Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hot Fun in the Summertime

Okay fellaz, it's my favorite time of year. SUMMER! And it's a hot one. I'm a hot weather nut; sue me. I'm not walking around in a haze of depression. My body, mind and spirit are open to the sensual pleasures of the season. The simple pleasures that you don't experience in your air conditioned room. The feel of the wind against your chest. The sound of leaves rustling in the breeze. The sight of people in parks and playgrounds, all sizes and colors, having fun. The feel of my chest heaving and muscles pumping on a run, of sunshine on my shoulders, of my body glistening with sweat. The ethereal spiritual experience of davening minha in Prospect Park, dressed in running clothes, surrounded by natural beauty and children at play. Rav Nachman of Bratslav [Bratislava, Slovakia] used to leave town to daven in natural settings; maybe he knew something that today's uptight gedolim don't.

You can't run in Brooklyn without straying out of your immediate neighborhood, in my case Midwood. Go to the north and east (Crown Heights, Prospect Park, Brownsville, East New York) or south (Coney Island) and you see a commodity that is increasingly rare in Midwood - real men. Men who respect themselves enough to take care of themselves. Men who are strong and vital. Men like the one you see here are not at all unusual outside the frum community. They refresh my soul, and provide a needed antidote to the ever-increasing number of poor excuses of men I see in shul, men with fat bellies that resemble those of pregnant women. Call me a Hellenist, but these people offend my esthetic sensibilities and, along with the building being overcooled, sabotage the experience of tefilla. In my peregrinations outside the frum community I see men after my own heart; they enjoy the season and are not above having a little fun. And guess how many times I was physically attacked or threatened by any of them? Zero. Zilch. Zip. Nada. We pass each other and no words need be spoken. A wink, a nod, a gesture communicates the message. We belong to the fraternity of the fit, the brotherhood of real men. We're better than all those weaklings cooped up in their air conditioned rooms letting life pass them by.

And yet I'm surrounded, as I never am in the bleak winter, by people whining and kvetching. Oh, it's soooooo hot. It's boiling. It's gross. And the government chimes in with its "heat advisories." Let the temperature break 90 F and the public health authorities are telling people to stay inside with the air conditioner, don't go out, don't God forbid do anything strenuous. This in a society where more than half of all people, children included, are overweight or obese; I suppose the fat pigs outside the frum community heed these warnings and stay indoors when the weather gets hot. When you're writing heat advisories for the majority in New York, you're writing them for the fat, the weak and the self-pampered. So let me take a stab at writing a heat advisory for strong, fit men - and any females who actually use their bodies instead of merely inhabiting them (I think of them as "honorary men").

1. Stay away from air conditioning as much as possible, except on fast days when you can't drink. In about two weeks you will acclimatize to the heat and actually feel cold in temperatures you consider warm in the winter. Our ancestors made their living chasing down big game on foot in a tropical climate; our genes have not changed much since then. Going in and out of air conditioned surroundings confuses the brain; it doesn't know what temperature regime to adjust to.

2. Hydration, hydration and hydration. You need water, and also salts (sodium and potassium) to replace what you lose in sweat. Carry money on your runs so you can stop in a convenience store and get something to drink. Powerade and now Gatorade are certified by the Orthodox Union.

3. Sweat is not ucky, yucky and gross. It's the precious gift that nature and nature's God gave us to cool our bodies in hot weather. If you're a kohen in the Beit Hamikdash sweat is a bad thing (Ezekiel 44:18); otherwise it's just fine, thank you. Expose as much skin as you dare; the more surface area for sweat to evaporate from, the better. If you should stop sweating during a run, that is cause for concern.

4. Take it easy in high humidity since humid air impedes evaporation of sweat, but don't retire to your room unless you're feeling really bad. Just go slower and shorter.

5. Monitor your body. Pay attention to the color and volume of your urine. Copious amounts of clear or pale yellow urine means you're okay, just keep drinking. Scant and deep yellow urine means you're dehydrated; drink plenty and slow down. Every so often, taste your sweat; just lick a fresh drop from your shoulder or above your lip. If it tastes salty, slow down, have a sports drink and/or eat a salty snack. You might find yourself craving potato chips. If you're on a low salt diet consult your physician, preferably an athletic one. If your sweat does not taste salty- good news! You're acclimatized! A hormone called aldosterone kicked in, and it's keeping the sodium in your blood where it belongs. It's also washing away potassium, so drink some orange juice (o.j. on ice is one of the simple pleasures of the season) and/or eat a banana when you get home. If you're sweating profusely and feeling okay, it's all right to push yourself a little.

6. Use sunscreen but don't obsess over it. When I was a kid suntan lotion had SPF numbers of 4 to 8; anything over 15 was considered overkill. Unless your skin is extremely fair, melanocytes (cells containing dark pigment) will rise to the surface and protect you, but blocking out the sun completely blocks the signal for this response to kick in.

7. If you feel dizzy, lightheaded or cold (!), or you notice that you stopped sweating, do not push yourself. Stop running (or other vigorous activity), seek shade (or air conditioning) and drink lots of fluid. If you don't feel better in a few minutes, seek medical attention. If you do feel better, call it a day and take it easy the next day.

8. When you get home, drink l'chaim on a sports drink and enjoy a cool shower. Let yourself go. Whoop and holler if you feel like it. Revel in the irony. Savor it was you would good wine. You've earned it.

All Jews to the showers!

9. Seek the company of other athletes and avoid that of whiners and kvetches. They just make others as miserable as they are. You deserve to get every last bit of enjoyment out of the summer. It does not last nearly long enough in these parts.


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Anonymous sticklerforaccuracyoninsignificantdetails said...

Rav Nachman of Bratslav [Bratislava, Slovakia]

Bratslav (a/k/a Breslov) is NOT Bratislava, Slovakia, which was always referred to in Jewish circles by its German name, Pressburg.

Sat Oct 23, 11:40:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Zev Stern said...

Thanks for correcting me. I'm a stickler too; I'm a ba'al koreh so what do you expect?

Sat Oct 23, 11:26:00 PM EDT  

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