Aristotle and The Teenager

Ancient Love
Image by ozgurmulazimoglu via Flickr

Aristotle and the Teenager

Aristotle: Plecia, I want a word with you.

Teen:  (hammering with a chisel) Just a minute, father.  I am finishing up this instant tablet.  (more chiseling) There…now, what is it father?

Aristotle:  Your mother informs me that instead of attending philosophy class today you were seen exchanging tablets with a group of teens behind the amphitheatre.  I have it on good authority that one of these boys was actually a Spartan.

Teen:  (clearly lying) It wasn’t me.  I was in philosophy, and I did not go near the amphitheatre during the daytime.  I know the rules about going close to the rushes.

Aristotle:  (raising an eyebrow) Diogenes was wandering in the rushes and watched as the girls and boys were flirting and exchanging tablets.

Teen:  (looking guilty) Diogenes?  The ascetic?  Why do you even talk to that wandering lunatic?  He lives inside a clay jar.  He never takes a bath.  He walks around Athens with a lamp, in the daytime.  And even if I was with Spartans, which I was not, they could teach us a thing or two about sticking up for ourselves.  They’re much more sophisticated than the Athenian boys, who just wrestle and discuss philosophy and logic.

Aristotle:  Aha!  So you admit it!

Teen:  Father, you are ruining my life.  I am the only Athenian girl who doesn’t have a messenger to deliver my instant tablets.  Lycestra has her own scribe and her own messenger.  You and mother still think it’s 500 BC instead of 300 BC.  Wake up.  You have no idea what it is like to be the daughter of a philosopher who lives in the past.

Aristotle:  (looking perplexed) First of all, Lycestra’s father is an Oracle and makes many drachmae giving advice.  I am a mere academic at Plato’s Academy.  You know I’m thinking about tutoring that Macedonian prince, but I am not in it for money.

Teen:  (sensing an opening) You give everyone the impression you are so progressive with your speeches and your teaching, but you will not even allow me to go to the Pan-Hellenic Concerts at Thermopylae.  You preach freedom of thought, but you keep me a prisoner.  If you ask me, you are a master of the great hypocrite.

Aristotle:  (looking insulted) I cannot believe you would say that.  When you wanted to dye your hair green for the festival of Promethia, your mother and I agreed.  You wanted a magpie as a pet and as your muse.  We let you have the bird even though it defecated all over my tunic.

Teen:  (rolling her eyes) Whatever…

Aristotle:  I told you not to use that word anymore unless you are contrasting between logical points and are uncertain of the value difference between the two.  I find the term dismissive and disrespectful.

Teen:  (shrugging) Okay, how about everything you say has no relevance to me and my unfulfilled needs prevent me from relating to you on any level?  If I didn’t depend on you for food and shelter, I would denounce my filial relationship with you as some queer joke by Zeus and flee to Troy to become an actress in dramatic theatre.  I want my freedom!  (stomps her foot)

Aristotle:  (clasps his hands and smiles) Fabulous.  That is what I am talking about.  You have been listening in humanities class.  You mentioned all your necessary and possible prerequisites.  You are using modal logic.  While your opinions are not worthy, they are well stated.

Teen:  (screaming) Father, you are not listening to me…(hesitates) I have a date tonight with a Spartan named Leonidas.  He has asked me to go to the Pythian wrestling matches and to dine with him afterward at the Aqueduct Grill.

Aristotle:  Have you gone to the public fountains to fill the goatskin sacks with water?

Teen:  I was going to do that later.  I’m still considering whether I want to do it.  I heard you tell your student the other day that it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Aristotle:  How you twist my words.  I meant that you can open to other views without accepting them.  It does not mean you should avoid fulfilling your most basic of covenants, your family chores.  (The door opens; a dwarf enters and hands the teen a tablet – the dwarf waits and looks bored as the teen smiles while reading the tablet.  She hands the dwarf a new message.  He leaves.)  What is this?

Teen:  (looking lovesick) That was from Leonidas.  I told him I would meet him when the shadows reach the steps of the amphitheatre.

Aristotle:  If you leave this house tonight, you will be grounded for the entire Delia Festival!

Teen:  (under her breath) Whatever…

Aristotle: (cringing) There is that word again.  It means nothing and torments me like a scratching cat on the wooden door of my soul.

Teen:  (changing tactics) Father, how will I ever be independent unless I am allowed to make my own choices?  I need a chance to make mistakes, learn and depend on my own thinking.  Don’t you tell me every day “Happiness depends upon ourselves?”

Aristotle:  (closing eyes and reflecting)…Perhaps…you have a point.  But stay away from the rushes and be aware that I am going to tell Diogenes to keep an eye on you.

Teen:  (looking excited) Oh, thank you, daddy!

Aristotle:  Oh, now I am daddy?

Teen:  Yes, and I take back everything I said.  Can I have 40 drachmae to buy squid to throw at the winning wrestlers?

Aristotle:  Didn’t I advance your allowance through the Festival?

Teen:  I cannot remember…please? (She smiles a frozen smile.)

Aristotle:  Very well. But get that water from the fountains!

(He hands her coins. The teen runs off into another part of the house.  She begins furiously chiseling another message. He picks up a tablet and tries to read it.  It is written in a bizarre code of half words and acronyms.  He shakes his head and puts the missive down.  A magpie flies up, alights on his arm, hops up and poops on his shoulder, then flies away.)

Aristotle shakes his head, “The gods, too, are fond of a joke.”

The Great Air Conditioning Wars

A typical home air conditioning unit.
Image via Wikipedia

It was luxuries like air conditioning that brought down the Roman Empire. With air conditioning their windows were shut, they couldn’t hear the barbarians coming.”

