Maybe because we got married during the summer, my husband and I left an important passage out of our wedding vows: How to settle on a thermostat setting. He wants the heat jacked up to 74 degrees. I want to keep it at 68, tops. We’ve got six stifling degrees of separation to negotiate at our house.
This morning I awoke to the familiar explosion of the furnace coming on. Blinds rattled. The house hummed. My throat felt lint-coated. I was thirsty. I drifted in and out of sleep, dreaming of water fountains, swimming pools, creeks, reservoirs, estuaries. Mr. Thermostatfutzer had sneaked out of bed to fiddle with the heat.
As I bumbled into the bathroom, hot air churned through the vent, making the towels sail like flags. My hair snapped with static and hung like pine needles. My nose bled. I used Chap Stick, like caulking, to reseal my cracking lips.
I tiptoed to the thermostat and nudged it back down to 68. Poor thing, I’m sure the furnace feels like a child caught between dueling parents. OK, heat up, it roars with enthusiasm, huffing and puffing after my husband cranks it up. Oh, dear. Cool down, it wheezes, sucking in its gut and holding its breath after I turn it down minutes later.
The irony is, growing up during the energy crisis, our house was always too chilly. My father guarded the thermostat as if it were a Faberge egg, keeping it at 58 at night and 65 during the day. No one else was allowed to touch it. President Ford wanted it that way, so we could all WIN - Whip Inflation Now. I practiced the piano in the mornings with my camel hair coat thrown over my pajamas, popsicle fingers plunking the keys. My mother, who hated to cook, baked boxes of Jiffy corn muffins, opening the oven door and cupping her hands over the heat wafting out.
Now, I’ll bet the electric company adores my husband. Every employee will probably get a bonus this year, thanks to our strapping bill. I’ll bet clerks finger our checks with awe and wonder what kind of manufacturing plant is located in our neighborhood. I can’t even look at the bill anymore. I have grown, as Popeye would say, “Disgustipated.”
As I traipsed through the house this morning, I discovered that my husband’s office window was open, our savings seeping into the brisk air. I found him in the kitchen, hunched over the paper, wearing luau garb - shorts and a T-shirt.
“Let me get this straight,” I asked, rubbing hand lotion into my crepe paper hands. “You turned the heat up while your window was open?”
“Don’t worry about it.” He wiggled his bare toes in the air.
“We’re heating the neighborhood,” I told him. “We might as well drive down the freeway and let dollar bills fly out the car windows.”
“Oh, you are so dramatic.”
“Am I?” I asked, licking my lips, trying to swallow, rubbing my forehead, scales of dead skin flying off. “Am I?” But I couldn’t think of anything else to say. My brain was wrapped in a sleepy, heavy heat cocoon. Am I, I repeated myself, getting a drink of water. I’m hot therefore I am.
I went outside for a walk, so I could breathe again. I rounded our block and headed back to the house, my breath steaming up the air before me.
“How about a compromise?” I asked my husband, as I hung up my coat. “That’s what marriage is all about. How ‘bout 70 degrees?”
“Seventy-one,” he said, looking at the TV.”
“Sixty-nine.” I crossed my arms over my chest.
“Okay, 70.” He loped down the hall toward the thermostat.
“I’ll bet we save lots on our electric bill,” I said, peering over his shoulder at the little tan box. The thermostat must have been startled to see the two of us standing there together. “We can use that dough for a vacation,” I added.
“Hawaii,” he said, palm trees lighting up in his eyes.
I said, “I’ve heard great things about Alaska.”
MEMO: Lolly Winston is a California free-lance writer