Crazy From the Heat 

Stolen cool is the best cool of all

Stolen cool is the best cool of all

In my formative years, back home in South Carolina, air-conditioning was an uncommon thing. I can’t remember feeling any air-conditioning until I was about 15. Except for a cool stretch around Christmastime, every place I went, inside or outside, was either bathwater-hot or hell-hot.

At school, all the way from first grade through my first two years of college, the only air-conditioning came from opening the transoms. The teachers would make us fold our arms and put our heads down on our desks after second recess. Fifteen minutes later, all of us slid our sweaty heads up out of our little arm-cradles and made accordion fans out of Blue Horse notebook paper.

At the Jowers house, the air-tepidizing unit was one Hunter Zephair fan, stuck in the kitchen window. We fired it up in suck mode, and it pulled air and unsuspecting gnats through the windows for 20 years.

In 1969, the Zephair was forced into semi-retirement. That year, my father, Jabo, found a central heat-and-air unit on the side of the road. Since he was a sheet metal man by trade, Jabo had no problem installing the ductwork.

Problem was, this mighty unit was designed for some big-ass building, at the side of some industrial road. When it went active, the curtains blew up to the ceiling, and the temperature in the house plummeted about 10 degrees in two minutes. The whole house crackled like ice cubes dumped into hot tea.

The giant unit was fractious, and only Jabo could keep it humming. So when Jabo dropped dead while trying to boogaloo in the summer of 1971, the unit got powerfully lonely and followed him to the grave. The Zephair was back on duty.

One day in 1975, while Brenda and I were taking a nap, the Zephair locked up and starting oozing blue smoke. No amount of lubrication would revive it. This was during a period when Brenda was in nursing school, and my band was in serious rehearsals, preparing to quit our day gigs and go full-out, full-time. Brenda would spend the hottest parts of the day in the air-conditioned comfort of USC-Aiken, while I stuck to a vinyl recliner, hearing my song creations spun back to me through the breezebox fan on the table next to me. The band perfected the songs late at night, rehearsing in what used to be the dining room.

That summer, there was a spell when it was 100 degrees every day. The house started to mildew. The black fuzz started at the baseboards and worked its way up to about knee-high. One day, the mildew took hold on the Tolex covering of our Electrovoice Eliminator I vocal monitors. Stan, the sound man, was pissed off.

Like any other good sound man, Stan was first and foremost a band enabler. If we needed anything that would advance the band cause, and it could be had without anybody getting killed, Stan would get it. For instance, when the band had out-of-town gigs, Stan would meet us at the filling station and whip out the charge card of his daytime employer, Baker Brothers. If we were going a long way, Baker Brothers would buy us a number of gas cans and pay for us to fill them up as well.

Now that I think about it, Stan got the sound man gig because he could get unlimited quantities of duct tape from Baker Brothers. Because Baker Brothers was...a heating-and-air-conditioning supply house. Stan and I never talked about it, but one day I came home and found a brand-new, still-in-the-shipping-crates heat-and-air system sitting in my driveway. I read the manuals, bought $200 worth of supplies, and hooked the thing up. The mildew died. The band stayed cool.

When the time came for the band to go on the road, we all quit our jobs the same day. Kem, the drummer (and band truck mechanic), drove his Claussen Paving dumptruck to a job site and unloaded his cargo of man-size riprap, not in the designated area but in the middle of the access road. Never did like that foreman, he said.

Hop, the bass player, quit high school. Just walked in one Friday morning with a note that said, “Please excuse me for the next two years. I’ve got a rock-and-roll appointment.”

Rick, the other guitar player, asked Kem to make a list of all the things that might possibly break down on the band’s four-ton GMC truck. He took Kem’s list, drove his pickup truck to his job—at the auto-parts warehouse—and gathered all manner of lights, lifters, filters, cables, hoses, tires and one transmission and stored ’em all in my garage.

But Stan couldn’t make himself quit Baker Brothers. When it came time to pull the trigger, he couldn’t walk away from an unsupervised management position that paid enough money to make the payments on a spankin’-new gold Grand Prix. A year later, Stan got fired for growing marijuana plants in the Baker Brothers warehouse, and he took a job as a school-bus driver. He left that gig and finagled a job as a South Carolina highway patrolman. He was still a band friend, and he got us good mace, which Brenda eventually used in 1984 in the New York subway.

Stan’s been gone for quite a while. His marriage went bad, and it was more than he could tolerate. He did, finally, pull the trigger.

Can’t say I’m still mourning here, all these years later, but every day when I walk into my house, which I keep at 68 degrees on the Nixon scale, I give a little psychic wave to Jabo and Stan, who gave me good A/C when I needed it most. I’m staying cool, guys.

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