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TO JANUARY 2, 2000

Forget patience; in our culture, cool is the virtue of choice. It’s embedded in our language: “Keep your cool,” “Cool out,” “Stay cool,” “Way cool.” We drink Kool-Aid by the gallons and compare each other to the coolest vegetable we can think of. (Is a cucumber really any cooler than, say, a carrot?) We can accept the most questionable characters as long as they score enough cool points: Ron O’Neal’s priest in Superfly was a coke-snorting drug dealer; Henry Winkler’s Fonz was nothing more than a womanizing layabout; Robert De Niro played a murderous mafioso in, well, just about everything. Assholes all, but each as cool as wintertime shit—and so we love ’em. Perhaps De Niro’s coolest role came in the futuristic 1985 film Brazil, in which he played a rogue repairman fixing air-conditioning systems. It’s about time we paid some respect to the one phenomenon that has kept America cool since the turn of the century. More comforting than Oprah, more relaxing than Valium, air conditioning has done much more than make life tolerable for people who insist on living in Phoenix. Without artificial climate control it would be nearly impossible to manufacture necessities like computer chips, rubber, film, or—shudder—chocolate. High-rise buildings and crowded movie theaters would be unbearable. “Stay Cool! Air Conditioning America” traces the development of AC in the United States through photo-murals, artifacts, and vintage advertisements. (An image from the mid-’50s New Silhouette Room Air Conditioner advertising campaign is pictured.) And it’s really comfy inside. On view from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday to Sunday, Jan. 2, 2000, at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. Free. (202) 272-2448. (Neil Drumming)