by Larry Teren
Think 1960s, first floor of a two-flat apartment building. It’s summer time and central air is an unheard expression. There are two ways to cool off- go to a show- I mean, movie theater (pronounced by Uncle Henry as thee ay a ter) or take a ride in our pistachio green colored 1964 Rambler with air conditioning. This, of course, limits opportunities of convenience. I mean, what if it’s a sweltering 88 at 9pm on a Wednesday night? No way are we stuffing into the Rambler for a ride.
Dad to Ma: “Honey, we’re buying a fan.”
Ma: “We have one now and it doesn’t do much. Anyway- can we afford a new one?”
Dad: “I’m tired of the complaints. We’re gonna buy a big fan that fits in the window in the front parlor. And Sam told me that if you put it in reverse and close all the bedroom doors at night, it cools off the house. It sucks all the hot air out. It’s better than suffering.”
Ma: “Well, if you think it’s gonna work, it’s better than what we have.”
I know what you are thinking- how is this going to help anyone sleeping in a bedroom with the door closed and no ventilation? Personally, I don’t care because – I forgot to mention- I’m the odd one out in our four sibling family of three sisters and me. I sleep in the dining room at the other end of the long hallway that connects to the living room and the front parlor.
This budding teenager gets used to being rocked to sleep at night listening to the hum of a large fan going in reverse. I’m convinced that at some point if I get out of bed and walk in the hallway, I’ll be sucked into the front room.
Does the reverse flow help? I’ll put it this way- the next summer dad buys a window slotted air conditioning unit for my parents’ bedroom. Needless to say, we all take turns huddling in the bedroom at any given time. Suddenly, going on freezing car rides no longer is needed. Besides, with the onset of a changing neighborhood, and the airing of NBC Night at the Movies on television, going to the show is not on the list of things to do.
It isn’t easy living in a three bedroom apartment with two parents, four kids plus now a newborn baby and only one washroom. It almost demands that we get up in the morning at staggered times and take care of our business as quickly as possible. And hope that a family member doesn’t have issues that causes one to dread going in next. It also means using the washroom during the day even when you don’t need to- just because.
How many times did any of us hear those words of deep angst while taking a bath- “Open up, I gotta go.” It would mean pulling the shower curtain and having to listen to a symphony not meant for anyone but the music maker himself. Especially when a certain person would add the sensual element of smell to go with sound. In fact, forty years later I still had to convince myself it was okay to use the washroom in my own place with no one around with the door open.
Dad’s favorite expression when he would walk past the bathroom after its use was, “throw the walls out!” and then would proceed to fan the door back and forth for at least thirty seconds. Like that was going to provide instant relief.
We knew the bathroom would be in lock down if Dad ambled by with a rolled up newspaper in hand and say to no one in particular, “if anyone calls, tell them I’m in my office.” Our rallying cry whenever or wherever a noxious drift came upon us was- “Throw the walls out!”
Dad being an insurance salesman looked at anyone and everyone as a prospect. Never too shy to make a pitch. His home was not only his castle but his branch office. He worked the phone at night talking to customers servicing their accounts as well as soliciting new business. A kid had to be careful when he or she picked up the phone in the kitchen in case Dad was on it in the bedroom. We got so good with the light touch to taking the receiver off the hook that we could have grown up to be wire tappers.
None of his kids picked up his graceful phone manners. Maybe it’s because it took a special quality to learn to accept rejection or be on the wrong side of an argument. That reminds me- did I tell you about the time Dad returned a toilet seat after using it for a couple of days?