It’s really ungrateful, isn’t it, that I complain about my utilities bill – in December, 4810 yen* – when the standard bill of unfair back home in Manhattan was usually more like $200. The problem, I’ve realized, with being able to save money is that it’s never enough; if I can save 160 dollars on utilities I want to save 175 and instead of glorifying in the heat I can now actually afford, I am miserly, hunched over my desk in 2 sweaters and the navy blue crochet hat Erma made me for Christmas, just the way I did in my apartments in the East Village that did not include heat in the rent. When I moved to the glorious rent-stabilized Washington Square Park-side palace back in 2004 – outfitted with a heady cocoon of central heating that chugged on each year in October – I was sometimes nostalgic for my chilly days before my dazzling stroke of good luck. One year, in the 10th street apartment I once thought was tiny, I accidentally broke the window in an attempt to close it. The landlord took a week to see his way over to fix it. It was December. With Heifer, we huddled under extra Ikea blankets on my lumpy air mattress, her purrs adding coziness if not warmth. Those cold days represented to me a triumph and, far away, they seemed romantic.
Let’s see how romantic this is in a few years: now, when I’m cold and pigheadedly resisting turning on the heat, I shed my clothes and climb into the bath. My bathroom is a plastic pill box and within seconds, the steam multiplies so that I feel it in my lungs. I stay under the steam until I can’t possibly stand what by then feels like suffocation and, finally, I turn off the water. It is an ecstatic, refreshing moment when I open the bathroom door and what was once unbearably freezing air rushes in and so, “Ahh….!” The steam permeates the apartment for perhaps half an hour and I am happy, glowing, and, for a short time, warm and feeling quite Japanese. The heat of the hair dryer can only make it better.