It’s 4am, and I’m staring at the ceiling. It’s not the first time I’ve woken up tonight, and I know it won’t be the last. I haven’t slept more than a few hours straight since mid-October. Why? I’m not a new parent or even the owner of a new puppy. I’m just a New Yorker trying to get through winter—and the radiator in my walk-up won’t shut the hell up.
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Those who’ve lived in ancient tenements know what I’m talking about. The cast-iron steam radiator, often covered in globs of “Tin Man Silver” paint, has only two modes: completely turned-off and useless or sputtering and hellishly hot. Believe it or not, radiators were designed this way. According to The New York Times, in the wake of the 1918 flu epidemic, the Board of Health advocated for fresh air as a cure-all and commanded that radiators be oversize so windows would be propped open year-round. Why not just tell people to open their windows rather than cook them alive?
So, thanks to my radiator for any dubious health benefits, but there a few things about it—beyond the hourly explosion of hissing, scalding steam—that drive me insane. There’s the near-apocalyptic clanging when it turns on; my burnt toes when they accidentally make contact with searing metal; and the necessity of my radiator’s constant companion, the puffing humidifier.
My own radiator isn’t even the only one that irks me: The one upstairs steadily seeps condensation through my ceiling, making an ever-growing tea-colored circle.
Can landlords please figure out a way for their tenants to feel less like screaming, steaming lobsters? Till then, I’m looking forward to greeting summertime’s biggest foe: ubiquitous AC drip.