I thought, "I can just pick up without much effort, back to work and all of that."
This was not the case.
The pilot light of the heater that is supposed to warm up the united I live in is off. Therefore, the heater lies dormant day in and day out. I could turn it on, but I never do. Why? I don't know. Maybe it's the same reason why I don't buy things to make the place more a "home" than just a pit stop.
For as long as humans have been able to stay in places long enough to establish societies, warmth has always been a defining characteristic of homes. Turning on that pilot light would make a home of that space. But here I'm oversimplifying. Homes are warm, true, but mostly because of habitation. People live in homes, families.
So, turning on that pilot light has an enormous amount of meaning. I can't turn it on. I won't. And that means that I'll be very, very cold at night.
The other day, after a party at a friend's house in San Pedro, I arrived at the unit and turned on the space-heater that substitutes for the gas heater whose pilot light is off. It's portable, something to carry with me wherever I go.
A few minutes after I had turned it on, and was watching the nightly news in a half-drunken stupor, there was an explosion outside. The lights and other electronics in the room popped and went off; the surge protectors sacrificed their lives for the greater good. I ran out of the place in a panic, wondering if something had caught fire--the smell of burning plastic components was thick in the air.
It had been raining earlier and the ground was wet. Sensing that a wet floor and loose electricity were too good of a match, I went back into the darkened unit. It was safe inside. But that was it for the small comfort the space-heater had brought.
There was no more warmth that night. To pass the time, I would walk around and cranked the lever on my flashlight--it's one of those models that doesn't need batteries, but for a person to crank the lever and generate enough of a charge for the bulbs. That tired me and I went to see what the police were up to. Two patrol cars were outside with their lights flashing. A child wept for his mother in the neighboring unit. No one was out, except for me and my dying saber of light.
With cold feet, strained nerves, and no heater, I curled up in the sheets and got what sleep I could.
The next day, I noted that the power surge had put to rest the Keurig coffee machine I had gotten as a present. It was a used gift so it had no warranty. That meant no more coffee at night.
At work, I was talking to Bartholomew about how cold the nights in Los Angeles have gotten lately. She told me about her friend in Idaho and how it was 16 degrees over there. And that put things in perspective. I've spent a Christmas in Iowa, which is also very cold in winter. I remember how my ears almost frosted when we got out of the airport!
And before that, I had spent four years in Europe, Germany specifically. Those were cold winters full of merry snow, which I won't soon forget. One of those four years I spent in the former Yugoslavia, what they now call Bosnia and Herzegovina. The winter of '96 was one of the coldest I have ever spent in my life.
So, given my experiences in extremely cold environments, why does this petty cold bother me so much?
I related my woes to another version of Bartholomew and she gave me a late Christmas present: An electrically heated pad. It's small enough to put on my lap. It works well and makes the cold tolerable.
And that warmed my heart, friendship.
The world didn't end in 2012. Here, I could say some cliche, like this is just a beginning for us all. But why? Live in the cold or die in it, what matters is that the world carries on. Finding an ember to warm you at night is great and I'm lucky to have it.