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  • Ken Ilgunas


This is not a picture taken of me after going for a run, doing pushups, or eating my famed red-hot rice and bean tacos. This is me after sitting in my van for one minute doing nothing other than taking a series of photos of my sweaty brow.

First, let’s get the clichés out of the way: my van is hotter that a sauna, greenhouse, hell. But in all honesty and embellishments aside, I think the inside of my van may actually be hotter than a sauna and greenhouse (and, very possibly, most people’s perception of hell).

If I spend more than a moment in the van during the day my body percolates sweat enough to give darker hues to my clothes. My skin gets covered with a slick film of sweat, which, when dried, leaves a sticky acidic residue. Testicles are peeled off thighs like velcro and my steering wheel burns like the handle of cast-iron skillet.

The air is syrupy: sweet in smell but oppressive, thick, and heavy. It’s as if the air has actual weight. The wind doesn’t pacify as one might wish; rather, it blows fiery, Africa-hot gusts along scorching asphalt and sun-baked campus lawns.

The sun reigns monarch in its sky-kingdom, bigger and badder than usual, as layers of haze amplify and diffuse the sun’s rays across the upper atmosphere into one giant contour-less blaze like an alien starship out-of-focus.

I was totally and utterly mentally-unprepared for the climate change. Having just left Alaska where the temperature was sinking below freezing at night, I, for some reason, expected summer to be on its way out down here in North Carolina too. Oh, how wrong I was.

Yesterday it was 94 degrees with 75 percent humidity. It’s been like that all week.

This has caused some changes in the routine I established last semester. For one, I simply can’t go in the van for more than five minutes without worrying that it will deplete my sweat reserves. So I don’t go in it during the day, opting to spend my time at the library or under some large, shady tree.

Nor can I cook. This I can’t do because 1. the backpacking stove will increase the van’s temperature even more and 2. my body does not crave and probably cannot handle food that’s been warmed.

I probably could just take my stove and cooking supplies outside and cook my meals on the campus lawn but that’s a dangerous precedent to set as that’s only one small step away from coming out at night in my long underwear to piss in the nearby sewer or to clean my clothes with a washboard under an awning tied to my van’s roof right before I bust out my fiddle.

To adapt, I’ve been eating vegetables raw and devising unique sandwiches like a carrot/salad mix combo. Here I am eating a cantaloupe whole under a tree next to my van.

At night, things aren’t so bad. As long as I’m down to my underwear and go without blankets, I can sleep fairly comfortably. That is, if things quiet down enough. During these hot summer nights, the campus—into the early hours of the morning—is stirring like a bee’s nest that’s been subject to a stoning.

There’s a new smell at night. I couldn’t put my finger on it first, but eventually it hit me. It’s the stink of sex. Hot, sweaty, sex. Fresh-faced, tight-bodied underclass girls saunter across campus in thigh-high, pastel-colored sundresses and skimpy short-shorts while beefy males sport loose basketball shorts and skin-tight wife-beaters. At night, alone in my van, I hear—amidst the ubiquitous throbbings of insect groans and mating calls—wild orgasmic shrieks, laughter and yells from passersby returning from a nearby club that pulses with thigh-grinding pop music.

These people are all going to get laid, I think to myself.

Despite all the distraction, I still find slumbering in my van to be quite soothing. The crescendo of insects at night whirr me to sleep and in the morning I wake to a medley of birds—so loud and cheery you’d think my little hermitage was tucked away in a copse of trees at Walden Pond.

Plus, there is something honorable about sleeping with the temperature instead of sleeping against it. It is refreshingly liberating to assert my independence of mechanical comforts like heat and air-conditioning.

No matter how hot or cold it is, I am practically sleeping outside. And while I do not feel each raindrop, wind-gust, and snowflake, and am protected from the birds, squirrels and insects behind my barrier of tinted windows, I am aware of them and feel close to them. And with that in mind, I doze easily, falling each night into long, healthy slumbers.


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