by MAD DOG & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he Dog Days of summer are upon us. This is the time of year when the thermometer hits triple digits, there's so much humidity in the air you get in the shower to dry off, and the power company sends thank-you notes because your air conditioning is making the electric meter spin faster than a Tilt-a-Whirl at a meth convention. The Dog Days show up like clockwork every year between mid-July and the end of August, right along with the mosquitoes, sunburns and back-to-school sales.
The Dog Days received their name from the ancient Romans, who noticed that the dog star Sirius rises and sets with the sun during the summer months. Interestingly, the word Sirius comes from the Greek Seirios, which means burning, or hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk. The Romans believed it was the combination of Sirius and the sun that made it so hot and humid. Now, of course, we know that's silly -- it's the heat index. Just kidding. Actually the heat index is an arbitrary combination of the temperature and humidity that was concocted by meteorologists who needed a seasonal counterpart to the wind chill factor so we could feel more miserable than either indicator alone would allow. This proves that we really have progressed since ancient Roman times. Not only do we have the heat index, we now know that since Sirius is 8.6 light-years away -- twice as long as the line to get into Space Mountain on a typical summer day -- it has no effect on the heat build-up during the summer months. That, it turns out, is actually caused by a hot air mass that gets trapped over the country as a result of everyone talking about global warming.
But more important than why the Dog Days exist is their effect -- they cause people to go, well, a little wacky. Children get cranky and bored, begging for suggestions about something fun to do that all manage to sound mind-numbingly dull, pathetic and abhorrent unless it entails spending money, playing video games or preferably a combination of the two. Teenagers move into the mall for weeks at a time, whole families migrate like lemmings toward any body of water larger than a coffee pot, and adults who have a vocabulary of 60,000 words only manage to mutter "Hot enough for you?" over and over.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & ut these are Dog Days, not Sheep, Cow or Silly Baby Name Days, which is why it should come as no surprise that pollsters are interested in Fido. Yes it's true, AP and Yahoo News recently teamed up to spend time, money and energy that could have been used to uncover a rutabaga in the shape of the Virgin Mary to correlate presidential candidate preferences to pet ownership. It turns out that dog owners prefer John McCain over Barack Obama, 43 percent to 34 percent. Honestly. Not only that, but pet owners as a group prefer McCain, those who don't own pets prefer Obama, and all agree this proves that pollsters ran out of intelligent questions in 1972 and the media need to find a disaster or celebrity divorce/birth/rehab to keep them busy. Hopefully soon.
The question is, with all this wackiness going on, how do we get through the Dog Days of Summer with our sanity and antiperspirant intact? Obviously the usual recommendations hold -- stay cool, drink plenty of liquids and don't go out in the noonday sun, even if you're a Mad Dog or an Englishmen. And eat plenty of watermelon. It's cooling, tasty and cheap. Well, it is unless you pay $6,100 for one like some guy in Japan did. No kidding. A black 17-pound "Densuke" watermelon was sold at auction for $6,100, making it the most expensive watermelon in the world. That comes to $359 a pound, $120 a slice, or $2.60 per calorie. Since an adult male would need nearly that whole watermelon for one day's calorie intake, it could be pretty expensive. On the plus side though, it could help his sex life.
It's true. Scientists at Texas A & amp;M's Fruit and Vegetable Improvement Center (motto: "Bigger, sweeter, longer shelf life") say watermelon contains a chemical that reacts with enzymes in the body to boost nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels ---- the same basic effect as Viagra. While this is good news for male watermelon lovers, it's actually not very practical. After all, carrying a couple of watermelons when you go to a bar is a dead giveaway that you're not really looking for someone to just chat with. And when the news gets out, our e-mail inboxes are going to fill up with even more spam, offering cheap generic watermelons from Canada. They'll be shipped in a plain brown wrapper.
So maybe the best thing to do about the Dog Days is to just wait them out. After all, it won't be long until fall is here and then winter. And with it cold, yucky weather and the wind chill factor. It kind of makes the fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, sunburns, back-to-school sales and Dog Days sound pretty good, doesn't it?