I am sitting under my electric blanket in a flannel nightgown reading the paper. It is 9 p.m. I feel like a mole. It occurs to me that for the last several months I have spent all too many evenings in a flannel nightgown, under an electric blanket.
I don't blame the blanket. We two have developed a working relationship in which, as James Taylor would have put it, "You supply the satisfy and I'll supply the need." I have supplied the need.
The point is that my house is cold. The point is that the only refuge is under the covers.
This is something that I am just now admitting. It is an un-American and certainly un-New England thing to confess. After all, I have my conservation pride to keep me warn. Since Nov. 20, the very last day on which I had pink nails, I have resisted acknowledging the fact that my house is cold. Ask anyone. I spoke of it as brisk, crips. Nice autumn-in-New-England words like that.
In December, I almost convinced the smallest person under my roof that cool air is invigorating. By Christmas, when the complaints came in, I became expert at blaming the various victims of my energy policy. After all, anyone who goes downstairs for breakfast without flannel underwear deserves what she gets: chillblains.
In January, I thought positively. Cold, I said, is a question of mind over matter. Those of us who are of hearty stock are not supposed to notice these things. But by February I began noticing. By February, I came to the realistic conculsion that cold is not a question of mind over matter. Cold is a matter of degrees.
The fact is that I am tired of having to calculate whether it is really worth getting out of bed to go to the bathroom. I have decided that flannel nightgowns are my least-becoming color. I do not feel sexy in socks.
I glance around me and see that spirits have sunk with the thermostat and conversations have shrunk like membranes. I am on the verge of insulting someone's insulation. My normal cabin fever has turned to cold-house crankiness, and it is contagious.
The signs of the disease are everywhere. At a party, a friend is asked, "What are you?" She answers forthrightly, "Normally a No. 4, occasionally a No. 5." He knows that she is talking about her blanket rating and not her beauty. He smiles and tells her he is looking for energy compatibility.
Who isn't these days?
In surburs all over the North, perfectly sane and caring couples are locked in power plays for control of the thermostat. There is a story of a man who lowers when his wife raises. One day she is found sneaking into the living room to add a degree or two; the next day he is found putting the lamp next to the thermostat. She accuses him of the death of the parakeet. He accuses her of infidelity to their budget.
In a neighboring town, there lives a couple whose parents warned them 20 years ago that their marriage would falter over religious differences. It hangs this February instead over the flickering light of the furnace. At midnight last week, she was heard humming the Paul Simon record, "You like to sleep with the window open/I like to sleep with the window closed/So goodbye, goodbye, goodbye."
All winter, warmth has been for company only. Hosts chill wine and warm rooms. We put on the dog by degrees. Cold comfort.
But now people all around me are beginning to break. A true chop-and-stack-it man secretly booked a flight to Florida. A woman who has encased her body in down in these many months confesses that last week she shut the kitchen doors and turned on the oven and put her bare feet on the linoleum. An otherwise decent American family treated their children to a Sunday afternoon at 72 and told stories about the good old days.
I understand. I, Nanook of the North, also have an urge to do something rash: To leave the shades up at night. To take off my socks. To spend one mad, impetuous evening on the first floor. To see 65 once again.
In one impulse, I grasp the controls of my electric blanket. Full speed ahead. With a flourish, I turn it rashly, masterfully, up to a six.
These are the thrills.