Thermostat Adventures


Twenty-five years ago, I wrote a story for this fine magazine I titled it, "Only Gus Touch." Over the years, many people have told me they still remember that tale and ask if I can send them a copy. Sure, why not?

It was about a local diner here on The Isle of Long, a place where you can find a diner on just about every other corner. Greeks own most of them, and that was the case here. The owner’s name was Gus, which came as no surprise.

I wrote about this place because The Lovely Marianne and I were sitting in one of Gus’ red booths on a hot-and-sticky August day. TLM was shivering with the cold air that was blasting from the register above our heads. She was not happy, which meant that neither was I.

We finished lunch and went home, and this is part of what I wrote that day:

The owner, an elderly man, who looked like Anthony Quinn in Zorba the Greek, stood behind the cash register and looked out over the shivering people. He wore a short-sleeved shirt and a wide smile.

"Mighty chilly in here," I offered as I paid the check.

He pointed to the five thermostats mounted on the wall next to the cash register. Leaned in and squinted. "Seventy degrees," he said.

I started to giggle because this was the first time I was noticing that all his thermostats were behind the cash register. No wonder the place felt like a coal mine.

"Something is funny?" Gus asked, his bushy moustache drooping into a frown.

"Oh no!" I said. "It's just that you have five thermostats and they're all mounted next to the front door."

He smiled and smacked himself on the chest with his big Zorba hand. Then he gestured grandly toward the place and said, "This big place! I have zones. Five zones!"

He pointed to each thermostat with a meaty finger and gave me that look someone-in-the-know gives to an idiot.

“I see that,” I said.

"Most people, they don't understand about zones," he boomed. "Big place! You zone to make more comfortable. Look! Big place, eh? I work hard for big place. Work for years. I have big place with zones! Five zones!”

"It's wonderful," I said. "But every time the door opens, the hot air blows in and all of your thermostats turn on the AC and make it colder."

He shook his head slowly and in three short, heh-heh-hehs let me know how remarkably stupid I was. He pointed at the thermostats. "Seventy degrees. You see? Seventy degrees. You look. Seventy! This is good!"

"Don't you think the thermostats would work better if they were actually in the zones there were supposed to be controlling," I said. “You know, back there with the people?”

He smiled even wider and shook his head. "This is what stupid heating contractor want to do," he said. "But it’s no good. You know why? You want to know why? You know what happens when thermostats are in room where people are?" He waited.

"What?" I said.

"Customer touch! Waiter touch! Waitress touch! Busboy touch! Cook touch! Wife touch! Daughter touch! Son touch! Everyone touch!"

He pointed to everyone in the auditorium-size diner and then back toward the row of thermostats. People stopped talking and turned his way.

"ONLY GUS TOUCH!" he proclaimed to the room, smacking himself on the chest again and laying his hands on the row of thermostats.

People looked at each other. Forks moving toward mouths stopped midway.

"ONLY GUS TOUCH!" he shouted again.

"I see," I said.

"Can we go now?" The Lovely Marianne asked.

"How was rice pudding?" Gus asked my beautiful bride.

"Chilled to perfection," she said with a shiver.

"Good!" Gus said. "You come back soon, eh?"

"Soon as I can warm up," she said.


Gus and his diner are gone, but I think of those thermostats whenever I see or hear about another thermostat that wound up in an odd place. I remember visiting a problem job with a contractor. The complaint was that heat shut off every afternoon at 3 o’clock. That meant, of course, that we had to visit at 3 o’clock. I wish you could have been there with us. We had one of those Sherlock Holmes moments as the sun reached a spot in the winter sky and blasted light through that window over there and onto this wall over here. I’m talking about the wall with new mirror. See it? Good. Okay, from that mirror it was an easy bank shot for the sunlight to hit the thermostat on this other wall over here.

Get it?

We helped them move the mirror and that was that.

An old-timer told me about the time a customer set his big TV right under the thermostat. This was back in the day when TVs still had tubes that got pretty hot. He said that convincing the people to move the TV and rearrange the furniture wasn’t easy, but they finally listened to him and once again, that was that.

You think it’s hard to charge for a service call like that?

Yeah, so do I.

And then there are the thermostats that sit on outside, poorly insulated walls or even inside closets. And why would someone install a thermostat inside a closet? I’ve never gotten a good answer for that one, but I suspect it’s because many folks just don’t like the look of most thermostats. And I’m probably right about that because Nest built a big business around making thermostats that look pretty.

There are the thermostats that aren’t wired to anything, of course. They’re there so employees sharing a common space can each have a sense of control over the temperature. Surprisingly, that devious solution often works. I once nailed six Honeywell T87s to the cubbies in our Accounting department when I worked for the manufacturers’ rep. I did that on a Saturday when no one was there. On Monday morning, everyone was delighted.

And then there are the clear-plastic boxes that are supposed to protect the thermostats from busy hands. These were often in the hotel meeting rooms I used back in my seminar days. Hotel management didn’t realize that my audience was heating contractors, and that just every person in that room had a key to that lockbox. We were always cozy.

Oh, and so was the tenant in an apartment I once visited. He controlled his locked thermostat with a bag of ice. Tenants have a lot of time to think about such things. They’re like prisoners in that way.

Or how about the guy who picked up a Nest thermostat at the Big Box store. A friend told him that Nest has a way of knowing whether you’re home or not, and that you can watch the temperature remotely. He loved that idea. He packed the Nest in his suitcase, and then flew off to Florida with his family for a nice vacation. He told his wife they’d be able to check on the temperature back home because Nest knew they were in Florida.

Gus would have loved that guy.


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