Thursday, January 14, 2010

Prisoner of the Second Floor

Almost 40 years ago Neil Simon’s black comedy The Prisoner of Second Avenue brought laughter and fear to audiences. The play (and movie adaptation) dealt as much with a crumbling New York City as it did with the slumping fortunes of an Upper East Side, middle-aged couple. They confronted the husband’s recent loss of a job and a heat wave made all the more ironically intolerable by a malfunctioning air conditioner that turned their apartment into an ice chest.

Despite sharing the same employment status as the main character, Mel Edison, I am in no way paranoid like him. But I do share one circumstance with Mel and his wife Edna—I’m a prisoner of the cold, as well. I’m a prisoner of the second floor.

We have two-zone heating in our home. When both Gilda and I worked, we’d set back each thermostat to conserve energy while we were in the city. Now that I work from home (hah!), it would be cruel and unusual punishment to let me freeze all day. So I’ve taken to adjusting the upstairs thermostat to 67 degrees during the daytime. Shortly after Gilda goes off to work each morning, the first floor stays set at what penguins might consider a tolerable 60 degrees but, not being of Scandinavian or Inuit extraction, I find unbearable.

I’m usually able to finish breakfast before it gets too chilly downstairs. The rest of the day, when I’m not running errands or attending meetings as I did earlier this week, I cocoon upstairs, warmed by the computer, the occasional glow from the TV screen, and, as we have often been told, a layered ensemble that GQ would surely opine is either trendsetting or déclassé. I even bought a pair of gloves with the fingertips exposed, but they were woolen, or bad polyester, and itched too much to wear.

I remain a prisoner of the second floor (except for lunch, during which I add another fleece layer) until the heat goes back on downstairs late in the day. For those who may be wondering, I do not wear or want to wear a Snugglie or Snuggie, though I will tell you that when watching TV, Gilda and I often will wrap ourselves in matching super-comfy and warm Polartec throw blankets made by our daughter-in-law Allison.

Of course, this is my wintertime routine. During the summer I sojourned on the first floor (for those who have forgotten their elementary school science lessons, heat rises in the winter, cooler air stays low to the ground in summer). Being upstairs limits my birdwatching to mealtimes, but even the birds are staying mostly sheltered during this cold snap.

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