It didn’t seem that long ago that as an active young man, I could take a stroll on a fall or winter day with an open jacket, but no hat, no gloves, no scarf and not really be any worse off for it. I felt pretty invincible to shifts in cold temperature.
In my younger days, back when I used to commute by bus, it aggravated me to no end when I’d get on the bus on a humid summer day and open a window to let in some fresh air only to have someone board the bus after me, start looking in all directions, displaying the international signs of “where is that draft coming from?”, only to zero in on my open window and ask me to close it.
Ever the pacifist, I would usually respect their wishes and accommodate them, despite the sweat dripping through my Risk Astley-style coif and down my forehead and temples. But on really muggy days, I’d have to propose a compromise and say “It’s really hot in here, I’d prefer it open. How about if I leave it half way?”
Fast forward a few decades, and I wonder where that kid went. Now it is my turn to be that guy who persistently chases drafts.
I come by it honestly as it seems to run in the family. I recall days when we would have family dinners at the restaurant, my grandparents would get there first to check out the table that was reserved for us, and choose their seats, based on the restaurant’s air currents. It was easier to do it that way, rather than for them to show up last, and have to reseat the table of 12 (or potentially, displace other restaurant patrons) to get draft-free seating.
Who can blame them? They didn’t like the unpleasantness of having a blast of cold air hitting them on the back of the neck or in the ears while trying to enjoy a nice meal. And I guess as we get older, some of us seem to get more sensitive to that factor, including me.
But I know that we are not alone. It doesn’t take an expert in body language to recognize the signs of someone offended by a draft.
They start off engaged in conversation with the other people at the table, and then suddenly appear distracted, looking up in every direction, reviewing the path of any exposed duct work, trying to pinpoint the location of the air vents. Sometimes they raise their hands or arms to further determine the direction of the air conditioned breeze. And then they start canvassing the people at the table, pointing to the air vent, hoping to find someone who isn’t bothered by it, in the hope of asking them to change seats. If they are unsuccessful, then they flag down the server (who also starts looking upward, in every direction, analyzing the duct work) to see if something can be done about the draft or if they can change tables.
I confess, back when my partner and I would go out for date night (in the pre-pandemic days), I do recall asking him to switch seats with me a couple of times (when I was feeling under the weather) to avoid being in the line of fire of an out-of-control air duct casting a gust of wind grander than a wind machine at the Eurovision Song Contest.
As I get older, my body temperature seems to be dropping ever so slowly but steadily, to the point that normal for me is lower than most people’s. For the multiple times we took our temperatures during the pandemic, we referred to my temperature as “amphibious normal”.
I often wonder if it has anything to do with my enormous bald Charlie Brown head. With very little insulation in the attic, so-to-speak, there is a lot of skin to expose to the elements as well as to release heat.
If it is a cold, windy day outside, we figure that there is probably a little seepage coming in through our living room windows, as I have occasionally had to cover my head with my hoodie, to keep things toasty while watching TV. We will indeed have to fix that before the really cold weather gets here.
Or just recently, we were at the dinner table and I felt a draft below the knees. It didn’t matter that my dinner was getting cold, but the compulsion to get up and check the windows in the four corners of the house was stronger than I could bear. Sadly, my thorough investigation didn’t reveal any windows actually being left open a crack, leaving me even more perplexed than before.
I remember that my grandparents used to say that drafts were a sure way of catching cold. I can’t say I have seen enough evidence to support that, but if that was enough placebo effect for them, then so be it. Personally, I have never really found a link between drafts and catching a cold, but for me it’s just a question of feeling comfortable, cozy and happy.
The journey of going from “always warm” in my youth to “always cold” later in life has been an amusing contrast, but if that is my reality in the post-age-50 world, then I own it, accept it and just have to make my own accommodations.
In retrospect, I fondly envy my grandmother’s ability to magically pull out a head scarf from her purse with the showmanship of a magician, and to wear it with the flair that she did in a drafty emergency. To me, that was air duct contingency planning at its best!
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