For The past ten years my wife and I and our children have spent all or part of every winter on the Keys off St. Petersburg, Florida. We go there because a branch of our family has lived in St. Petersburg for half a century, but there are times during every winter when I find myself wishing that these particular relatives had settled somewhat farther south. In Key West, for example, or even Rio de Janeiro. Because St. Petersburg weather is as unpredictable as Miss Tallulah Bankhead.
On almost any day from December through March you can be lying out in the sun, soaking up vitamin D the way a dunked doughnut soaks up coffee, and find yourself an hour later huddling over the radiator in your hotel room, wondering if you will ever develop enough intelligence to remember, when you're packing up in New York, to bring along not only a heavy sweater but your topcoat as well.
This past winter there were quite a few days like that. On the sixth or seventh—after a while the days begin to run into one another, like pancakes that have been poured too close together on a griddle—the television set suddenly went dark. I put down my hot toddy, slipped off my mittens and knelt in front of the screen. My two small sons watched impatiently while I twisted the dials back and forth. Nothing happened.
"Better see about calling the repair man," my wife said after a few moments. "God alone knows what they're doing to Superman during this blackout."
"The set belongs to the hotel," I said. "Let them call their own repair man."
It turned out that they had already done so. At any rate that's what the man at the desk downstairs told me on the phone. He told me a good deal more. When I repeated it to my wife, she refused to believe me.
"That's what the man said," I said. "Honest."
"Say it again," my wife said.
"The aerial has to be hosed down," I said doggedly. "It's the salt in the air. It accumulates on all the aerials around here and puts the sets out of commission. Every couple of months the repair man comes out from town to hose down all the aerials out here on the beach and wash off the salt. The man at the desk downstairs said they called the repair man a little while ago because several other sets in the hotel have conked out but the repair man won't be able to get here before tomorrow because there are just too many aerials for a man to hose down in one day."
"My God," my wife said, staring out at the beach. It had the sullen gray look of a freshly painted battleship. "What a state."