|by Bill Sievert|
|Having a cool Yule takes on new meaning
All across the land, people are planning for their coolest Yule season evereven though many will find fewer or less expensive presents under their trees. That's because almost everyone is facing dramatically higher heating bills this winter. And most of us are making an initial response by turning our thermostats downway down.
An old friend from post-college dayswe'll call him bitter Barrycalled the other day from Massachusetts to complain to me that he has been shivering since October but refuses to set his furnace any higher than 55 degrees.
"We're doing the same thing," I said.
"But you live in Florida!"
"Sure, but my blood has thinned since we moved south, and it gets downright nippy in this part of the state. It already has dipped into the 30s a couple nights."
"You poor thing."
I persevered in attempting to win a modicum of sympathy. "Last January and February, our natural-gas bill came close to $300 a month, and if we don't cut back, we could be paying $600 this year."
"Big deal!" Barry cried, and I sensed a game of "Can-You-Top-This?" coming on. "I keep worrying about global warming and the polar ice cap melting, but it still gets damned cold up here from November to May, and last year, our gas bill averaged $400 during those seven months." Having received a notice from their utility company that rates are doubling, Barry and partner Robert foresee shelling out in excess of $800 a month if they warm their modest-size house to 68 degrees this winter.
"There's no way we can afford that, so we're already bundling up like Eskimos, learning to live with the chronic shivers, and building a lot more fires."
"Our fireplace is natural gas," I said with a sigh. "It produces a cute little flame, but very little warmth."
"Geez, Bill, when we were in school, they told us that our rent or mortgage would be our highest cost of living. Now, our mortgage runs a distant third to health insurance and utilities. I'm up to a $2,500 deductible on medical coverage."
"When my renewal notice arrived last month, I realized that I had no affordable option but to go to a $5,000 deductible," I announced, continuing our game of one-upmanshipor is that one-down-manship? "And my policy has no prescription-drug benefit whatsoever." So there!
"I used to think that I was earning a comfortable living, but just how much are you supposed to make these days to meet basic expenses?"
"You've got to be a lawyer or computer-tech guru," I said. "Actually, I'm thinking of liquidating everything and investing in one of the major oil companies. Did you read that, after blaming the hurricanes and OPEC for $3-a-gallon gas, the oil giants are now reporting record-breaking profits for the last quarter? They're lining their pockets with billions of extra bucks at the public's expense. And that hurts poorer people most."
"You're only making me more depressed," Barry said. "I think I'll go munch another uncooked hamburger. I look forward to losing myself in an un-winnable bout with Mad Cow Disease."
"I don't think my insurance would cover it, even after I paid my $5,000 deductible. I'm just hoping I don't catch a nasty cold or flu from living in such a cold house."
"You'd better hope you don't come down with the bird flu," Barry warned. "Well, Dubya wants the federal government to acquire up to 20 million doses of vaccine."
"In a country of close to 300-million people, that should make us all feel secure. It would be just about enough to protect the oil execs, Karl Rove's cronies and major donators to Focus on the Family." "Don't forget Bush's Supreme Court appointees," I added.
"Don't get me started," Barry said, though he was already well on his way. "We might have stood a chance with Harriet Miers. But, now that the hardliners have forced their puppet president even further to the right, it absolutely makes me shudder." "Maybe you should turn up the thermostat just a little."
"I'm serious. Dubya's appointees, and there may be more to come, will have an impact on our lives for the next 30 years." "You expect to live another 30 years? Now, there's an unexpected note of optimism."
"Maybe it's a brain freezeor the onset of my Mad Cow," Barry said in a relatively enthusiastic tone. "I really would like to feel optimistic during the holiday season, but this year it's not going to be easy. We were supposed to fly to Dallas to visit Robert's family for Christmas, but I refuse to spend any money there after the way Texans passed the anti-gay marriage amendment."
"Then you've got about 20 other states to boycott, as well."
I reminded Barry that I share his frustration about the deteriorating political, economic and environmental state of our society, and acknowledged that I fret a lot about the kind of world our once-so-promising generation is bestowing upon my soon-to-be-two great nephews. "But, somehow," I said, "I always manage to get into the holiday spirit. I've already finished shopping for John, and we'll have our traditional stack of presents under the tree, albeit a little less expensive than in some years."
"I guess I'd better get started shopping, though I told Robert that he's getting nothing but switches because we can burn them to keep warm."
"Lucky Bob. You could always give him a trip to Florida and come visit us this winter. But you'll have to overlook some of our Neanderthal laws, and you'll need sweaters 'cause our house really does get cold."
"Yeah, yeah. Well, maybe if the price of gasoline drops enough we'll drive south." "Meantime, try to keep your chin up."
"My chins, you mean? If you recall, I had only one when we first started fighting the good fight. In those days, we could live the high life making $90 a week at the Student Press Association."
"That was 36 years ago... Speaking of modest journalism wages, I'm on deadline for Letters from CAMP Rehoboth. It's time for my seventh annual Christmas column in which I urge everyone to lighten up for the holidays and then get politically agitated again for the new year. I'll email you a copy as soon as I've finished it."
"You've been writing for that rag for seven years?" Barry asked incredulously. "You must really be getting old." "By the increasingly gray hair of my chinny-chin chins."
Barry finally allowed himself a modest laugh. "Well, you guys have a good Thanksgiving, and be careful handling your bird."
"We always handle our birds with care." "There's going to be no turkey in our house this year. We're going with ham because it's not avian." "Ham, did you say, or raw hamburger?" "Fa la la la la." "Same to you, girlfriend." Happy Holidays to all, then to all a good fight.
Bill Sievert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 15 November 23, 2005