Insulating Ourselves From Others

It’s starting to get hot ’round these parts–hot enough that today, standing in the sun in the garden, exerting almost no energy apart from inspecting the soaker hoses, I was quite literally dripping with sweat. No kidding, I could feel it running down my back.

Yes, nice image. I know. But that’s how hot it is. I wanted you to feel my discomfort, so that you will know I do not make the following comments lightly.

Our house, at some time in its history, was outfitted with a central air conditioning system. We feel pretty fortunate, since many of our neighbors are using window units. Primarily because we’re cheapskates, but also because the upstairs doesn’t cool very efficiently, we avoid using the a/c whenever humanly possible. We do the same with the heat. If we can bundle up, we do. If we can take off a few layers, we do. It results in a wee bit of discomfort, but then again our power comes from the coal companies of eastern Kentucky. The discomfort seems worth it.

Though some in my small town may disagree with me, it has been a delightful spring temperature-wise, albeit rainy and stormy. We haven’t had our heat on in a long time, and we haven’t had to use the a/c. We put in a window fan in our bedroom, and most of the time it pulls in the air quite nicely. With the windows open, we hear neighbors’ dogs barking, we hear cars driving by or car doors slamming, we hear children screaming when they don’t want to take their naps, we hear it all.  Sometimes the sounds are not pleasant–like the constant whirring of our neighbors’ pool. (Why does it run straight through the night? That can’t be good for the electric bill.) Right now, I’m sitting here, rather toasty, with the window open. The birds are singing me a song. The neighbor across the street was just outside swinging her baby in a tree swing they put up last week.

But it’s getting to be really hot, people.

Two nights ago, we didn’t start to feel cooled down by the fan until the wee hours of the morning. Yesterday, it was in the mid-90s, and we began to talk about (gasp) turning on the air conditioning. That’s just what you do when summer’s here, right? The neighbors’ window units have been in for weeks now.

This morning, J left early today to get some work done before a meeting that started at 8:30. I got up some time after he left. With the windows open all night, it was pretty warm in the bedroom, though I wasn’t uncomfortable. Through the fan, I could hear the birds and the breeze and the other random noises of the neighborhood, and I like waking up to those sounds.

As soon as I opened up the bedroom door, I heard a strange motorized rumbling. It startled me, because I had one of those weird gut reactions that made me think somebody was in my house doing a construction project. Like a saw was going. Or a lawn mower. In the house. I paused at the top of the steps to listen some more, and I noticed that the door at the bottom of the steps, which separates our upstairs from our downstairs, was closed. I walked slowly down the steps. Just as the rush of cold air hit my toes through the crack under the door and then my face as I turned the door knob, I realized what the seemingly loud motorized vibration was.

Of course. It was the air conditioning.

J was trying to cool the house down a little bit before the heat of the day hit.

It was a good idea, so I left the air on as I ate breakfast and did a little bit of reading. I opened the curtains and cleaned up a bit from the picnic last night. I stepped outside a couple of times–to take the trash bin to the curb, to water my basil, to turn on the soaker hoses–and every time I stepped back into the house, it was lovely and fresh and cool.

But it was unsettling, too.

Stepping into my house, I suddenly was unable to hear anything going on outside. I couldn’t hear my neighbor as she loaded her infant into her minivan–and I always hear that. I couldn’t hear her dog, Emma, barking, though I knew Emma must have been. I couldn’t hear the pool.

It was as if I had stepped into a vacuum.

And I didn’t like that, didn’t like feeling as if I was cutting myself off from my neighbors, my community, the outside world, just so I could have a little slice of comfort.

Call me weird, but it felt a little bit selfish.

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6 comments on “Insulating Ourselves From Others

  1. Stephen says:

    We found this to be true when we lived in a more urban environment. When we would drive towards the center of the city more people would be outside on the sidewalk and on the porches. As we would drive back towards suburbia all you saw was houses, no people.

    We finally figured out what caused it…. AC. people who couldn’t afford AC were outside with everyone. All the windows and doors of their house were open and they were living life together.

    You are right, AC ends up “insulating” people from each other.

    • elizabeth says:

      The urban/suburban example is a good one. I remember learning back in Sociology about the impact of the attached garage on communities. Once we could get right from our garages into our houses, we didn’t have to see our neighbors at all…

      I think that probably A/C had a similar effect.


  2. Deidra says:

    Hmmm… Interesting. I’ve lived this, but never noticed it.

  3. Mom(bonnie) says:

    Makes me think of some of the newer, planned communities that are attempting to bring back a ‘sense of community’ with front porches, garages hidden in the back of the house and more green, open community spaces. As I stroll down memory lane here in the rolling farmland of central PA, I still recall our neighbors even though their homes were 1/4 to 1/2 mile away. We knew our neighbors.

    • elizabeth says:

      I know the communities you mean, and I think they’re up to something good. (Though often the price of those homes acts as a barrier to limit community to only certain people, wouldn’t you say?) Still, I bet that in those communities, if it’s really hot, most people still stay inside in the air conditioning!

      Lucky for me, even here where I live, people still wander around the neighborhood in the evening, pushing strollers, pulling wagons, walking dogs. So even when it’s hot, if you take yourself outside, you’ll meet folks.

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