The Joy of Sweat

By Bob Morris

The Floridian’s pungent credo: Perspiro ergo sum. 

This is the time of year that tests the mettle of those of us who live in Winter Park. We are in the throes of our never-ending summer. Half the town has retreated to some place cooler, like North Carolina, where the residents are so desperate to escape Floridians they flee to Tennessee, or New Smyrna, where there is at least the prospect of a little breeze, even if it’s a sweltering one that carries whiffs of Jacksonville.

Yes, we could cool off by jumping in one of our charming lakes were it not for the prospect of encountering Naegleria fowleri, the deadly amoeba that lives in lake sediment and becomes more prevalent when the water temperature exceeds 80 degrees, which is like from now until Thanksgiving. You’d think Naegleria fowleri might do us a small favor and at least kill some of the alligators, but no, life is unfair like that.

My pal Wynn and his wife have decided to ditch Winter Park for a couple of weeks and take one of those cruises in Alaska.

“I want to go an entire day without sweating,” Wynn told me before the two of them traveled clear across the continent to sit on a slow boat with strangers, eat buffet food and gaze at glaciers. For this they are paying several thousand dollars—a major allocation to avoid perspiration.

True, a Florida fall, which is an absolute misnomer unless considered in the verb form to describe what one does when one faints, can be more miserable than a Florida summer. So buck up, the worst is still to come. A Florida summer arrives in early April and by October, inconsiderate houseguest that it is, it has changed its name. But it’s still sitting there on the couch, hogging the remote control, refusing to change the channel. I have brothers-in-law with better manners.

Lacking the wherewithal to subsidize distant voyages to cooler climes, not to mention the temperament to withstand either prolonged doses of Dramamine or forced dinner seatings with aluminum salesmen from Des Moines, I will combat the prickly wet glove of summer the only way I know how—by going outside and wallowing in it. With all due respect to Descartes: Perspiro ergo sum. I sweat, therefore I am…a Floridian.

Besides, it’s time that someone defended sweat. And girding up for the battle I took it upon myself to research sweat, learning many interesting things that I’m now prepared to share whether you like it or not.

For instance, I learned that the average person has 2.6 million sweat glands that are located everywhere on the human body except the lips and two other places that I can’t mention because of the high-minded nature of this magazine. Take my word, these are not places where we need to sweat. These are places that, even if we could sweat there…never mind.

Here is something else I learned, something that speaks directly to people who move down to Central Florida from places that are, uh, humidity-challenged: If you’re not accustomed to a hot climate, the maximum amount of sweat you can produce is about one quart an hour. However, once you become acclimated you are transformed into a veritable artesian well of sweat, highly efficient at ridding the body of excess fluid and capable of producing as much as three quarts of sweat an hour. Which is all the justification I need for drinking more beer. 

Another thing: Sweat does not stink. The smell mistakenly associated with sweat really comes from tiny organisms that live on our skin and produce an unpleasant odor when they feed on the proteins contained in sweat. Deodorant kills these tiny little organisms. Nothing against the kind souls in PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) but this is probably all the proof we need that they really are more aromatic than the rest of us.

Finally, although they probably don’t know it and would surely deny it even if they did, women find male sweat arousing. This was the finding of a recent scientific study in which a group of women actually volunteered to sit in a room for six hours and smell swaths of cloth containing the chemicals found in male sweat. The result? It relaxed them.

“This probably traces back to our busy hunter-gatherer days when the males were often away from home for long periods of time. The female reproductive system may have evolved to be ready for her man by shifting hormonal levels in response to his scent when he returned,” said the scientist who conducted the sweat study. “The scent relaxed her. And a relaxed woman is more likely to be responsive to a man.”

Which caused me to consider my pal Wynn sitting on the cruise ship in Alaska with the lovely Mrs. Wynn, gazing at glaciers and not sweating.

As for me, I think I’ll take a quick walk in the sexy Florida midday sun and then hurry back home to my wife.

Bob Morris, a forth-generation Floridian, is a Winter Park-based novelist who teaches creative writing at Rollins College and is founder of Story Farm, a custom publishing company.

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