Garrison Keillor

We recently received a letter from CL & P that provided normative data from our immediate neighborhood on our electrical consumption.  If the letter was to be believed, we were consuming enough power to light several small Midwestern towns.  Our failing grade suggested we had a carbon footprint larger than Paul Bunyon’s boot.

While our environmental “F” offended my anti-global warming spouse, it enraged my green teenaged son who had chided me over the past year for my failings as an environmentally conscious citizen.  If I were to succumb to all of his Greenpeace demands, I would be composting everything, urinating in the woods, and drinking from a perpetually dented metal water bottle. My house would forever register a refreshing 58 degrees in the winter and 80 degrees in the summer.  I had already turned over the keys to my car and password to my ATM.  I was not going to turn over control of my thermostat without a fight.

I admit to being distressed over the last year as our energy bills soared.  I repeatedly circled the house wondering if one of my neighbors was perhaps pirating electricity from the tangled tightrope of wires that snaked down through the tree line and fed our voraciously energy dependent home.  I did notice at night that my neighbor’s houses seemed darker and vacant while our home was lit up like a Christmas tree.  TVs were on with no one in the room.  Computers were perpetually hibernating but very much alive. Every room was illuminated yet every kid was downstairs in the basement.

There was a problem. As my conscientious spouse would be turning off the air conditioner and opening a window to welcome a warm, woolen summer night, our teenaged son was upstairs recreating winter and burying himself under a three-foot pile of buffalo blankets. In the adjacent room, his eco-friendly brother was opening his windows to allow fresh and humid summer air to circulate and releasing an Alberta clipper of expensive AC into the soft night.

Our energy efficiency is complicated by a home that is a patchwork quilt of miniature ecosystems containing rooms hot enough to support desert succulents and frigid areas capable of doubling as a meat locker.  Some spaces are simply haunted – – defying logic with cold spots and odd drafts.  The notion of removing or donning clothes to regulate our own body temperatures is anathema to California transplants that prefer a world perpetually set at 72 degrees.  I try to explain to my energy leeches that only Heaven and San Diego routinely reach meteorological nirvana.  We are, as humans, meant to suffer and through this suffering we find humility and tank top shirts.   These insights are always met with blanks stares and silence.  As if to mock me, I hear the air conditioning unit kick on.

I am also part of the problem. I often need to turn on the AC at night to avoid waking up feeling like a malaria patient stuck in some POW camp near the equator.  I go to bed early, only to wake up as if a fever had just broken.  In fact, the energy czar has turned off the AC and opened a window.  Overheated crickets are now serenading me with soft derogatory thrums, “lo-ser”, “lo-ser”, “lo-ser”.I move like a cat burglar and twist the thermostat.  Optimal ambient temperature should be calibrated not in degrees but to the weight of the heaviest person in the room.  My wife likes to set the AC to 105 lbs.  I need it reset to 230 lbs.  I am a large man and throw off more heat than a January pot-belly stove.

She is asleep but stirs when she hears the thermostat.  “I opened the window,” she murmurs in weak protest.  I stand still, holding my breath, waiting and then move to close the window.  I ease slowly back to bed.  At 6 am, I awaken to a soaked tee-shirt that looks as if I had shoveled coal in the bowels of some great steam ship.  I glance at the thermostat now set to 78 degrees.  The window has been reopened.

The AC wars have been waged for decades.  In 1971, my parents gathered us for a rare family meeting to vote on whether to put a pool in our back yard or install central air conditioning.  Summers in Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Valley could easily hit 100 degrees — often with air pollution that would squat like filthy humidity – causing health problems for infants and the elderly.  The debate often raged in every middle class house between swimming pools and air conditioning.

My older brother clearly saw the social advantages of a pool that included parties, skinny-dipping and Jacuzzi encounters that he had only read about in Penthouse Forum.  My middle brother and I clearly saw the benefits of air conditioning as we had a number of friends with pools. We saw how most had lost interest in their own kidney shaped swimming holes.  On hot evenings, their windows would be filled with a hundred whirling fans – desperate to cool the inside of the home to a temperature equal to the outside air.  Air conditioning sounded boring but I knew there was nothing more reassuring than to hear a Carrier central air unit whirl into high gear.

My youngest brother voted for the pool and we were officially deadlocked.  My mother would be the deciding factor.  We were certain she would opt for the pool as she knew very well that my father believed that air conditioning weakened the constitution.  These modern conveniences were the first rotation to the left in the cycle of dependence.  With dependence, poverty of character would soon be in full motion.  Suffering led to insight and strength. Strength led to freedom.  And freedom led to a good job with a country club membership where the men’s locker room had air conditioning.

Secretly, my mother’s greatest fear was that my father would not allow us to actually use the air conditioner. His frugal fanaticism was legendary and at least with a pool, which he would probably refuse to heat, the water would be cold. Yet, the Gods were kind that summer delivering a withering heat wave that broke our deadlock. In a shocking last-minute reversal, everyone opted for AC.

Almost immediately, the AC wars began.  There were fights over windows left open and $200 monthly electrical bills.  There were fiats, moratoriums and bizarre brown out periods.  Inevitably, the AC advocates and the utilities who faithfully delivered their electricity prevailed. Consumption triumphed over common sense.

It is now midnight and I am once again creeping over to turn down the temperature.  Brody, the dog has shifted from the carpet to the cool, wood floor – a sign that even man’s best friend is not willing to accept this pea soup summer night.  I am turning the tumblers of the thermostat like a safecracker hoping to avoid the energy czar’s wrath.  I hear the whirl of the AC unit and feel the cool, artificial air course through the floor ducts.  Brody sighs with approval.

Tonight, I have won a small battle but I do not delude myself.  This is war and I fully expect a counter attack before dawn.