Power Surges

“I wonder why they’re wasting so much heat in a stairwell,” I muttered as I rounded the first-floor landing. I paused, tucked my cane under my arm, pulled off my gloves, and unzipped my coat before continuing the climb.

Okay, I guess the coat will need to come completely off, I thought as I rounded the second-floor landing. So I propped the cane between my legs, shrugged off the heavy backpack, dropped it to the floor, and took off my coat. Hoisting the backpack into place again and draping the coat over my arm I continued huffing up to Room 320 hoping I wouldn’t be soaked in sweat by the time I got there.

It’s strange that I only get these power surges in this one stairwell  I thought. I knew this was true because I had tried most of the other dozen or so stairways in the sprawling building and had not gotten the same surge of heat while climbing them.

I realized, of course, that the power surges could be generated by my overweight post-menopausal body but if so, it was weird how I only experienced those surges in that one stairwell. But wait, there was one other place too I thought as I remembered a recent reading assignment.

Just that week, in the textbook for my once-a-week Wednesday evening course in adult human development, I learned that the optimal learning temperature for adults is 66 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. I was certain that the classroom I walked into every Wednesday evening was much closer to 80 degrees than it was to 72. So, after having the by-now-familiar wall of heat hit me as I opened the door a day later, I decided to verify that.

“I’ve got a sorta weird question,” I said as class started. “Michael, is there a thermostat behind you? Can you see where it’s set and what the current temperature is? Or am I the only one who thinks it’s much too hot in here?”

“Ah, wait while I look,” Michael said, as he stepped back from the podium. “Okay, I don’t think there’s a thermostat here, do any of the rest of you see one anywhere else?” he asked as he scanned the room.

By that time, my classmates were twisting and turning in their seats too but no one spotted a thermostat anywhere in the large space.

“So I guess I cannot answer your question, Maryann,” Michael said finally.

“That’s okay,” I said, “It’s just that I find it incredibly ironic to have a suffocating wall of heat hit me every time I walk into this room and yet the textbook states that the optimal learning temperature is less than 72 degrees. I was curious to know how much over that this room is, that’s all,” I finished lamely.

Then added, “Yeah, yeah, I know, you’re probably all thinking I’m having a post-menopausal power surge but if that’s it then I wish I knew why I only have them in this room and the northwestern-most stairwell of the Willard Building.”

As chuckles and snickers bounced around the room, I said, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll survive. I just wish Penn State wouldn’t so generously burn our tuition dollars to overheat the buildings.”

“Now I’m curious,” Michael said as he turned my question into a teaching moment, “How many of the rest of you think this room is too warm? It is a known fact that our brains will not function as well in an overly warm room as they do in cooler surroundings.”

“And according to the show of hands,” he continued, “Maryann is not the only one who feels it’s too warm in here. But the only thing I can do is file a maintenance report. Oh, and perhaps one of you closest to the door could prop it open to see if that helps.”

“So, Michael,” one of my classmates asked jokingly, “Will optimal learning temperatures be on the next test?”

“I don’t know yet,” he chuckled, “But either way, how many of you will remember them more easily because we had this discussion? Even though this room is too warm?”

Okay, I thought, as the class went on, I’m glad my power surges generated something useful. I also made a mental note to dig a few summer outfits back out of storage.


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