Congratulations Southern Californians, autumn -- or something resembling it -- has finally arrived. It's been a long, dry, flame-engulfed road, but I'm glad to say (and I hope this won't jinx it ) that we probably won't hit 95 degrees again for at least five or six months.
Around here, 95 degrees is practically Halloween weather. It's what kids sitting in un-air-conditioned classrooms endure for the first 80 days of the school year. Ninety-five degrees is, well, better than 100 degrees, which is what it was in downtown L.A. on Oct. 1. If you live at the beach, I'm not talking to you -- and, yes, I'm jealous.
FOR THE RECORD:
Weather: Meghan Daum's Nov. 29 column said it was 93 degrees on Oct. 15. It was 93 on Nov. 15. It also referred to post-solstice temperature records. Fall temperature records are post-equinox. —
Even when we're not hitting post-solstice records, we're talking temperatures that lurch from 60 degrees to 85 degrees within a few hours. We're talking about a sun that, like a drunk party guest, doesn't know when to let up. We're talking about weather reporters who can't seem to keep their promises. They say 76 and it ends up hitting 85 by noon. It's not that the weather folks are lying, of course. It's more like the forces of hope and logic have overridden their sense of reality. Or maybe they're just being mystical, believing that if they "visualize" something less than 80 degrees, cosmic forces will make it "manifest."
I know we celebrate our "perfect weather," insofar as it applies to our nearly constant sunny days and an entire population that has no idea what snow chains are, but we pay a hefty tariff for those privileges, and that tariff is called fall.
Want to wear shorts in March? That means no sweaters in October. Want your entire shoe collection to consist of flip-flops and Crocs? You have now forfeited your right to sleep under a down blanket with crisp air coming through an open window -- at least until the start of Hanukkah. Want to raise children who are so unburdened by the labors of the season that they look at a rake and assume it's a piece of abstract art? That comes at a price too, and it's roughly equivalent to what you're paying your gardener.
For natives of these parts, such sacrifices may be no big deal. But for transplants -- which, let's face it, most of us are -- the where's-fall phenomenon not only robs us of our God-given right to go pumpkin shopping in something other than a tank top, it disrupts our circadian rhythms. Six years ago this September, when I moved to L.A. from the Midwest after a typical marathon summer of swampy heat and biting insects and tornado sirens, I remember feeling like I'd finished one race only to be asked to immediately run another. The idea of living through consecutive summers seemed immoral -- or at least like the premise of a mediocre "Twilight Zone" episode.
Worse, though, I'd grown up in the East. And when you grow up in the East, fall isn't just a season, it's the idealized version of your entire life. It's the time of year for crunching through leaves and smelling your neighbor's chimney smoke and feeling good about life even if your parents are getting divorced and you're definitely going to fail your math test tomorrow. It's the time of year when even your weird, misanthropic uncle can feel cozy and happy just by putting on a turtleneck and sipping hot cider while listening to Vivaldi. It's practically the entire reason the L. L. Bean catalog was invented.
So suffice it to say that a few weeks ago when the sun was setting over the late afternoon traffic but my dashboard readout said it was 90 degrees, I was downright angry. I was angry not only because, thanks to the wildfires, my sensorial memories of chimney smoke had given way to the sensation of sticking my head down a chimney, but because no one seemed willing to admit the truth, which is that the heat and the winds weren't an exception but the dismal rule: When it's supposed to be crisp and beautiful, it's hot and unhealthy and you cannot wear clothes from L. L. Bean.
But then a funny thing happens. November starts to peter out and it rains a little and suddenly you're eating turkey and wearing a sweater. And in Southern California, that's a reason to give thanks.