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Survival at the frostbite palace

Q: How can you tell if you're married to an old-fashioned wife?

A. When you can see your breath in your house and your wife won't let you turn up the heat, you're married to an old-fashioned wife.

There have been some comfortable days this winter, and some very cold days. But, during a recent cold snap, it became painfully and chillingly clear to me that Eartha, the guardian of our thermostat, isn't just old fashioned or conservative, she's a fanatic. Not only that, she has a higher pain threshold than an arctic beaver.

The other morning, after the toothpaste was too stiff to be squeezed from the tube and my shoes were frozen to the floor, I decided I couldn't take it any more.

"Look, Frosty," I challenged, "don't you think this frightening campaign of yours to conserve energy has gotten out of hand? My teeth are chattering."

"Then soak them in a glass of warm water, you wimp. Don't you get the picture? We're saving money."

"Big deal. If we're saving money, where is it? I don't smoke cigarettes, so at two packs a day at $5 a pack, I saved about $73,000 in the past 20 years, but where is it? Unless we save enough to get me a pair of mink coveralls to wear around this hockey rink, it's not worth it."

"I am disappointed in you. I thought you were tough and macho. You're not the man I married and you never were."

"You don't want a man, you want a polar bear. How can we converse like normal people when it's so cold in here I have to wear earmuffs?"

"Read my lips!"

"You'll have to wear brighter lipstick so I can see you through the steam."

"I should have listened to my dad when he warned me about you. He used to call you Goose Bumps."

"Yes, but everybody called him the Ice Man and you're a chip off the old block."

"Oh, you whimper so much. It's not bad in here, is it?"

"Are you kidding? The gas company is going to sue us for non-support. Every time I open the refrigerator, I feel a rush of warm air. Look, if we were raising a baby in a house this cold, we could be charged with child neglect."

"I'm not so sure we don't have a baby in this house."

"That hurt. Look, it's slightly warmer upstairs but I still have to scrape the frost off the bathroom mirror to shave in the morning. Then when I come downstairs, it's even colder. I call it the Lower 48 because you keep the dial at 48 degrees down here. Couldn't we crank it up just a few more degrees?"

"I give up. I can't stand the whining. If we raise the downstairs temperature to 50 degrees will you promise to suck it up and say nothing more about the chill? I don't want any more conversation, I just want a short positive statement summarizing your attitude about living here peacefully and quietly at 50 degrees. Now let's hear it."

"No sweat."