Next door to our house is a very lovely Craftsman-era apartment building that used to be two luxury apartments (upper and lower), complete with servants' entrances, when it was built in the early 1920s, but is now four apartments. The two front apartments, upper and lower, are big, beautiful two bedroom apartments with fireplaces surrounded by hand-painted ceramic tiles, and gorgeous wood floors waxed to a glossy glow, plus ceiling beams, knacky little leaded glass windows on either side of the chimney, and re-wired original light fixtures where they could be salvaged. There are also built-in bookcases which cause me no small amount of envy. The rear apartments are one bedroom beauties with galley kitchens and little baby bathrooms with pedestal sinks.
We have lovely neighbors, all of them. We all say hello and talk in the driveway or on our porch and in spite of the fact that the upstairs front neighbor, an artist, is a very bitter ex-Catholic, he likes us anyway and always sends over gorgeous braided coffee cakes and cookies at the holidays. He also gave my husband and I each a rosary that he bought for us at the Vatican when he vacationed in Italy last fall and gave us an oil miniature of Father Christmas which is so beautiful, I couldn't bear to put it away with the other Christmas decorations and left it sitting on my desk where I can see it.
Here's my thing: the former owner of that apartment building completely restored it, putting in all new kitchen and bathroom fixtures, taking care to choose items that wouldn't be too jarringly modern in the gentle confines of these beautiful spaces. He did each apartment over with enormous attention to detail so that they'd be pleasurable to live in, but he also added some modern conveniences. Like garbage disposals. Mini washer/dryer hookups. And central air conditioning, which is an enormous boon in a building that is almost one hundred years old.
Our house, as I mentioned before, is around 150 years old. It is a wonderful house on the inside and the outside, but I wouldn't even agree to look at the inside until I found the pot of gold on the outside: a great big brand-new AC condenser. As I type, the thermostat is cranked down to a perfectly chilled 70 degrees, making me feel like a fine and cherished wine. You would not believe how nasty I am when I'm too hot. Ever had a mouthful of warm champagne? Well, I'm even worse than that. Bitter, harsh and completely incompatible with everything, with a tendency to bring tears to the eyes.
However, none of our neighbors except for our upstairs artist friend have their central air on. How could this be? Are there people out there who don't mind the heat and humidity? How could they not? How could a person wake up in the morning with the sheets kind of sticking to the legs and walk past the thermostat, yawning his or her way out to the kitchen for coffee, saying tohimself, "Oh, I don't think I need to turn that on."
This is as far from my way of thinking as it would be if I found out our neighbors slept on bales of straw instead of beds.
One neighbor told me that she only likes to turn it on when it gets into the nineties outside and is really unbearable because she "likes to hear the birds."
Don't get me wrong: I like birds as much as the next person, but if I want to hear birds in the summer, I'll get one of those clocks from the Harriet Carter catalog and it can sing to me once every hour. I want my air conditioning.
None of them ever appear to be hot and sweaty, which confounds me. Even the neighbor who is six months pregnant. It may be because they are all skinny and I'm, well...not. The last time I was skinny, I was eighteen years old and I had braces on my teeth and a bad attitude and I didn't like being hot then, either.
I don't think I'll ever understand it. But I do figure that by the time I hit menopause, we should be able to hang meat in the living room, no matter what the neighbors are doing.
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