Opinion Latest

Adjusting to life in a meat locker

Adjusting to life in a meat locker

I’m trying my best to get this column out to you, but it’s not as easy as it seems. My teeth are chattering like dice in a coffee cup, and my fingers are as stiff as frozen French fries.

You try typing like that with your fingers frozen. It feels like trying to thread a needle while wearing boxing gloves.  

We do fine in the summer, my wife and me. We keep the temperature in the house set to around 69-70 degrees, the better to keep the withering summer heat where it belongs — outside. It’s a comfortable, agreeable climate. Any conflict in the house, you can’t blame the thermostat.  

Winter, well that’s a different story altogether. The great American writer John Steinbeck once wrote a novel called “The Winter of Our Discontent,” the story of a married couple fighting over the thermostat from December to mid-March, one of them shivering under a pile of blankets, the other burning up in a thin tee shirt and cut-off shorts. Mutual epithets are muttered, but not launched across the room. They travel a couple of feet, fizzle and die. The winter of our discontent indeed.  

Okay, Steinbeck’s novel is not really about that, but it could be. In our house, it would be.   

I am not sure exactly what happened, or when. A few years go — six or eight, maybe 10 — my spouse and I suddenly found that we could not quite agree on an ideal temperature in the house during the winter months. For many years, it was about the same temperature that we found — and still find, I hasten to add — agreeable in the summer. Something in the 69-70 range.  

Related Items

Then, one day, I felt a touch chilly and was surprised to find the thermostat turned down to 68 degrees, certainly not a hanging offense and probably just an accident. I’d just politely bumped it back up to 69 or 70 and went about my business, carried along in the warm flow of the air issuing from the vents when the furnace kicked on in that reassuring way of furnaces, that comforting clicking noise.  

A day or two later, same thing. And then again the next day. Back and forth we went. 

Anyone who has been married longer than a week knows that at times like these, you are faced with the following options: confront the issue directly; pretend there is no issue; make it a fun little game of hotter/colder until somebody gives up; or embark on a strategy of passive aggressive sly remarks in passing.  

“Whew, it’s a little nippy in there, dontcha think?”  

“Hmmm, I was just thinking how weird it is that some people need it to be so hot inside all the time.”  

For a good long while, we tried every option but the first one. By a good long while, I mean several years. We might have been able to go on like that the rest of our days, but two things happened that made this impossible.  

One thing was that each year, the temperature was set one degree lower. It’s like the frog that doesn’t know it’s being cooked except in reverse. I was being frozen all the way through, one solitary degree at a time.   

She’d turn it down, then I’d kick it back up to a civilized number and all would be well until she kicked it back down again. Then one night, our day of reckoning arrived while we were working on a puzzle, the perfect metaphor for our marriage in that particular moment.  

“Honey, it’s freezing in here,” I said, in my Columbia fleece jacket, thick pajama pants, and fake rabbit fur slippers. “Could we turn it up to 67 at least?”  

She looked across the table at me for a full 10 seconds, our eyes locked.  

“Why do you hate me?” she said.  

I didn’t hate her. I just didn’t want to get frostbite in the morning when I am making coffee.   

“You see, you can put more things on,” she said. “But I can only take so much off.”  

“Well…” I began.  

“You just stop it right there before I get the meat cleaver.”  

The temperature is now set and fixed at 64 degrees. The ambiance is somewhere between a meat locker and a morgue. Very inviting. 

I got myself a nifty little space heater that creates a nice bubble of warmth for my workspace or the bathroom or the living room. I drink a lot of hot coffee or hot tea or hot chocolate or whisky. I put little sweaters on the dogs. It’s not their fault. 

I think of the money we’re saving on propane. I think about baseball season, right around the corner. And for a moment or two, I am content. Shivering, but content.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.