When I take my coat off upon arrival at the office, wait an hour, then put it back on so I don’t freeze at my desk, the battle of the thermostat is in full swing. During tough times like these, a smart man chooses his attire in the morning with the shortcomings of the climate control system in mind. Alas, I am the only smart person in my department.
In a department (and company) filled with people of vastly different temperaments, you can imagine just how frustrating it must be for the person who is in charge of setting the temperature. Because I have been cursed with just enough responsibility for it to be a pain in the ass, the responsibility of the office’s ever fluctuating temperature falls to me. If someone would drive to my office and put me out of my misery, I’d greatly appreciate it.
Duct-work is designed around a specific floor-plan, so every time you remodel you get further away from the original “maximum efficiency” design. My own office has been remodeled so many times that the thermostat basically clings to the wall, in its plastic box house, going “I don’t fucking know what’s going on!” I pity our thermostat and the obvious shell-shock it must endure after almost a dozen renovations.
You can’t please everyone, especially when the bipolar thermostat’s two settings are “Cryogenic Freeze” or “Seventh Circle of Hell,” but knowing that the heating system is flawed, doesn’t it stand to reason that you would dress for the season? No, no you wouldn’t. If you work in my office, you instead spend your day trying to play mind games with the guy who has the thermostat key in order to get your way. That guy is me, and I valiantly battle the two extremes so folks like you don’t have to.
On one side of the battlefield, the chronically overheated Lt. Colonel Menopausal woman sits at her desk, two fans going at all times, making “Shew! It’s hot in here!” comments every 15 minutes. She makes these comments just loud enough so that she knows I can hear her, but not so loud as to be misconstrued as a complainer – God forbid you label her a troublemaker. At intermittent times, I will get up, fumble with the key and the plastic box (maybe drop it, just for good, theatrical measure). I make a big show of turning the thermostat down, waiting for the fan to kick on and then give an over exaggerated sigh of relief because it’s painfully obvious that I too am roasting and will soon sweat right through my cotton button-down. She will give me the condescending motherly look, like I just made her a picture frame out of construction paper and macaroni, and go smugly back to work. Later, when she takes her ninth trip to use the ladies’ room and refill her Diet Coke, I will get up and swiftly turn the temperature back to 71 like I’m Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible 17.
On the other side of the battlefield, Colonel Diva is the one person in the building that insists on dressing like it’s July 15. Similar to her opponent, Col. Diva will find excuses to stop by my desk and drop little hints multiple times a day. She stands there in her short skirt, strappy heels, and some sort of lightweight top that will be fashionable in New York next spring and the rest of the world two years from now. She’s just gabbing away about something, and making an obvious show of shivering and rubbing her bare arms. She’ll tell me that I “must be like a furnace” to be warm on days like this and how she might have to put her coat back on. At some point, I will stop zoning out and staring at her very long and attractive legs to tell her that I can probably turn the temperature up a degree or two and purposefully get up as though I’m about to do just that. I’ll suggest that she go ahead and put that expensive designer coat back on “just until it warms up a little bit.” She’ll give me a condescending smile and gush, “Oh, thank you!” in a voice that tells me I would never have a chance with her even if I tried, totter back to her desk and leave me in peace for approximately an hour.
I pretend to play the mind games all day, every day, from October through March. I might get a break of about two months if I’m lucky, then when summer rolls around and it’s time to flip to air conditioning, we’re right back on the battlefield, the two sides hunched over their desks like mad scientists, planning strategic moves and gazing wildly across the no-man’s land that surrounds the little plastic box locked to the wall.
Occasionally, if I get bored during the day and want to procrastinate a little bit on the latest task from my boss, I’ll pit the two sides directly against each other and say, “Well she just asked me to change it because she was so uncomfortable, so why don’t you talk to her and see if you can work it out so that everyone is comfy?” Under the guise of being a team player, I’ll sit back and watch the two sides try to out-manipulate each other. I might even pull out a snack as the scene unfolds. Is this cruel? Devious? Mean-spirited? It’s damn entertaining, is what it is.
The way I see it, if the boss is going to stick me in the middle of this eternal power struggle, he can either deal with an occasional indulgence on my part or he can take the key back. I honestly don’t care. But before he passes judgment, he needs to come watch one of these soap-opera scenes. Menopause just told Diva she feels physically ill if the temperature goes above 72 and Diva is struggling to find a countermove. Pass the popcorn.