John Colson: Hit and Run | AspenTimes.com

John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

What a way to start the New Year – our furnace went on the fritz.

Well, actually, the thermostat that tuns the furnace on and off was the culprit.

I awoke on Tuesday, Jan. 3, to a chill in the house that nearly produced what I like to call “breath-seeing conditions,” which is not a good sign if you’re indoors.

The furnace itself, happily, was merely sitting idle in the basement, with plenty of gas fueling the pilot light. It’s cheery little blue and white flame grinned at me through the little hole where you stick the match to light the thing, hoping you haven’t waited too long and the accumulated gas is not quite enough to light your hair up like a roman candle.

I’m not sure how long the thermostat had been out of order, as we have a wood-fired fireplace insert that warms the thermostat, located roughly 20 feet from the wood-burner, and keeps the furnace on standby for much of every night.

I did recall that on Monday, a blissful day off for me, I had not heard the furnace kick on once, and that it seemed inordinately cold all day until I finally dragged in some wood and made a fire.

One result of our wood-fired warmth is that, because we have a two-story town house with a two-flight stairway to the second floor, very little of the warmth gets upstairs.

Which makes for cool mornings under normal circumstances, but when the furnace takes a vacation it’s too damned cold upstairs to even take a shower.

This is not the first time the thermostat, made by Honeywell, has left us in the cold, and more than once, while strolling by on my way from the living room to the kitchen, I have looked at the thing and thought, “Why don’t we just get an old-style, mercury-triggered thermostat, the kind we had when I was a kid in Wisconsin, and do away with all this newfangled, electronic gimcracky crap?”

Wisconsin, as you may know, is another place where you DO NOT want your thermostat to develop a nervous tick and periodically take a powder.

This line of thinking almost always brings me back to my Luddite roots, and my disaffection with just about every kind of newfangled electronic gadget on the market today.

The late, much lamented Andy Rooney and I agreed on that point entirely.

As he said more than once, and I have thought countless times, what is the point of having a culture where everything is made to self-destruct within a certain amount of time, thereby forcing you, the consumer, into buying a new one with ever-increasing frequency?

One point, obviously, is to keep you reaching for your credit card as often as possible, thereby providing fodder for the endlessly voracious beast that is modern capitalism.

But extend that “logic,” if it can be called that, what you end up with is a constant stream of shoddy merchandise by design, and ever-more expensive ways to work around that unvarnished fact.

For instance, we’ve gotten so used to poorly built automobiles that the phenomenon of leasing vehicles has become commonplace, where once it was known only to traveling salesmen and corporate executives.

What, I ask, is the good of that?

I can remember when “Made In America” was a proud label, a near-guarantee that the goods you buy, which bear that label are sturdily made, with longevity of function in mind, not brevity and rapid replacement.

The short-lived stuff, in those days, was “Made in Japan,” and you knew it would come apart quickly, perhaps within minutes after you unwrapped the package, installed the batteries and turned it on.

Thermostats, in the days prior to planned obsolescence, typically lasted for decades, perhaps for the life of the furnace, if not the home itself.

The list of possible targets for this kind of complaint, unfortunately, is so nearly universal as to be inexpressible.

Suffice it to say this is not the kind of situation that I, for one, am pleased with.

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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