An igloo with a view

MY brother and his wife are renting a home that has numerous large windows. Every day they admire the view through them. But the love they have for their plate glass has, until now, blinded them to one fact: The windows are no good at keeping out the cold. Lately, a spell of cold and windy weather has visited their region, and when my brother runs his hand along the window borders, he can locate at least 10 streams of incoming air. These are modest leaks, comparable in force to what a bicycle pump might emit. But evidently 10 bicycle pumps-worth is enough to confound their heating system and make them feel that what they have rented is an igloo with a wonderful view.

Furthermore, they can't help but notice that, as the cold air passes through minute gaps between the window frames and the walls, it creates whistling noises. The sounds vary in pitch according to the wind's ferocity. To keep warm, they have been constantly put-ting on the teakettle, and its shrieking blends interestingly with the various notes the windows produce. One day these combined forces almost played something by Duke Ellington.

When their landlord came by to inspect the situation, he did not find their living room unduly cold. Perhaps it would seem advantageous for him to hold that opinion even if icicles were forming on the light fixtures, but, in truth, the day of his visit was warmer.

My brother felt it necessary to demonstrate the problem, so he reversed the hose on the vacuum cleaner, causing it to blow rather than suck in air, and he put the nozzle against the window frame.

``There I was,'' he said, ``balancing on a chair, holding a vacuum hose, trying to get my windows to whistle for him. It was ridiculous.'' Maybe so, but such experiences are the stuff of family legend.

It will be some time before the problem is taken care of, so my brother and his wife are coping with a chilly interior. Because they rarely experience cold weather in their area, they are not fully prepared for it in terms of apparel -- which is why my brother has been going around the house wearing oversized oven mitts. Although these could possibly help him get work as a hockey goalie, he finds they're not ideal for pursuing delicate handicrafts, and they have made piano playing difficult. Nevertheless, he keeps trying.

Their recent conversations at dinner have been noteworthy, he says, in that they form an ongoing debate about which foods cool off the quickest and should be eaten first. They have developed many strategies for eating hot food in a cold room. In fact, he says he has enough data to write a pamphlet on the subject, but he won't because the typing might require that he remove his oven mitts.

They came across an item in a store which they believe offers the best solution to this cooling-off problem. It's a plate especially designed to keep babies' food warm. As dinnerware goes, it is not the height of culinary elegance, but it has a chamber between the eating surface and the bottom of the plate into which hot water can be poured.

``Of course, if we use such plates, it will mean heating up the teakettle,'' said my brother, ``and that'll likely cause the windows to join in whistling -- in which case we'll request some Cole Porter.''

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