We turned on the furnace last week and it wasn’t even October.
I texted this event to our daughter Emily, who is currently in Malaysia sitting in a puddle of sweat (not her own).
“WOAH!” she replied.
“I know,” I wrote back. “And oil is like $5000 a gallon!”
“I think it’s gone up to a bajillion now,” she wrote.
“Yes,” I replied, “but that’s a bajillion samolians, and the samolian is quite low right now. Or is it high?”
This went on for a while…
All I know is that this premature ignition of the furnace may end up in Emily’s litany of injustices – all those things that she had to suffer through that her younger siblings didn’t, like having to go to bed at 4:30 every night wearing the patented Nite-Buzz headgear that kept her hair boyishly short against her will. She exaggerates, of course; bedtime was 5:30.
She is right, though, in that the furnace in this house has traditionally stayed off until as late as the weather and Social Services would allow.
“It’s Christmas Eve. Can’t we turn the heat on just a little?”
“Of course not. We don’t want to burn Santa coming down the chimney.”
“But it’s an oil furnace!”
And when we do succumb to sparking up Ol’ Betsy (a name I’ve never before used to describe our furnace and a decision I immediately regret), we set the thermostat at a bracing 17 degrees Celsius. This is what we call room temperature (if your room happens to be at the back of a funeral home).
Our children just call it cold.
“It’s freezing in here!”
“Put on a sweater.”
“We’re living like Eskimos!”
“Don’t talk such nonsense; we say ‘Inuit,’ not ‘Eskimos.’”
Our thermostat isn’t one of those newfangled ones with the buttons and the read-outs and the programming and the espresso machine. It’s an old-school wall outlet filled with mercury and gyroscopes and controlled by a slider at the bottom, the kind someone might “accidentally” bump into and shoot the setting up to 32 Celsius.
Not that Ol’ Wheezy (that’s more like it) could manage to generate that kind of heat. It’s a converted coal furnace, an octopus of ducts and shafts that relies on oil, gravity and the kindness of strangers. It runs so quietly you barely notice, like Raymond Bachand for the Quebec Liberal leadership.
When we bought this house, changing the furnace was near the top of the List of Things We Plan To Do, along with Replace That Hideous Wallpaper and Hold A Street Party So The Neighbours Don’t Hate Us. Eighteen years later, I’m still staring at some kind of odd pink flower, I’m convinced that all the free booze in the world wouldn’t offset our barking dog, and I’m still rocking the Afghan slipper socks.
I’ve felt over the years that our refusal to run the furnace too soon or too high is not only a way to mitigate its inefficiency but also a means of preparing our children for the impending depletion of fossil fuels and the collapse of civilization. Huddled around their tallow candles, recounting stories of that day’s attacks by feral dogs and seeing whose gums are bleeding the most, they’ll be frozen, yes, but they’ll be used to it, thanks to Ol’ Lukey – Lukey Warm! (Ugh, that’s even worse than Ol’ Betsy.)
And so, while in a lapse of judgment we may have atypically turned the furnace on early, it’s set at a character-building 16 degrees, where it will remain, barring any “accidents.”
My wife doesn’t think I should write about the furnace in case we ever decide to sell the house. But I don’t think she has to worry. Antiques are big right now. I bet we could sell the furnace for a quadzillion samolions.
Or maybe that’s just the carbon monoxide talking.