The Meat Freezer

I don’t go to breakfast any longer. The eggs are apparently watered down egg beaters, and the dining room is usually so cold that most people are wearing sweaters and/or jackets.

At lunch, I walked in and was met by what felt like an arctic blast. My friend, Spike, who spent most of his life as a fisherman in cold waters, had his North Face jacket zipped to his chin.

He asked me, as I came in, if it was cold enough for me.

I snapped back, boy it was so hot, I’d have to come to lunch in my bathing suit.

But as the title says, you could almost see your breath vapor in the air. Remember, these are old people, many suffering from COPD, or just plain colds, or coughs on top of everything else that’s gone bad with their bodies.

There is a thermostat in the dining room. During my shift, it sits right in the middle of the pair I’ve come to call the love birds.

One other character in the story is a frenetic waitress we’ll call Vera. Vera talks out loud about every thought she has. Phew. Chicken or fish? Fish for table one. Man it’s hot in here.

Coffee for table two. Oh, my right foot is killing me.

I stood up and walked towards the thermostat between the love birds. He may have been making a proposal.

“I know you don’t want to get married again, darling, but I love you so much and I want to take care of you…”

She didn’t look at him but turned towards the window. “It’s so cold here,” she said.

Vera saw me looking at the thermostat and came running over saying, you aren’t allowed to touch that – sir. Don’t –

The thermostat was set to 68F.

Oh, she said nearly hysterical, it will be too hot in here. I can’t serve if it’s too hot.

I pressed the up bottom, not really sure if it would work or not. We had been told that the temperature could only be changed by building maintenance .

But sure enough, as the waitress behind me screamed, and the couple talked about marriage (or the man did), the number on the thermostat went up.

I just turned it up to 74F.

Within a few minutes, the waitress had forgotten about “the heat.” And was back to shouting everything that went through her head: chicken, no vegetables for table two; egg salad for Pat; remember to cut it up.

My friend Spike at an adjoining table zipped down his North Face jacket, and things became comfortable.

After the meal, I went into one of the managers’ offices and told him the thermostat had been set to 68F. He said he had just checked it before the meal and it was 74F. He was on his way out, probably to get lunch in a real restaurant. All he said was, you’re not allowed to touch the thermostats. We’ll talk tomorrow. I’ve heard him say that many times to many people. He’s got a difficult job. The place is kvetch city.

Reminded me of a scene from The Great Escape where Steve McQueen throws his baseball over the wire, and is surrounded by guards saying, what were you doing by the wire. Verbotten.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I’m just showing how you have to get the hang of the place. Also, nobody will back you up. If you start a complaint, the denizens who use the services are mostly sheep.

There are others who use the place as an apartment, but it takes a while to get to that point.

The next Day

It was even colder than the day before in the dining room. I went back to the thermostat and turned it from 68F to 72F. For a few minutes it began to warm up. Then it started to cool down again.

The bald-headed manager came by and said they had reprogrammed it to go back down to 68F from wherever it was every five minutes. I walked around and got a few people to promise to complain to the manager. I’m not the only one who is going through this every dinner.

The manager had already left for the day. And by tomorrow, most of them will have forgotten. They’ll remember during the next denizens meeting; get some b.s. answers and things will go back to how they were.

The following Day (Sat)

I stayed away from breakfast. Lunch temp was fine. When I came up for dinner that day everyone was bundled up against the cold. My cohort, Spike motioned for me to reset the thermostat. I told him, it didn’t matter. It had been reprogrammed to reset to 68F after anyone manually changed it.

I just went by and looked at it. Sure enough: 68F.

My table mate, the sleepy giant was bundled in an overcoat. He keeps telling the waitresses to close the side door. He thinks the wind is coming from the hallway. Other people look up at me dumbly when I tell them it’s the thermostat. That they should go individually into the Greek’s office and complain.

I realized I could get pneumonia in that place. So I asked the waitress to make a sandwich to go. Which she did and I ate in my room. I’m not going into this battleground alone.

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