Sunday, January 6, 2013

Don't Give Me Any Static

January is a trying time in this part of the world.  The holidays are over and spring seems eons away.  The nights are long, and the weather comes in one of two varieties: clear and cold enough to freeze the snot in your nose, or furious blizzard from hell. Those such as myself who are into snow sports cannot even enjoy them very fully, since the temperatures routinely are lucky to make ten degrees (that’s Fahrenheit, kids) and a howling wind is almost constant.  So, we huddle inside as much as possible, dreaming of spring and watching funny cat videos online.

There is one nasty aspect of winter that follows us inside however, and that is static electricity.  During December, January, and February, which are typically the coldest and driest months, we practically glow with it.

As I understand it, the lack of moisture in the air at this time of year causes things to retain stray electrons and thus build up electrical charges.  When it is humid, the tiny water droplets in the air tend to draw those electrons off and keep our electrical charges relatively low, but in the winter when it is dry, watch out! Having those excess electrons clinging to us is just not cool with Mother Nature, who is a big fan of balance.  So, if you are more charged up than something nearby, the electrons are going to jump from you to it, and a spark, large, small, or otherwise, is going to result.  (This same principle on a larger scale is what causes lightning.  Why we have lightning in the summer when it is very humid and not in winter when it is very dry is completely beyond me.  Who do I look like, Mr. Wizard?)

Except for the kitchen and the bathroom, every room in my house has carpeting.  As someone with a very, very low tolerance for cold feet, it’s pretty nice actually, and I don’t regret having it installed.  Nonetheless, I still wear wool socks and slippers around the house from November until April.  The problem I have is that carpeting and warm, fuzzy footwear are two of the key ingredients in creating static electricity.

I get zapped constantly from every direction.  I get shocks from touching the TV remote, from picking up my laptop, from petting the cat, from grasping the handle on the refrigerator, from a faucet on the sink, or even from a soda can.  You can never be sure from where the next mini-electrocution is coming.  It reminds me of the old Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers.  In them, Sellers’ character, the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, has directed his manservant Cato Fong to attack him unexpectedly and repeatedly.  Cato is skilled in martial arts, so these are some pretty hard-hitting attacks.  Clouseau’s thinking is that these will keep his combat skills and vigilance sharp, though it usually just ends up getting him beaten senseless at the most awkward moments.  Static electricity is like my own personal Cato Fong.

Static electricity likes to play practical jokes on me too.  I am pretty faithful about using antistatic sheets in the clothes dryer, but don’t always locate all of them when I take out the laundry to fold.  More than once I have been working with a client and patient at the animal hospital, and a dryer sheet that had adhered to the inside of my medical scrubs has fluttered to the floor.

Getting dressed and undressed is the worst when it come to static electricity.  Anything that I need to pull over my head brings down a shower of sparks that you can actually see in the dark.  When I drop the shirt or whatever to the floor, it often is still sparking.  I’ve never heard of house fires starting from such phenomena, but it does give one pause.  Plus, my hair is so dry and light that it stands straight up in every direction in these situations.  The extra money I spend on hair gel alone in the winter could probably fund a winter vacation to someplace less staticky, like Barbados.

And mind you, these are not small tingles I’m experiencing.  They downright hurt sometimes!  I’ve inadvertently shut off my television and closed programs on my computer thanks to static shock.  Animals, being more in tune to nature than the rest of us, seem to know when the risk of shock is greatest, and I can see the cats visibly cringe if I reach for one of them on an especially dry, cold day.  There have been times when they and I  have shocked each other so badly upon contact that the cat in question has run away and hid, thinking I have done some horrible wrong to them.  I can’t blame them, frankly.

I’ve wondered at times if a shock from sitting down on the toilet seat is possible.  It’s never happened to me, and I truly hope it never does, since it could have ramifications that I’d really rather avoid.  Most likely, I don’t need to worry though, since any electrical imbalance would discharge when I reach to lift the lid.  Ladies, if you ever needed to give your man another reason for putting the seat and lid down, there it is.  You’re welcome. 

As irritating as this static electricity problem is for me, I’ve never bothered to do much about it.  I am NOT giving up my cozy warm slippers, so don’t even suggest it!  Taking up all of the carpeting, removing all metals from the house and shaving the cats and myself are also not options I choose to entertain.  I suppose I could buy clothing made out of fabric softener sheets, though it would probably make me sneeze a lot.  On the upside, I would save money on deodorant.

The most practical solution is probably to get myself a humidifier.  I’ve had them in the past, but find that they not only can only do so much in preventing static electricity, but can also invite a new set of problems if not used carefully, namely in the form of mold.  If I had to choose between high voltage shocks at every turn during a few months in the winter or a slick of smelly and possibly toxic black slime forming on various surfaces around the house, I guess I’d prefer the former to the latter.  Air ionizers are said to be good antidotes to static electricity, so maybe I should look into one of those.

As problems go, I could have much greater ones than the constant zapping of static electricity in the house.  In olden times, there was a belief that static electricity was the result of demons.  Maybe I could get the parish priest to stop by and exorcise my fuzzy slippers.  For now, however, I will just have to endure this adversity with a brave face.  Watching funny cat videos on YouTube will surely ease the hardship.

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