The Dog Days of Summer – which began on July 3 this year and are the hottest months of the year in the Northern Hemisphere – ended yesterday, but down here in the Tampa Bay area you would not know it. On this second Friday of August, it’s hot, humid, and uncomfortable for those of us who aren’t fond of hot temperatures. As morning transitions into midday and early afternoon in Fish Hawk Ranch – the huge development in Hillsborough County in which I live now – the temperature is 85°F (30°C) under mostly cloudy skies, but the heat index is a scorching 96°F (35°C). If the light rain in the forecast does not materialize and we get that predicted 92°F (33°C) high, it’s going to feel like it’s in the low 100s out there.
Back in the summer of 1972, when I was getting reacquainted with Florida’s mostly-flat-as-a-pancake landscape after living in the colder climate of Bogota, Colombia (which sits on a plateau in the Cordillera Central of the Andes Mountains at an altitude of 8,661 feet/2,640 meters above sea level) for nearly six years, it took me a while to get used not just to the high temperatures but to the sun-in-the-morning, rain-in-the-afternoon weather pattern in the Sunshine State.
I can’t say for sure how long that process took, Dear Reader, but since I was younger and more physically active than I am now, I don’t remember being fazed by the heat and humidity in 1972 once I became accustomed to both. Back then, the “mean season” between June and late September had somewhat lower average mean temperatures, plus I “dressed for the weather” in shorts, T-shirts, and tennis shoes with the appropriate socks.
Plus, even though the house at 1001 SW 102nd Avenue in Westchester’s Coral Estates Park development lacked central air conditioning, I either played with my neighbors at their houses – most of which had central air then – or on the rare occasion when none of my friends was available to hang around with, I usually either watched TV in Mom’s master bedroom or read books – mostly in Spanish in August of 1972 –or played with the few toys I owned in my smaller bedroom in the southeast end of the house. Both rooms had handy – if noisy – window-mounted air conditioning units, so at least our rooms were somewhat cool and comfortable.
Perhaps I am misremembering many of the details from my childhood, but it seems to me that even though I do recall playing outdoors as a child in Bogota, the chilly temperatures and thinner air of Colombia’s capital limited how long I could be a kid doing the things that kids between the ages of three and nine do outdoors – and out of the sight of parents. I vaguely remember playing hide-and-seek with some of my younger cousins (especially my Uncle Octavio’s youngest daughters) at our grandparents’ manor-like house in Bogota’s Santa Barbara neighborhood, but I don’t remember having many close friends outside of my family.
Whether it was the climate, the lack of a permanent residence (we moved three times over the nearly six years that we lived in Colombia) and a set of neighborhood friends, or my penchant to be overly timid, I tended to be a bookish, quiet child who stayed at home or visited relatives rather than a boy who ran around with a “gang” of friends and spent a lot of time at neighbors’ houses.
In Miami, though, even though I was still mostly a bookish, quiet kid, I was far more adventurous, gregarious, and – more importantly – physically active.
When the South Florida sun was not at its fiercest and there wasn’t any rain or thunderstorm overhead, I would go outside – usually after dinner, which Mom liked to serve around 5 PM in those days – and go to my friends’ houses and see if they could play. I’d ring the doorbell – once, like my mom had taught me – and wait at the front door till a parent, usually the mom, opened it. The usual routine went something like this:
Me: Hi, Mrs. Dominguez, is Luis home?
Mrs. Dominguez: Well, hello, Alex! Yes, Luis is in his room. Would you like to come inside?
Me: Sure, thanks, Mrs. Dominguez!
Mrs. Dominguez: Just go to the living room and I’ll get him.
Sometimes Luis – or whoever else I happened to visit – would invite me to his room and show off a new toy or cool library book; otherwise, he would get his toy guns or a Nerf football and say, “Let’s go get Armando and see if he wants to play!”
Of course, these interactions were far more common between 1973 and 1976, when I was far more fluent in English and at ease with both the kids on the block and their families. But even in those post-Dog Days of Summer in 1972, I was beginning to make friends beyond Patrick Blanchard, a boy six years my junior who for a while was my “friend by default” because I had not yet moved to Coral Estates Park and only visited my future neighborhood when Mom was house hunting or wanted to hang out with her then-best friend, Carmelita Blasco.
As I said earlier, I was far more outdoorsy and willing to explore my neighborhood at age nine than I am now. Summers seemed different; they were hot, humid, and often rainy like they are now, but temperatures were a bit lower then, and I, of course, was younger, less wary about meeting people, and better able at tolerating summer weather.
Ah, getting older sucks sometimes.
 My friendship with Patrick was, to say the least, hardly ideal. My mom had known his parents, Chuck and Sheila, when we had lived three blocks to the east from 102nd Avenue at the house in 911 SW 99th Place. Before we moved to Bogota in 1966, Mom used to drop me off at the Blanchards so I could play with their firstborn son, Robert, who was only a tad older than I.
Naturally, when we moved back to Miami and Mom renewed her friendship with the Blanchards, she would sometimes drop me off at their house so I could play with Robert. However, for some reason he was reluctant to be my friend; either he lacked the patience needed to hang around with a kid who was (a) not fluent in American English or (b) he didn’t like to be seen with a kid who walked funny because of a disability. Robert never quite said, “Hey, kid, I don’t like you. Buzz off!” but that was the vibe he gave off.
And partly because her then three-year-old son Patrick needed a friend because Robert acted like his younger brother cramped his style, Sheila “adopted” me like a surrogate son and kinder, gentler older brother for her toddler. I didn’t protest because at the time I did not have any friends, even though I felt awkward hanging around a three-year-old kid who still played with Fisher-Price toys. And, hey, I got a lot of invites to stay over for dinner at the Blanchards, which is where I was introduced to both Tuna Helper and Hamburger Helper, which Mom had never bought at the nearby Food Fair supermarket.
Eventually, though, Patrick and I grew apart. Partly because our interests never quite matched outside our mutual interest in all things military, but mostly it was the disparity in ages. And, as Patrick grew older, he hardly ever read books or showed any zeal for learning, which meant that our conversations eventually became banal and superficial. Even before Mom and I moved out of the neighborhood in the summer of 1977, we had drifted apart and, as adults in our fifties, only briefly reconnected on Facebook for a while. (He lives near Ocala, which is close to Tampa but is in a Deep Red part of Florida. Now in his early fifties, Patrick is a Trump supporter, and after January 6, 2021, and the Stop the Steal riot at the Capitol in Washington, DC, he deleted his Facebook account, thus severing whatever ties we had left.)