Lady, It’s Cold Inside

It’s not often that I find myself leading a revolution of the oppressed working class. Usually I look at the oppressed working class and think: Meh. I’m not the one oppressing you. Quit whining and make my McNuggets.

But since moving to a nameless eight-plex apartment building in North Portland, I have taken on a leadership role as we strive to subvert the authority of our oppressor. I speak of Landlady Peg.

Landlady Peg seemed like a friendly, neighborly sort when I was first considering renting this apartment, but she turned on me shortly after I moved in. Of course, this is because I got a satellite dish without her approval and subsequently told her she had no legal means of stopping me. But I do not think people should hold grudges simply because someone went against their wishes and used federal law to justify their actions. Forgive and forget, right?

Here’s how I know Landlady Peg is still mad about the satellite thing. When I was about to move in and we were going over the rental agreement, she told me rent was due on the 1st, and it’s considered late on the 5th. (Which really means it’s due on the 4th, but whatever.) “But if there’s a month sometime where there’s a problem, and you need to pay it late, just let me know,” she said. “We’re usually pretty understanding about that, and we’re glad to help you out.” I remembered this last month, when there was indeed a problem, and I sent her an e-mail asking if I could pay half on the 1st and half on the 15th. Her response was that this would be perfectly all right, but there would be a $50 late fee.

I maintain that this is neither understanding nor helpful.

So obviously, the grudge continues, and it brings me to my point. The apartments here are allegedly heated by old-fashioned radiators, which are controlled by a thermostat — one thermostat for all eight apartments. This thermostat is located in my particular apartment. However, I am unable to control it, because it’s protected by a clear plastic box that can only be opened with a key. And who has this key? I’ll give you a hint: She also has $50 of my money.

This arrangement would be fine, except that Landlady Peg 1) pays for our heat and 2) doesn’t live on the premises herself. So when the weather first turned cold, she had the thermostat set at 69 during the day and 65 at night — a bit chilly, really, considering internationally recognized Room Temperature is 72. A temperature of 65 makes for inhospitable conditions when it’s 3 a.m. and you want to scamper into the kitchen for a snack wearing nothing but your dainties.

About a month ago, Landlady Peg called me to ask if the heat had been working. She said another tenant had called her saying it wasn’t. I said, “Well, it’s working, but you have the thermostat set so low that it never actually comes on.”

“Oh, that’s how I have it at my house, too,” she said (which I’m sure is a big fat lie). “That’s how we like it. Besides, heat is expensive….”

Blah blah blah. She went on for a few minutes. She might have actually said “blah blah blah.” But nonetheless, she also said she would come by and turn the heat up a bit. She came by, all right, and when she left, the thermostat was set at … 68 during the day and 64 at night. One degree COLDER than it had been before. I maintain that this is neither understanding nor helpful.

I knew I couldn’t call Landlady Peg and ask her to turn the heat up “some more” or “again” — not because those terms don’t grammatically apply to someone who never turned up the heat in the first place, but because Landlady Peg doesn’t like me, and because she has already made her philosophy on heat very clear (i.e., she doesn’t like it).

So I took matters into my own hands. I thought: The heat comes on when the thermostat thinks the temperature has dropped below 68 (or 64 at night). It doesn’t have to actually BE 68 degrees in here; the thermostat just has to THINK it is. Now, what could I do to make a thermostat think it’s colder than it really is? Can I hypnotize a thermostat? Feed it Altoids? Drop an ice cube down its back?

A-ha! Ice cubes. I filled a plastic bag with ice cubes and put it on top of the clear plastic box that encases the thermostat. Sure enough, within a few minutes, the thermostat was thinking the apartment was 62 degrees, and the radiators were working at full capacity to bring it back up to 68. By the time the thermostat decided it was 68, it was actually a very balmy 74.

That’s now my standard practice. When I get up in the morning, I put the ice bag on, and by the time I’m out of the shower, the apartment is comfortable. When I get home in the evening, the ice goes on again for 15 minutes or so, and maybe again once more before I go to bed. The Man had been telling me how much heat I was allowed to have, and I think you know how I feel about The Man, especially when he’s a woman.

My neighbors, of course, probably just think Landlady Peg is a merciful property owner who has granted them a magnanimous amount of heat for the holiday season. They don’t realize that I am their benefactor, and that we are part of an invisible revolution of tenants.

That is fine with me. I’m content to remain an anonymous revolutionary, a cross between Che Guevara and Santa Claus, fetching snacks in my unmentionables in the middle of the night in comfort.

A few years after this was written, Landlady Peg had all the apartments' ancient single-pane windows replaced with modern ones, which greatly improved insulation and reduced the draftiness. I haven't had to use the ice bag ever since!