It's been ridiculously hot for what feels like the last half-century, and as a result we're all feeling cranky.

It's been ridiculously hot for what feels like the last half-century, and as a result we're all feeling cranky.

You'd think with air conditioning we'd manage to keep civil tongues in our heads, but we don't, partly because no matter how carefully a person plans, she has to venture out of air conditioning every once in a while, to pick up the dry cleaning and get a hair cut and return those overdue library books, and partly because even in air conditioning, it's still hot.

It may not be 96 degrees inside the office or the car or the grocery store, but the heat that's crouching just outside has its effect nevertheless. As cold as air-conditioned air may be - and many public places are cold enough to serve as cryonics labs - a nasty undercurrent of heat runs beneath the chill. I'm still here, the heat says, and you can't push that grocery cart around the store forever. Sooner or later you'll have to go outdoors, and I'll be there, a hot wall that will press into you like a suffocating pillow, cutting off your breath and making your bangs all wet and straggly.

What's more, heat has its way with us even in air conditioning. A person may be cool, but she still feels stupid and sluggish and like kicking the next thing that gets in her way.

Why are overheated people so peevish? This is what I hear you meteorology-psychology double majors asking. Is it the heat or the humidity? Or the untold numbers of people who chirp, "Arizona's hoter, but it's a dry heat," as if jillions of others haven't said that already?

And my answer is who the heck cares, and I don't mean "heck"? The fact is, heat makes people grouchy, period. Are you arguing with me? Well, don't.

It might help it we could contrive to air condition the outside as well as indoor places, though I'm sure any plan that involves installing AC at, say, the Grand Canyon would bring out the protesters, who would yammer on about mold spores and bio-toxins. Well, this is what I'd say to them: I agree with you. I don't believe in air-conditioning either. Frankly, I hate the stuff. It's nothing more than recycled air, the respiratory version of using a stranger's toothbrush. I put up with it only because sweltering day and night might cause me to commit felonies.

No, I take that back. What might cause me to commit felonies is constantly entering and leaving AC. If we could resign ourselves to living in the natural air and being too hot to work or eat or think or make rational decisions, we'd at least keep out of weather-induced trouble. It's this waltzing into air conditioning and out into the heat, and into more air conditioning and out into the heat again, in and out, in and out for weeks on end, trying to pretend it isn't insanely, unendurably hot that's a problem.

So here's my plan: First, turn off the AC and forget it exists. Then take off your clothes and get into a nice cold bath.

All set? Oh, wait. I forgot to say get a giant glass of something iced, several shallow magazines and a robe. Fetch them now, but for heaven's sake, keep away from the windows. What was that shout? I said keep away from Oh, never mind. Just don't go out for the mail right after it's delivered for a day or two. He won't remember which house you are, with all the houses on his route.

Where were we? Oh yes, getting into a cold bath. Well, go ahead. Stay there until you feel like jumping out and doing something constructive. What? Well, how should I know how long? As long as it takes! As long as you want! Do I have to decide everything around here? Sheesh!

Well. You'll have to forgive me. It's hot, and I'm feeling cranky. I'm sure you know how it is.