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I can’t feel my toes. It doesn’t help that I’ve worn Birkenstocks without socks today, but I just wasn’t expecting this. The hair on my arms is standing up and I’ve only been in the office for fifteen or twenty minutes.
I think about getting back in my car, driving home, and grabbing a sweatshirt. Maybe throw on some shoes and socks but that’ll take me at least forty minutes. I’m going to have to tough this out, and so are the ten other people in my immediate area who are also sitting at their desks, teeth on the verge of chattering as they reach for anything to cover themselves up – loose leaf paper, a cardboard box, or leftover napkins from yesterday’s Chipotle run. It’s September and the temperature outside is in the mid-70s, but in here, inside this cold, nightmarish office we’ve got people running space heaters.
You’ll hear at least two or three “It is so cold in here!” remarks before noon and all we can do is hope that one of those emails to the office manager gets through to her pea-sized brain. We tell her it’s too cold in here and she’s liable to just turn the air conditioning completely off out of spite. She wields her office authority haphazardly and without influence, save for the bossman himself.
Growing up I watched my parents battle over the temperature inside of my childhood home. My dad has always been a big fan of air conditioning because he didn’t grow up having it, and I swear to god he still, to this day revels in keeping that thermostat at about 68 degrees. My mother, on the other hand, has always preferred the temperature to stay around 72.
We moved into a new house the summer before I started high school and we got this really fancy HVAC system. I don’t have proof of this but I’m pretty sure my dad paid off the guy who did the install to not show my mother how to operate it.
Now three or four degrees may not seem like much but the difference between 68 degrees and 72 degrees when we’re talking about air conditioning temp is massive. I was always in the “it’s too hot in here” camp as a youth but that’s because I had a medical condition.
I was self-conscious of my sweat problem as a high school kid. I’d bring an extra undershirt to change into halfway through the school day because the pit stains became so unbearable. I even sought out professional help, going so far as to consult a doctor and start getting a prescription deodorant that made it feel like my armpits were being burned off. Nowadays I’ve got the sweating thing under control for the most part. I alternate deodorant brands every few months to keep my body guessing and that seems to work out just fine.
I think most of us know the feeling of growing up in a house where the adults argue over the air conditioning. It’s just one of those things, you know? And now that I’m out on my own I don’t live under the rule of my parents, but I do live on my own because of an employer, and that employer loves keeping my office at something like 66 degrees. I’m not even exaggerating here. We don’t have access to the thermostat because of course we don’t, but people talk about it like it’s an urban legend.
There’s a battle being waged in professional offices all over the country. The silent killer, also known as the HVAC system, is cunning and relentless in office settings. There’s one woman in my office who stops by my desk every morning and makes a remark about the air conditioning. We don’t talk about anything other than the HVAC. In the summer, it’s too fucking cold and in the winter it’s a goddamn sauna. She leaves a wool sweater draped over her chair that she puts on immediately when she gets in and it doesn’t get removed from her person until 5:00 pm when she walks out the door to go home. I run hot and even I’m cold in here.
There’s no happy medium when it comes to the air conditioning at an office. There’s no attempt to make the cube jockey comfortable, no common ground found among the entry-level employee and the higher-ups who think that people enjoy working in sub 68-degree iceboxes. I shouldn’t have to work with a blanket on my lap but here we are.
I can control my own thermostat at my apartment. I keep it at 70 (an everyman temperature) to appease visitors even though I’d probably prefer it at 68 or 69. But when I’m at work there are no deals to be made or backroom compromises to be had. Me and the other salaried employees serve at the pleasure of someone else, and if he wants it to feel like a polar ice cap than goddammit he can and will..
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