My apartment was built in the late 1940s, and while it has nice, snug, non-drafty windows installed in 2005 and brand new carpeting, it also has features that are definitely 1940s originals, like the medicine cabinet that has a slot for old straight razors and an absolute dinosaur of a heater, even older than the one shown here. I am new to the world of gas appliances in the first place, as evidenced by the time I tried to broil a pizza in the gas oven and was confounded about why it was still cold after 10 minutes. I did some Googling and then discovered that I had been broiling an empty Pyrex dish I had been keeping in what I thought was a handy storage drawer in the bottom of the range. So this heater was all Greek to me. I didn’t have to use it until Friday, God bless Georgia, but I remembered back in March when the Georgia Natural Gas guy came to turn on the gas and he told me to get a carbon monoxide detector because “this old heater will kill ya.” In fact, I decided at that moment that I would just wear layers and use space heaters. No crazy old heater for me. Because even with the best detector, if Ramona was here alone, she wouldn’t have the wherewithal to get out, so that’s no good.

But then it got cold and there was this heater right here, and if everyone in the whole complex has been using this heater and they are ostensibly still alive and well, why can’t I? I bought a detector and had the maintenance people light the pilot light, and it roared to life. I mean, it roared. And it rattled and there was fire inside, and that’s just weird. It was really warm, but it was only really warm every 40 minutes (I timed it) when it turned on and if I stood right in front of it. Ramona was frightened of it, and I was, too. I went to the leasing office and asked if they could give me a thorough rundown of the mechanics of the weird old thing, because that would soothe me. They couldn’t, really, and told me, “No, you won’t die! No, you shouldn’t leave a window cracked because then the pilot light could go out. Yes, it’s safe.” I lasted 24 hours. Ramona meowed a lot which made me worry that she was trying to communicate, “I am more sensitive than a carbon monoxide detector and I’m telling you, we are slowly suffocating!” Every time I got home, I’d rush in the door, drop my things in the middle of the room and call, panicked, “Ramona?! Are you alive?” And when I got home form yoga teacher training last night, she had vomited on the kitchen floor. Ramona has never vomited in the 8 months since she’s lived with me, and it was just too much of a coincidence. I was all over Google asking the internet if animals were more sensitive than electronics when it comes to carbon monoxide. There was no definitive answer, but enough was enough.

I opened a window to air out anything that had accumulated, and layered a tank top, long-sleeved T-shirt, fleece jacket, and hoodie (all of my proper cold weather clothes are being stored at my parents’) and set out at 10:45 pm. for WalMart. I have boycotted WalMart since 2005, and I can only recall breaking that boycott when I needed knitting supplies and I was in the suburbs so there was no other option. And honestly, it isn’t difficult to avoid WalMart when you live in the city and there are only about three WalMarts in a 30 mile radius. But it was the only place that was open at the time and I was not going to spend any more time with any CO fumes, so off I went.

The space heater aisle is an overwhelming aisle. All of the many boxes have friendly little comparison charts on the back to tell you which heater is best for your needs, kinda like a quiz in a women’s magazine. But none of the charts included, “Will not kill you nor your cat.” As you will recall, it was 11:00 p.m., so there weren’t many friendly WalMart employees to be found. But there was a dude and two women also purchasing heaters. They were laughing and carrying on, and I pathetically crept up next to them trying to make my presence known. I stood in their vicinity and pretended to read boxes for a few minutes and they didn’t notice me. Finally, I asked, “Do you guys know about heaters?” It turned out that boy howdy, did they ever know about heaters. I described my built-in warm death box, and the dude immediately agreed, “That will kill you! Either the fumes or the pneumonia from leaving the windows open.” He then told me which heaters were “pieces of crap” and which ones he used when he lived in Chicago during the winter. He promised me that if I was a smart heater owner, I was not likely to die, and neither was Ramona. He even pulled up ratings of various heaters on his phone and let me scroll through them. And then we started talking about how we’d rather not shop at WalMart and about all of us being Democrats. I, of course, was doing my usual profuse sweating in a social situation, especially because of the four layers, which was probably overkill. But he was delightful, and his name was Chris, and I ended up purchasing the electric radiator that he said kept him warm and also dried his drawers when he draped them atop it, which was reason enough for me. In fact, I named the appliance Christopher since I have a penchant for naming inanimate objects. And they way Ramona melts herself in front of it, it needs a name. And I am currently so warm, it’s 44* out and I could take off my slippers and robe.

But I digress. My late-night (for me) heating adventure was far from over. See, the route I took to WalMart was thus. (That’s not where I live. I’m not that dumb. That’s a close-ish intersection.) But on the way home, it’s not a route I travel often (at all), so I didn’t realize that I had to cross around four lanes of 70+ MPH traffic in the dark over the course of a quarter mile (by the time I realized what was up because I swear, it wasn’t well-marked), so I completely missed my exit. So I kept driving into downtown where there aren’t easy on and off ramps to and from the interstate. I pride myself in my sense of direction and my familiarity with Atlanta, so I figured I was good. But the problem was that it was dark, as I said, and then my lane abruptly ended and the escape street was a one-way that was not going my way. So I made a complex turn-around in a parking lot and went a few blocks to where I knew was an interstate connection. Except that exit was not clearly marked, either (I swear), so I kept going. I ended up at Centennial Park, which is close to exactly no where I needed to be. I meandered through downtown and finally back to the interstate. This is an approximation of my route back home. I don’t think these things happen to everyone. I don’t know how I end up in these little pickles. It was manageable because I always knew where I was and how to right myself, but the whole thing was just wholly unnecessary. But that’s the story of how I got scared, made a friend, bought a heater, toured Atlanta, and got warm.

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