Twenty-five years ago, my wife and I would leave my parents’ home after a visit and snark to each other about how hot it was in their house. According to us, they had the temperature cranked up to about a million degrees.
“I’m sweating like a pig.” “I could hardly breathe.” “How can they live that way?” We were happy to be out of there, smug and confident that we would never be like them.
Then, when we weren’t paying attention, my wife and I grew old. Neither one of us saw it coming, and these days Karma is delivering payback for our youthful arrogance as regularly as the Amazon guy delivers laxatives. We are the ones who live in a hot house, and our children are the ones who leave complaining that the place is a sauna.
My body fat is saying bye-bye, my metabolism has slowed to a crawl, and my hormone production is down to the occasional drip. I have skin like paper. I am going to get cold.
When going out, we adapt. Depending on the destination, I wear long sleeves, sweaters or both. When going to a movie theater, I take a jacket and my wife goes full blanket. At home there are two quilts on the bed, even in summer. And when no one is joining us, we keep the house warm.
I have done a lot of research to prepare for writing this article, research that required me to spend nearly seven dollars on a small digital room thermometer — with a humidity reading — and then monitor it from my La-Z-Boy for several days. When I say we keep our house warm, by warm, I mean seventy-eight degrees Fahrenheit, six degrees warmer than the corporate approved office temperature for working people. It is this six-degrees of separation — not the one involving Kevin Bacon — that divides my wife and I from the younger generations and the working world. It is this six degrees that brands us as old.
In cool seasons, when I come in from the cold outside, particularly if I’ve been working, even seventy-two feels hot. But if I am just sitting in the La-Z-Boy reading, the temperature can creep up to eighty without me being aware of it. It is those times, invariably, when some youngster who just finished chopping wood in a snowstorm drops by. I’m not ready for them. They are not ready for the heat, and chaos ensues.
When middle-agers, a group well-known for their sensitivity, are on my calendar, I prepare. I open windows and cool the place down to the socially acceptable seventy-two before they arrive. I want everybody to be happy, and I will don a sweater to make that happen. But the unscheduled visitor is apt to find our house heated to the way we like it and the way they don’t.
People who would never comment negatively about our interior design, our cleanliness, or odors, feel perfectly free to let loose on the temperature. It’s a passive-aggressive free-for-all. The insults, and insults they are intended to be, are legion. “Boy, it’s toasty in here,” “You like it a little warm, don’t ya.” “Did you leave the stove on?”
Friends, neighbors and relatives who would bend over backward to help us carry groceries, clean gutters, or navigate down stairs will turn on us like wolverines over that extra six degrees. People who would build a ramp up to their front door just so we could visit would slit their wrists rather than turn up the temperature a couple of degrees when we get there.
My liberal relatives throw anti-ageism, respect for differences, and the honoring of diversity out the window when it comes to room temperature. My conservative friends advocate respecting one’s elders, but not to the ridiculous extreme of accepting a seventy-eight degree living room.
My wife and I just take it. I could be aggressive back about the fact that they showed up unexpectedly and uninvited and therefore ought to embrace the opportunity to shut the hell up, but I don’t. Old age has a lot of downsides and complaints about the temperature don’t rise to the level of needing a response. The complainers are silly, maybe self-centered, and annoying, but the issue they raise is not the molehill I wish to die on.
I don’t want to be self-righteous about this. When I was forty, vigorous and healthy, I was just as much a prima donna about every temporary discomfort as my forty-year-old progeny are today. But now that I am old, now that discomfort and decay have become everyday companions, I make an effort to not burden people with my complaints. People don’t want to hear them, and I get tired of making them.
I wish my overheated relatives could do the same. It’s six degrees. Get over it.