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Baby, it's cold inside.

Of the several ways of heating a house-solar, wood stove, oil furnace, baseboard electric, and applying a blowtorch to the sofa stuffing-the latter has begun to look more and more appealing.

Over my dear wife's dead body (at least that was her argument), we had started off heating this termite convention center we call a house with a wood stove. (Or a stove that burns wood, to be accurate; a stove made of wood might be trouble.) I chopped the wood, I lugged in the wood, I kept the fire going, I hauled out the ashes, I cleaned the chimney. But who said the stove was too much trouble? Right. And who was cold all the time? You've got it. When I took this woman for better or for worse, I didn't know that among the worse was a bloodstream clogged with ice floes originating in her feet.

My blood flows freely at a room temperature of 68 degrees. Hers grinds to a halt below 74. The stove being located in the kitchen, the temp here had to be pushing 80 before she would enter another room in the house without coat, scarf, mittens, and earmuffs. So why didn't I move the stove into the centrally located living room? She would whimper. My feeble excuse was that without a chimney in the living room it might be somewhat of a problem. Then we'll replace the wood stove with an oil furnace under the living room floor, she decided.

Did you ever try to argue a home heating problem with a woman who is already a tad blue around the gills? Especially when the woman is wearing earflaps?

"I'd rather smell wood smoke than the stench of fuel oil," was my

No. I protest. "Maybe you would, but thanks to your precious wood smoke, my lipstick plant is breathing its last," she rebutted.

I told her she could buy her lipstick-there was no need for her to grow her own.

Letting this go in one ear and out the other, which in her case is no problem, she said, "And my amaryllis blossom is already three weeks overdue."

"Wood ashes are good for the garden," I countered.

"Maybe chimney soot would be even better," was her off-the-top-of-her-head reply. Way off the top, I might add.

"And we'd have to get one of those unsightly fuel tanks that tells the world we can't afford electric heat," was my rejoinder.

"And what has your old wood pile been advertising?" she countered, having lifted one earflap to catch my rejoinder.

The outcome, of course, was ordained before the foundation of the world. And the Sears people, already in business by that time, and well aware that a husband's chance of winning one of these domestic tiffs ranges from zip to zero, had an oil furnace already loaded by the time my dear (make that costly) wife called. And they had it installed beneath our living room floor before I could come up with yet another rejoinder. I installed my beloved wood stove in the shed, beneath a sheet of plastic.

Now, I'm not placing the blame entirely on the furnace. Nor am I submitting that it was cholesterol that clogged the fuel line. I am asking why it is that when we have an expensive new appliance to brag about, it is ours," but the minute it stops applying, it suddenly becomes "yours"-as in "Your furnace isn't working again."

The furnace works fine during daylight hours, no problem. Or I could turn the thermostat up in midAugust and the thing would leap joyously into action. What it is waiting for is the coldest night of the year, when the master of his castle-as some hopped-up bachelor poet in the Bahamas chose to dignify a man's humble abode-is snugly ensconced in bed. Then and only then does it decide to show old master who is really in command of this moatless termite terminal.

"Let's give it another hour or two," I suggest, burying my head beneath my pillow.

Not deep enough, however, but what I still can hear her say, "By that time we'll be stiffer than boards. The flashlight is up on top of the refrigerator."

Taking the subtle hint, I haul out of bed, pull an old fleece-lined jacket trimmed in fuel oil over my pajamas, locate the flashlight, and in my haste to enjoy the refreshing midnight air, forget to turn up the collar of the jacket. The blizzard thoughtfully does it for me. And to make my walk to the furnace pit even more invigorating, the blizzard also fills my slippers with snow.

Removing the sheet metal cover, I ease myself into the pit. Lying on my back, I squeeze beneath the pipe running to the chimney. Get stuck. Back out. Remove my fleece-lined jacket. In bare pajamas I now worm my way to the front of the furnace, reach through the accumulated cobwebs, and hit the "Reset" button.

To my surprise, the furnace starts, belches a cloud of smoke and soot in my face, and quits. Upon regaining partial vision, I try again. Same result. Scrunching back under the pipe, I pick up my jacket, cover the pit, and stumble into the house, which I find a pleasant five degrees warmer than the outside.

The crunching sound upon again reinstating myself in bed comes not from the mattress, as I first suspect. Turns out to be from the soot in my pajamas. I am ostracized for the rest of the night.

I'm also on my own for breakfast, because the cook refuses to depart from the bed until she can no longer see her breath.

After calling the repair people, I go to the cereal shelf and indiscriminately take down a box. Cereal is cereal, right? They're all high-fiber, low-cal, great taste, crunchy, wunchy, munchy, and so on. Right?

Wrong. Not this time, anyway. Thanks to slugabed's unique method of organization, the cereal I chose turned out to be a box of Minute Rice. Which I didn't detect until after I had it sugared, raisined, and milked. And you know me-I sure wasn't going to let it all go to waste. Nothing, I say nothing, will set a man up for the day quite like a hearty bowl of uncooked Minute Rice. The repairman arrived on his double-time emergency run at 7:30 that evening. While dear wife and I held our respective breaths (primarily so that we could not see them), he clanked and banged around until 9 o'clock, presented me with a bill for $168.72, and said, "Sorry, I can't help you."

As I too was wearing earmuffs at the time, I didn't catch all of his explanation. Something about the fuel oil gelling before it could reach the furnace. And we should stick our electric heater in the pit and hope for the best.

So I took our only source of heat and stuck it in the furnace pit and hoped all night. To no avail. Returning next day and finding us still alive, the repairman wrapped the fuel line with heat tape, replaced the nozzle and filter he had installed the night before, and, no doubt attempting to relieve his conscience, charged me only for the parts.

I could tell you how I was talked into investing in baseboard electric heaters to turn on when the furnace turned off. And how our electric bill the next month rose from an average $32 to $182. And how I put a "Use at your own risk" tag on the control knobs. And I could go on, but this typing isn't easy for someone with the head of a blown-glass unicorn stuck to the index finger of his right hand.

The way it happened, to atone for all the trouble she had caused me by exiling the wood stove to the shed, my dear wife had planned to surprise me with this unicorn for my collection. Unfortunately, due to inflexible fingers (the furnace having conked out again), she had dropped the unicorn and its head had departed its body. Thus I found her in the kitchen, awash in tears, trying to reunite the two pieces. "My hands are too cold," she whimpered. The surprise element by this time pretty well shot, I volunteered to apply the glue and hold the head in place until it dried. "It dries in only a minute," dear wife sniffled as she shuffled off to bed until the repairman could re-schedule an appearance. (It seems that in retrieving our space heater, I had turned off the heat tape.) And for once, by golly, she was right. No more than a minute later the unicorn head was cemented to my finger. The glue tube offering no directions for the removal of a blown-glass unicorn head from the human finger, I may have to be so adorned until the thing wears off.

In the meantime, I'll be working in the shed. A unicorn head on my finger won't be too much of a handicap when it comes to putting up a chimney.
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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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Next Article:Kindergarten Cop.

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