Then: Place an order for a half-ton of coal to be delivered to your house, releasing a fine black dust over everything in the basement; shovel coal from the filthy bin, coughing, then fiddle with an imprecise control until the house is somewhere between 66 and 82 degrees. Sooty plumes from everyone’s chimney turn the entire town dingy.
Today: I am really, really irritated because I tried to set the house’s temperature remotely using an app on my phone, so it would be warm when I got home, but I had to wait a WHOLE MINUTE while it updates.
Have you turned on the heat yet? First the Halloween decorations appear at Target, then you start wearing a sweater around the house at night, then you turn on the furnace, then your spouse complains about the temperature you’ve chosen.
Except my wife was out of town, so I could set it the way I like it: barbecue pit in Georgia in August. She probably sat up in her chair, a thousand miles away, as if she sensed all the candles on the mantel slumping over.
There’s always that moment in the fall when you hear the whoomph! of the furnace and smile with relief: It works. The pipes creak as the metal expands, the water sloshes around the house and you get that cozy fall smell that’s probably incinerated sloughed-off skin cells and pet dander.
If they made a scented candle with that aroma, people would buy it.
Later the dog wanted to go out. I opened the door, and he hesitated. I slipped into Dad mode:
“C’mon, I’m not paying to heat the outside. Granted, any heat that escapes through this door would have an imperceptible impact on median exterior temperatures, and I doubt the effect would extend more than a few yards. Plus, this brief interval will be insufficient to reduce the interior temperature to the point where the furnace will come back on, which would be spending more money. But none of that matters. My only concern is having total control over the interior temperature.”
The dog looked at me as if to say, “Are you done? Because, if not, I can go on the rug.”
We stood outside for a while, and I heard that bittersweet, haunting sound overhead that says autumn as much as the first foomph of the furnace. The sound comes in the spring, and you’re happy to hear it. It leaves in the fall, tracing the length of the sky, fading away, leaving you standing alone in the twilight, thinking of winter to come. The long, deep, dark months ahead. “Take me with you,” you want to say, but the sound has passed you by.
And that’s how I feel about the 9:25 flight to Phoenix, which passes overhead every night. Imagine how I’ll feel when it’s geese.