Friday, March 28, 2008

January sure has been long this year...

It is snowing. Again. Winter put in a stirring performance this year around here, and it seems intent on making curtain calls. In a man-made and man-run theater, we'd have audience members bailing out the exits by now, and stagehands hauling out the hooks to drag the spotlight-drunk star off the stage. But since we don't run the show, and since I can't afford a trip to, say, Hawaii, I'm settling in to enjoy the snow. I might as well, I guess. Two to four inches is predicted during this encore. I might have to dig the snow shovel back out from the shed. A few weeks ago I naively thought we were done with this sort of thing for the year, and happily packed the shovel away.

We have, by the way, a baseball tournament in progress down the street. Baseball, if you haven't noticed, is not an indoor sport. Teams have come from all around the state just to play a summer game, and are, off and on at least, playing it in swirling snowflakes. Such a deal. It will make for good stories when they're middle-aged, if nothing else, I guess. "When I was your age, son, I played baseball in the snow. And we won. So stop your bellyaching... What's the younger generation coming to, anyway?"

It was just our luck that a cold winter coincided with a spike in heating oil prices. Is spike the right word? It doesn't seem strong enough, somehow... Anyway...

I grew up in a social niche where 72 degrees was room temperature. I think somebody in government recommended it as a good temperature, and somehow it came to be the most common temperature, and from there it became the expected temperature, and from there it became the temperature at which all self-respecting people (at least all the self-respecting people we knew) kept their houses year-round. I remember, as a kid, that amongst our friends were people who would lower their thermostats during the winter, but didn't want anyone to know about it. There were also people who closed off part of their house during the winter to save on heating costs, but likewise didn't want anyone to know. Common sense, apparently, was out of fashion.

I don't know what we were thinking. I can't remember the last time I had the thermostat at 72, nor the last time I didn't close off rooms I wasn't using. It's no hardship, and it saves enough money to make a difference. You wear a few more clothes in the winter? So what? You have to get acclimated to a lower temperature every fall? So what? As for the closing off of rooms, it makes it all the sweeter when spring comes around, and you can stretch out again.

Of course, I'm blessed with a cheerful temperament, and I enjoy outsmarting circumstances, and frugality is one of my favorite sports. Some people, I notice, are happier pretending to be put upon. I don't get it, but there it is.

A few months back, an acquaintance at church was telling me about where she lived, in a tumble down part of town. She was saying that the house she rented was really pretty comfortable, despite what people thought about houses along that street. She was also gushing with nice things to say about her landlord. I've had that landlord as a landlord in days past, and he really is a nice man, and johnny-on-spot when it comes to reported problems. If you'll work with him, he'll work with you, and he goes out of his way to keep rents down.

So, the other day, I had occasion to look up the acquaintance, and found that she was days away from moving to an apartment elsewhere in town. Now that she'd decided to move, she had not one good thing to say about the place she was leaving, but chief among her complaints was that she'd had to spend $900 on heating oil so far this winter. She was pointing out the cracks along the doors, and bemoaning the lack of insulation. She also tried to light into listing little things she thought the landlord should have done for her, but didn't. That wasn't flying well since we both know the man, so she shifted back to being really upset about the heating bill. "This place just sucks oil," she said.

Well, I've lived in places like that. I currently live in a place built back before much (if any) insulation in the walls or ceiling was considered necessary, and before windows were insulated, and there are cracks around our windows and doors, too. We put tape here, and foam there, and plastic sheets up, and it helps, but it's still a bit tricky to keep it heated, especially if you're trying to stretch your dollars. So I started in with pleasant commiseration (what are friends for?), and was starting to tell her about how we just bundle up a bit and turn the thermostat down, etc., and how it helped us a lot. I'm not sure what I expected, but I got a startled stare from her.

And then it sunk through my thick skull that while I was warmly dressed in a sweater, she was in a short sleeve shirt. Her oil stove was in the same room as us. Set at 72. I guess she never got the updated memo...

I didn't know quite what to say. From what I could pick up, she'd spent the winter being frantic about her heating bills, and yet she hadn't done the most basic adapting to reduce the bill.

She's on welfare. We're not. I wonder if that makes a difference, or if she's simply a few decades behind me, and thinks it's shameful to not have a room temperature of 72. Or what?

Oh, well. She considers me a self-respecting and respectable person. I can only hope that I helped her feel OK with the idea of turning down the heat.

Before you laugh too hard, or tut tut too much, I'm nearly willing to bet you've got some counterproductive social standard hanging around in your life, messing up your goal to be a sensible person. After I read this post a week or so ago (specifically, the last part of it), my husband and I have been cheerfully recounting all sorts of things we used to hold as important, or necessary, that we don't consider "imperatives" anymore.

For instance, my mother's rule was that when you took clothes off in the evening, they went into the clothes hamper. It makes no sense to me to wash clothes every time you wear them, if they aren't dirty. It's more work, it uses more water, it uses more electricity, it uses more detergent, and it's harder on the clothes. But, I kid you not, it was a struggle to overcome the idea that I was doing something wrong by quite sensibly wearing a dress or shirt or slacks or skirt more than once without laundering.

And what was that nonsense we had back in the day that if two girls showed up to the same event wearing the same dress or outfit, that we were expected to run crying from the room? Or that we had to have a new dress for every "event"? I can't make sense of either "imperative," but I recall feeling something akin to horror if someone's clothes were too much like mine, or if I couldn't get a new dress for a dance or other special occasion. If I remember correctly, it was generally considered less humiliating to stay home than show up in a dress you'd worn before.

Excuse me? Where in the world did that come from? And why didn't the grown-ups sit us down and chew us out for behaving deplorably?

Oh, wait. We learned it, for the most part, from our mothers...

So where did they learn it from? And why? I've long since tossed those attitudes overboard as rules not worth keeping, by the way. (A lot of the rules we learned in the '60s and '70s, are, to my mind, not worth keeping, but that's another story.)

Anyway, I'll bet you've suffered a few such glitches in common sense at one time or another in your life just because 'everyone else is doing it'. Yes? C'mon. What are some silly rules you used to follow that you've opted to not 'honor' anymore?

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