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Around the bend: Staying warm is winter’s challenge

Here we are, just one week into October, and my brain has already slipped into winter mode. For the next six to eight months, at least 40 percent of my waking thoughts will focus one elusive goal: staying warm.
I’m one of those people who are always cold. You know the type; every household has one. We scream, “Close the door!” the second it opens, before our family members have time to go through it. We wear socks 11 months of the year. We think the inventor of the Snuggie deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for humanitarianism.
I take the change in seasons seriously. I switched out my summer and winter wardrobes back in August, the day I saw my first wooly-bear caterpillar. From now until spring, 95 percent of my body will stay covered at all times. With the exception of a Christmas party or two, I won’t have to shave my legs again until Memorial Day. (That’s one of winter’s few redeeming qualities.)
People who move around a lot in their jobs have an easier time staying warm than I do. Since I’m a typesetter rather than, say, a flamenco dancer, I find it hard to generate much body heat during an average day at work. No matter how fast I point and click with the mouse, it just doesn’t get the blood pumping. And my coworkers do not care for my occasional attempts to warm up by stomping, flouncing, and flourishing castanets.
Plus, my office is cold. Hockey rinks, in fact, are balmier. It’s not like the boss sets the thermostat to “vegetable crisper,” either; it’s simply that the building is thermodynamically challenged.
Constructed primarily of concrete, cinder blocks and popsicles, it was originally used, so I’ve heard, as a penguin house. Retrofitting a heating system into such an unforgiving space meant putting the heat vents in the ceiling.
Thanks to my background in science — I watched “ZOOM” a lot as a child — I know heat rises. Installing heat vents at the highest part of the room doesn’t do a thing for those of us at the lower elevations.
The warm air flows from the vents along the ceiling up a half-flight of stairs to the rear part of the building, where the employees back there break into a sweat just by blinking too quickly. Meanwhile, those of us down in front have to keep our office chairs moving at all times so they don’t freeze to the floor.
The situation creates a unique microclimate between the two departments, where the abrupt shift in elevation can trigger snow squalls or a dense fog, severely limiting visibility in the kitchen area at the top of the stairs.
While upstairs employees wear Hawaiian dresses and board shorts all winter, wardrobe styles down in my department range from “Land’s End outerwear model” to “Nepalese Sherpa.” Office chitchat centers around layering strategies and the merits of waffle-weave versus silk long johns. Most of us wear at least a scarf and a fleece vest. One girl, who prefers less bulk, bundles up in a metallic Mylar bag, the kind favored by stranded mountain climbers.
There is only one person in my department who wears just a sweatshirt, but that’s only because he keeps a small campfire going under his desk. It’s not really safe, but he makes such great s’mores no one complains.
Right now, when the office is merely chilly, I can get by with long sleeves. Once my fingers start to go numb, however, I’ll move on to fingerless gloves and a sweater. Each week, I’ll take it up a notch, adding a shawl, heavier socks, earmuffs and a lap blanket, as conditions warrant.
For someone who dislikes the cold as much as I do, working in an office environment that rivals that of an Antarctic research station makes the winter that much harder. Some mornings, as I’m scraping the frost off my computer screen, I get discouraged. I always pictured myself in a more glamorous job, a place where I’d wear high heels, not boots rated for 20 below.
But I try to be positive. In some ways, fighting the cold every day has made me a better employee.
I am, after all, the only person I know who can type 75 words a minute wearing mittens.
Jessie Raymond blogs at whathousework.typepad.com.

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