As a child of the 1970s, I am a mix of inconsistencies and contradictions. I am a feminist, but I am not opposed to making my husband do man-oriented, manly, man-chores. I am a conservationist, mostly when it’s convenient. I am an environmentalist, when I have the energy, or if someone is watching. Politically, I am a liberal-conservative, or a moderate-liberal. See, so confusing. Is everyone else tortured by doing what is right versus what is convenient?
My parents, who stoically weathered the energy crisis in the ‘70s, programmed me to avoid the conspicuous consumption of our resources. If I showered longer than necessary, which, to my father—a former U.S. Air Force captain, who embraced military efficiency—meant five minutes. Any longer and he would flicker the lights to induce a mild seizure.
One of the more embarrassing energy-conserving habits was to hang all of our “personal” laundry in our backyard to dry and to a.) smell like the fine outdoors b.) put our undergarments on full display for the neighbors c.) ensure that everything we own was so stiff and rigid, you had to walk around like a gingerman.
I have to admit, these flashbacks put a smile on my face, but it also reminds me of how far off track I am from my parents’ guiding principles.
Over Memorial Day weekend, we hosted family friends from Manhattan, so they could enjoy the suburbs and take in our habitat. It was hot, humid and sunny on Saturday, perfect conditions for the husbands to embark on a sweaty stroll into town with all of the kids and our dog. My girlfriend and I opted to drive into town in our “getaway car,” in case anyone severely melted down. It was the considerate thing to do—to ride comfortably in the air conditioned car and meet them along Elm Street. My father is rolling his eyes in heaven.
The afternoon sun was more than what our walkers bargained for, so along the way, kids ended up on adult shoulders and my husband had to hydrate our dog with water from a frisbee (we’re classy, and find inventive ways to repurpose our plastics). When they arrived in the epicenter of town, everyone (aside from us moms) was listless, swampy and a wee bit cranky, but nothing a bubble tea, cotton candy milkshake, and ice coffees could not remedy.
Our visitors were blown away by the charming village and all the great shops. My friend and I ditched the group, yet again, to enjoy some retail therapy. We entered one shop on Elm—its front door was wide open, the air conditioning was working up a sweat, and every light in the joint was blazing. With the sun beaming down from the skylights and all the light fixtures set to “blinding,” it was like standing on the sun. I wanted to don my sunglasses and take off all of my clothes.
Between seeing spots and counting the drips running down my spine, we both found some clothes we loved and wanted to try on. But it was so hot in the store, even with the air conditioning blasting, that I couldn’t bring myself to consider going into the oven, I mean, changing room. With the front door open and every light on, the A/C had no chance. Because I heard my parents’ energy-conscious voices in my head, I approached the saleswoman and suggested she turn off some lights and shut the door. She could not have been more disinterested in my ideas on conservation, even though she had a thick ridge of perspiration beading above her lip. I shut up, bought a dress that I didn’t dare try on, and prayed that I wouldn’t have to go back for a store credit.
Undeterred, we popped into the next store. Again, the front door was open. On a mission to support our local retail operations, I ignored my personal hot flashes and shadowed my friend into the steam, I mean, store. Again, in an act of futility, I mentioned to these new employees that closing the entrance would help prevent the air conditioning from malfunctioning, in addition to my supreme discomfort. The salesperson said that the owners like the door open all times to entice customers. So, I guess luring customers inside is preferable to providing a pleasant shopping experience. Or perhaps, a sign on the closed door touting the exceptional air conditioning within would be more appealing to sweltering retail refugees.
Suddenly, as if my father was flickering a light switch from the heavens, the store’s electricity started to go on and off. It was a brownout warning. The village electrical grid was overloaded due to flagrant misuse. I jumped on my conservation soapbox, informing the salespeople that many of the stores downtown had their doors wide open with the air conditioning running on all cylinders.
So now I had become the local crazy lady, maniacally sweating through her clothes, ranting about energy conservation, the future of our planet, and the widespread apathy that is plaguing everything. I knew what everyone in the store was thinking, “She is not a size double zero…she’s probably just fat, angry and on too many allergy meds. Don’t make eye contact.”
Alas, I will continue to preach about closing doors, turning off lights and being more conscious about energy overuse and other egregious acts that defy my parents’ guiding principles. Maybe one day someone will actually listen and shut the…front door.