I was reading Charly’s blog this morning and she was complaining that her roommate is running up the electric bill by keeping the thermostat at 67 degrees. Heh. That’s exactly where my thermostat been set for most of the past month.
It reminded me of the battles I used to have with my grandmother, growing up in Little Rock in the late 1970s, back in the era when tube tops were “in” the first time. (The fact that they went “out” in the ’80s makes me think the ’80s weren’t as great as everyone believes they were.) Every March and April it would happen. We’d have a warm spell and the temps outside would kick up into the low to mid 80s, and it would begin to get uncomfortably hot inside the house. And the arguments would begin.
“Grandmama, I’m hot. Let’s turn on the air.”
“Paul, we don’t need the air on. It isn’t that warm in here.”
“I’m looking at a thermometer. It’s 80 degrees inside.”
“Well, 80 isn’t that bad.”
“It is to me. Especially when all we have to do is flip a switch and it’ll be comfortable.”
“Why don’t you open a door, or a window? That’ll cool you off.”
“Grandmama, it’s 84 outside. Opening a window and letting 84-degree air into an 80-degree house won’t cool it down, it’ll make it even hotter.”
“The wind is blowing. The breeze will blow in through the window.”
“That doesn’t matter! It’s still going to be blowing in 84-degree air! It’s simple physics! You can’t cool down a house by opening a window and letting in warmer air.”
“Paul, it’s March. It’s too early to think about turning on the air. Besides, you never know, it could be snowing next week.”
“Who cares what month it is? It’s HOT in here! If it gets cold next week, we’ll turn the heat back on. It’s not like we’re making a lifelong commitment to air conditioning. We can flip the switch back and forth from air to heat whenever we feel like it.”
“You know, back when I was your age we didn’t have air conditioning at all. Not in March, not even in August. But we were able to make do.” (“Make do” was a phrase my grandmother used frequently.)
“But it’s not ‘back then’ anymore – things are BETTER now! We have access to a tool that can keep us comfortable year ’round. It’s silly to have that capability and not use it.”
“Oh, Paul. Think about what President Carter has been saying. He’s been asking the country to conserve energy by setting their air conditioners to 78.”
“Okay… it’s 80 in here now. Let’s at least turn the air on and set it to 78. Although, even that’s not my idea at all of a comfortable indoor temperature. And when did you become an environmentalist anyway? You certainly weren’t a couple of weeks ago when it was cold outside, and you cranked up the heat. Didn’t President Carter say we should set the thermostat to 65 when heating?”
“Paul, air conditioning is expensive. Think of what we’ll be doing to the electric bill.”
“Turning on the air in March to cool this place down a couple of degrees surely wouldn’t add more than 50 cents. It’s not like we need to leave it on all day. Isn’t it worth 50 cents to be comfortable?”
That was her answer to everything. “Oh, Paul.” And the air stayed off.
A few hours later my mother would come home from work. I’d try to recruit her as an ally in the air conditioning war.
“Mama, let’s turn the air on. It’s hot. Grandmama won’t turn it on.”
“Oh, Paul.” (Here we go again.) “Why don’t you open a door, or window?”
“It’s hotter outside than it is in here. That won’t help.”
“Well, why don’t you go get a cold rag and put it around your neck to cool off. Or pour yourself a nice, refreshing glass of ice water.”
“Why can’t we just turn the air on?”
“Paul, please. Be considerate.”
“Be considerate? Why can’t she be considerate? It’s 80 degrees in here… no, wait, it’s gone up to 82. You can’t tell me you’re not hot. Find me one normal person who thinks 82 degrees is a comfortable indoor temperature. Surely your office doesn’t keep the thermostat set that high.”
“Paul, you have to learn to compromise.”
“How is doing things 100% her way a compromise? I did try to compromise. I suggested we turn the air on and set it to 78, like President Carter suggests. Whereas, if I had it my way I’d turn on the air and set it to 72. I was willing to meet her more than halfway.”
“Paul, you’re not being fair.”
This kind of stuff went on for years. I almost never won the battles to get the air turned on, simply because I was a kid and had to mind the adults who supposedly knew better than I did.
The next week, it once again got uncomfortably hot in the house. But the temperatures outside had returned to normal for March in Little Rock, mid to upper 60s. I opened a door and a window to cool off.
A few minutes later, my grandmother walked into the living room. “Paul, what are you doing? It’s freezing outside! Shut that door! And the window!”
“Grandmama, it’s not freezing. The weatherman on TV just said it was 68 outside. It’s 80 in here. Today is a day when it makes sense to open the doors and windows – cooler air will come in and cool the place off, and we won’t have to spend any money on air conditioning.”
“68 is way too cold to be opening doors and windows.”
“Why do you think they call 68 ‘room temperature?'”
“Paul, you can’t tell me that most people keep their house at 68 degrees.”
“Maybe not all do. But no normal people think 80 is comfortable!”
“I’m sick and tired of hearing about ‘normal’ people. Now close that door and that window!”
The next day: Once again, 68 degrees outside, and getting hot inside. I was in the living room, and my grandmother was back in her room. I walked to the thermostat and turned on the air.
“PAUL!!! Did you just turn the air on?”
“No, Grandmama, that’s the heat. I was getting cold.”
“Oh… well, that’s okay, I guess.”
Twenty minutes passed. “Paul, are you sure that’s the heat? It feels like it’s getting colder in here.”
“Hold on, I’ll check… Whoops, you know what, you were right. I accidentally flipped the switch the wrong way and turned the air on.”
“Well, turn it off.”
So I turned it off. But in those 20 minutes I had managed to cool the place down from an unpleasant 80 to a much more livable 75. So I won that round.
Now I’m an adult, I live by myself, and I don’t have to argue with people every time I adjust the thermostat. My summer electric bills run about $65 a month. I could probably cut them to $45 if I left the air on 77 rather than 67. And if I turned the air off during the day while I’m at work. And if I didn’t turn the air on at the beginning of March and leave it running until well into November.
But you know what? It’s worth that twenty bucks a month to be comfortable. I sleep better. I get more done when I’m home. After being imprisoned in a damn cubicle all day, I at least get the reward of coming home to a cool apartment. In my mind, that’s money well spent.
All right… got a busy day ahead of me… gotta rebuild the Residents for a Safer Downtown Memphis website so that it doesn’t look like it was built in a lunch hour. But before I do that, I’m going to sit in my 67-degree apartment for a while and watch some TV.