(Originally posted in the Stratford Star and Fairfield Sun newspapers on May 17, 2012, in my “Walsh’s Wonderings” column.)
The thief had been stealing money from us for weeks before we caught onto it. Just last night, I spied the hulking figure squatting inside my open window, waiting. I wanted to reach over to my sleeping wife, to protect her, to warn her—but the sweat-soaked sheets glued me to the bed. The guttural growls coming from the intruder failed to wake our dogs, leaving only me to see the robbery unfold.
I watched helplessly as the burglar greedily sipped at the air around us. I felt naked and exposed as the thought hit me: I had no defense against this cold-hearted criminal. Whatever power I’d had to protect my family was lost the moment that open window allowed this creature access… the moment my carelessness had provided the opportunity…
The moment I’d bought it on sale at Walmart.
Air conditioners, like cable TV, GPS, and the Ab Roller, are luxuries that somehow turn into necessities when our guards are down. Applying the old drug dealer’s adage that “The first hit is free,” most of us experiment a bit with our disposable income. After all, America’s economy is built upon indulgences like wedding china that will rarely, if ever, get used. These days, frugality can be seen as downright unpatriotic. If we’re not careful, however, this can bloom into full-scale addiction. Overnight, our cable package could include the Guam Channel and 24-hour coverage of Sudoku tournaments. Worse, it could lead to central air conditioning.
Like vampires or vacuum cleaner salesmen, air conditioners have to be invited in—an evil we bring upon ourselves. As anyone who’s seen the monthly electric bill can tell you, air conditioning is evil. Check the utility costs after a heat wave—I’ve had muggers who left me with more money. And yet it only takes a short time with air conditioning to make it irreplaceable. I find it impossible to switch back to the fan after a few nights delighting in the frosted windowpane cloud of cooled air. When the electricity goes out, my withdrawal symptoms would put Robert Downey, Jr. to shame.
The entire concept of air conditioning is designed to separate us from nature. We spend all winter cooped up and dreaming of warmer weather only to cower inside during July and August like snowmen afraid to melt. We install monstrous boxes in our windows that block out the sun, then close every other window and door to keep the cold air in—it’s as if we’ve moved inside the refrigerator. Also like the refrigerator, I always forget to change the filter—in this case, a large, netted screen so full of scum and filth that I shudder to breathe at all. The first weeks of use lead to endless sneezing, red eyes, and an insatiable desire for chest x-rays until I finally remember to wash the filter out.
My father, who grows smarter as I get older, didn’t believe in air conditioning. He didn’t believe in blinds, window shades or curtains, either, because his house was designed to get his kids out of bed quickly. If we were uncomfortable and the sun shining directly into our eyes each morning, we’d be more likely to get up and out of his hair. This really helped keep the electric bill down, and I’m beginning to think this might be a way to keep the utility companies from robbing me blind each month.
Oh, I’ll keep an air conditioner or two for emergencies, but they’ll only be invited in as guests, not tenants. That way, it’ll give me an excuse to break out the wedding china.