Of covers, eccrine glands, and… what’s the third one?

What is the third one?! The pillow gives under my head but I refuse to shake free of sleep. It’s early morning, probably five minutes before the alarm is set to go off. The rest of my body is quiet and my mind wildly roams covering wide swaths of thought territory. Before cracking open even one eye, I firmly nestle my head in the pillow’s dent in order to better float over and around that thought stream. Could a group of neurons be nice enough to fire right now and produce an answer, please? There is a third piece, a third item grouped under the same unifying theme. I’m sure of it. But what is it? Couldn’t remember it before going to sleep yesterday either. If I were to scan the list again would it trickle out on its own? The first piece is covers. Then, there’s the whole sweat thing, and the third is… A blank. Again.

The idea originally occurred to me in the gym shower. That much I remember clearly. Was it while showering or right after? Can’t say for sure. The woosh of cooled air forced out of vents fills my ears and my limbs gradually come to life under the covers. I picture the shower stall again, the drain in the middle, the tiled walls, the mild summery smell of coconut coming from pumps full of shampoo, conditioner and body wash, the jet adjustment on the oversize shower head, the mini vestibule, the hooks for towels, the translucent glass door… Beep-beep-beep! The alarm goes off, bringing the flickering imagery to an abrupt stop,  It’s useless, really.  Can’t remember it.  And it’s time to get up anyway.

Having filled up and turned on the tea kettle, I walk down the stairs to the ground floor of the building, all the while intoning “covers, sweat, and… blank. Covers, sweat, and… blank,” trying to keep it under my breath and timing each word with each step in a slightly syncopated four-four time. It’s starting to sound like a mantra. Hope the neighbors won’t hear; who knows what they’ll think I’m up to?

I’m walking down to get the day’s New York Times, stuffed into its familiar blue plastic sleeve and lying on our neighbor’s welcome mat. The reason it rests atop the neighbor’s mat isn’t the reluctance of the paper carrier to go up a flight of stairs. No. The reason is a missing 1/2 on the neighbor’s door. Or an extra 1/2 on ours, depending on how you look at it. The address of our apartment in Los Angeles is one of those that have a 1/2 attached to its street number, a source of confusion and amusement to others. This 1/2 simply denotes the second floor and is in lieu of an apartment number. The newspaper carrier, however, is adamant in his/her refusal to understand its meaning. You’d think (s)he would be familiar with this notation, given that (s)he services this particular area where most buildings date from the early 1930s and many use this notation. Despite numerous calls made to NY Times headquarters over the last three months and as many promises made by each and every customer service representative to remedy the situation, our paper still favors the neighbor’s mat as its resting place. Each morning as I aim to retrieve it, I feel like an interloper, half expecting the neighbor’s door to be flung open in a most accusatory swing, finally catching me bending down towards their mat, red-handed, in flagrante…  “Covers, sweat, and… blank. Covers, sweat, and… blank” I repeat on the climb back. It’s definitely starting to sound silly.

Why is it that a trio of items sounds so well rounded and satisfying?  Here, judge for yourself: X, Y, and Z. Boom! The idea is replete. X and Y? Not so much. It makes you think “and what about Z? When’s Z going to be mentioned?” A trinity of ideas, complete with an Oxford serial comma, is like an equilateral triangle, convincing, and strong. I’m still hopeful the elusive third piece will make its welcome re-appearance to join the first two in a stable, three-limb embrace.

It’s time for breakfast, with the paper opened to its crossword page and the Facebook feed getting rapidly updated with news and images of my online friends.  In what must’ve been a heightened state of searching-something-to-write-about, a few days ago I’d seen a Facebook friend share a community page entitled something along the lines of “I don’t know what it is but I won’t fall asleep if I don’t have covers on.” Poking around this (at the time) 1,514 member strong community, I felt a strong sense of belonging. When body temperature drops, eyelids get heavy, and the mind wants to drift off, is there a better way to invite sleep than by getting under covers? Isn’t it an absolute joy to snuggle under the weight of a duvet? I can’t even nap without covers. Even in the heat of summer,  at least a corner of a sheet to cover a fraction of a hip is absolutely necessary. Where does this need come from? It could very well be some sort of behavioral conditioning, a leftover memory of swaddling in infancy. Or it may have to do with a sense of nesting and security. Or perhaps a physical need of simply minimizing body heat lost to the surroundings. When breathing and heart rate both slow down, a decrease in core body temperature in turn leads to sleepiness. What about the inevitable foot or hand that’s thrust out from under the covers? Yawn. It’s nothing more than yet another temperature control mechanism because “for normal sleepers, the drop in core temperature is marked by an increase in temperature in the hands and feet, as the blood vessels dilate and the body radiates heat. And this wraps up the covers bit, no pun intended.

