the grass, and the grass without bodies on it was mashed down by the bodies of days before. The children made for the rocks and the trees beyond, in the farthest corner of the meadow. Walking across the open space in full sun was one of the few ways to feel uncomfortably warm. The big cumulus clouds were visibly moving at first glance, but seemed to slow down under inspection. One of them drifted over the sun, and the silvery deposits in the nearest boulder glimmered instead of shining. A bare-chested man with a ponytail and wristbands climbed quickly up the biggest rock and flattened himself out, blue-lensed sunglasses to the heavens. A huge clot of fungus was swelling from the foot of one of the oaks, and a Paraphidippus jumping spider clambered up the trunk, its metallic green markings flashing. The children sat on a bench in the shade to eat hot dogs and a stale pretzel, accompanied by irregular thumps from the sand volleyball court. A breeze found the small of the back. The two-year-old hopped down from his seat and tried out a volleyball stance. A cloud big enough to achieve grayness made things so dim, for the moment, that one of the street lights came on. Foreshortened from the edge, the Sheep Meadow was so full it was almost impossible to find a vertical or horizontal line of open green across it. On the next lawn over, a young man threw his leg over the backs of a young woman's thighs and pressed his face into hers. The gray clouds held their majority, or at least a ruling coalition with the white. All day the balance kept shifting. The afternoon sky in the west out the windows looked as if the clouds were still keeping control, but outside, the east and the zenith revealed themselves to be wholly uncontested blue.
★★★★★ White haze surrounded the sun. The forecast of showers—deferred so many days now—seemed plausible for the first time. The story-time room at the library, into which the children had stumbled, unwitting, was chilly with air conditioning but humid nonetheless. Conditions were more comfortable out in the slatted shade of the library garden, bordered by roses and planted with dark purple foliage. Toward midday, two age-thickened men contemplated their motorcycles. A gigantic insect, near hummingbird size, flew among the branches of a pine. Down at the shore, the air was perfect, the sun cut by clouds passing. The water too was ideal. Big swells dipped to reveal a white ship far off, then rose to obstruct the view of the ship, then rose even higher as the first obstruction passed and the trough descended. Gulls gathered just above the waves, clustering and stabbing at the water; pelicans flew by low. The whole surface was rimpled, the sides of the wavelets roughened by their own little disturbances. Off to the north, parallel lines of blurry gray stretched from inland out to sea, but the brightness remained nearby. Fine misty spray shone above the usual splashing. The ocean carried the body and absorbed the mind. One hundred fifty yards, nearly two hundred, slid away. The walk back to the beach chairs was so long it seemed as if some mistake must have been made. A sanderling, bone-white streaked with black, ran on the wetted sands. People had built sand castles and embankments, and the tide advanced on them. The two-year-old edged out onto the last of the dry sand, then agreed to try the foam. Minutes later he was dangling in the full frothing surf, suspended by his armpits, kicking and splashing in wild defiance of or identification with the rushing waters. He yelled at the sea, his shirt wet past the chest. Even the hike up the back of the beach, the usually hot and tedious expanse of sand, was comfortable. The sky grayed over, till sunset was nothing but a darkening. Wrens chattered with a harsh insectoid rattle at a cat in their shrubbery. The surf at dusk boomed like incipient thunderstorms. Deep in the night, the real thunder came, and white lightning.
★★★★ The little patch of ocean view lay in bands of color: clear pale blue sky, deep blue water, green grass, yellow sand. The pockets of the second swim trunks harbored old sand and old cash, washed and dried at least a year before. The low-tide waves were not choppy or obviously threatening, but they came in heavy and variable; out past the sandy churning, amid the calmer swells, a bigger one would suddenly rear up at face-smacking height. The water tasted more bitter than usual. Hours later, despite a rinse off, sand grains were still turning up in the creases of the eyelids. A tan dust on the rental car's windshield scattered the afternoon sun. The biggest tower of the playground climber cast the only useful patch of shade on the wood chips. An osprey passed overhead and into the blinding sunlight with a glimpse of what looked like a fish, silver and floppy, in its grasp. The grill smoked, and the shadows of the miscellaneous plants in the sand around it grew long. The two-year-old, up on the deck at the rear of the house, thrust an arm and a leg through the railing, catching the light, trusting in his support. The band of sky and the band of sea were now dissolving into each other, undifferentiated blue.