Done with breakfast, I then drive to the gym for a class of stationary bike riding, also known as spinning. As a former couch potato (it’s only been ten years since I first set foot in a gym), I’m more likely to achieve a strenuous workout if motivated by an instructor. And here’s the definition of an instructor: Someone to whom temporary permission is granted to make all decisions pertaining to the duration, difficulty, and discomfort of a class. Add the darkness of the spin studio – its walls pulsating in time to pounding music of the kind you won’t deign listen to anywhere else – and fellow spinners panting as they sprint or climb, and you just gave yourself further incentive to work out a little harder, radiate a little more heat, sweat a little more profusely.

To really speak of the body radiating heat and sweating we have to bring up eccrine glands. These are sweat glands that are not connected to hair follicles. They’re located mostly on the forehead, neck, and back, and produce abundant sweat on a hot day or during intense physical activity. They’re the glands responsible for that soaked sweatband encircling a spinner’s forehead, say. They also happen to be the ones that cause the uncomfortable moisture on some people’s palms or soles, in response to emotional stress.  It turns out that sweat production by eccrine glands is highly responsive to physical training. While males in general tend to sweat more than females, physical training in both sexes improves the sweating response,” meaning the fitter you are the faster and more copiously you’ll sweat. It’s as if based on experience, your body is quick to recognize the signs of potential overheating, and prepares to cool you down as efficiently as it can.

Post spin class, with my cheeks red as beets and breath barely settled, the shower beckons me with its promise of cool mist. I’m also hoping to remember the third bit there, so I adjust the water jet at its strongest and direct it to my overheated head. After the initial shiver courses through my body, the water feels like a wonderful gift, almost washing away the dull ache from overworked muscles. However, even as I step out of the stall and into the small vestibule behind the translucent door to towel myself dry, some sweat continues to trickle down my back. My eccrine glands must be anticipating more strenuous activity. In order to dissuade them from working further, I try to breathe deeply and move slowly letting the routine gestures take over. The big towel soaks up the moisture clinging to my body and I reach for the small towel, dry my hair, then wrap it around my head.

That’s when it hits me. The third item. The unifying theme of this post. It clicks into place just as I’m wrapping the towel around my head. It’s a hat. Rather, it’s heat. Because it feels to me that if I don’t free at least my ears from the towel encircling my head, I’ll never ever stop sweating.  Instead, I’ll superheat.  It feels as if I were under the lid of a pressure cooker. It’s unbearable. In fact, while I’ve always loved hats, or should I say the idea of hats, and have often been told they look flattering on me, I’ve never been comfortable in them for very long, exactly because of this heat factor.

There’s a childhood picture of me in a white fur hat that is how I now think of myself when I think of the child me. I have no idea how they managed to keep that obviously warm hat long enough on my head to take that picture. I don’t know what happened to the hat and I certainly don’t have it anymore. There are various others in my closet. There’s the one my husband got for me in Victoria, when we were still dating.  It’s one of the poor boy caps donned by Canadian Olympians at the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan. It’s made of red fleece and boasts a white maple leaf on one side. A cozy and nice hat, but one that’s too warm, as well it should be. Put Canadians and Winter Olympics together and what do you expect? A heat wave? Then there’s the assortment of straw hats, bought in various locations, from the Mediterranean to the Pacific Ocean, from Puerto Rico to Hawaii, in many shades ranging from the palest of hay to ebony black, and in different styles varying from the simply utilitarian cloche to the more frivolously decorated wide brimmed ones. Each bought after the battle waged between my head and the sun ended with my head getting too hot. And each worn (almost exclusively) during the day it was bought. I also have cotton and twill bucket hats, most notably the white one bought in Sea World in San Diego, and a tan one bought at the Maui Ocean Center. These two are probably the ones I’ve used most often, while gardening or just going on a walk. Come to think of it, the one type of hat I’ve never owned, nor ever had a penchant for, nor used, is the ubiquitous baseball cap. OK, I lied. Another class of hats I’ve never worn are those in the most ornate style worn by royals during weddings and jubilees, each a famous milliner’s pride. If I dwell on the kinds of hats I’ve never had, I might also mention the ascot, the balaclava, the beret, the bowler, the fez, the kepi, the papakh…This list can certainly grow and grow, so I’d better move on. I’ve had however, reason to wear a mortarboard, tassel and all, twice. At neither time was it an easy task, as it kept slipping and had to be “fastened” to my straight, fine hair with a whole tribe of hairpins, none of which helped make it a more comfortable thing to do. And my most recent hat acquisition is a straw fedora, bought only a few days ago at Manhattan Beach, CA. Remains to be seen if any of the other Southern California Beach Cities will be added to the places it’s been worn in. As it’s the only hat in my possession while I’m still in LA, the odds are still for it.

Heat and hat. Interesting how by adding an e (for energy, maybe?) you move from one word to the other. Bed covers and head covers. Makes me wonder how women who have to cover their heads (for so-called religious reasons) deal with it. Do their forehead eccrine glands atrophy in some sort of reverse reaction as a result? And if not, what mantra do they use to overcome the urge of uncovering their heads as they go to get their NY Times?

“Covers, sweat, and heat.” That’s the X, Y, and Z of it and there’s no need for syncopation anymore.

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