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Matt Colette commentary: The radiator of my discontent

Photo: Matt Collette / Columbia Radio News

Photo: Matt Collette / Columbia Radio News

HOST INTRO: Plenty of New Yorkers are probably tired of winter. But some are just plain tired. My co-host Matt Collette has this commentary.

I just can’t wait for this winter to finally be over. Not because of the cold. I’m from New England — I can handle that.

What I can’t take, though, is this:

SOUND: Radiator clangs and hisses.

That’s my radiator. And every night — all night — this whole winter — that’s what I’ve heard as I try to sleep. Banging. Hissing. Sometimes it’s so loud and out of control I start thinking there must be some ghost trapped inside. And I don’t even believe in ghosts.

I used to be the kind of guy who’d be asleep the moment his head hit to pillow. But that was before I moved to this city. Now I’m part of an unlucky fraternity of New Yorkers — the ones who live in pre-war apartment buildings with ancient, broken heating systems. We’re the ones who’ve had dark lines under our eyes since Christmas. The ones who’ve found that, at least until winter ends, there will never be enough coffee.

The advantage to my apartment is that it’s cheap, at least for Manhattan. But that also means my bedroom is so small that there’s only one place to put my bed. And that puts my head right next to the radiator. I think I’ve tried every version of adapting: I’ve slept with my head at the other end of the bed. It didn’t make a difference. I tried just turning the whole thing off, which maddeningly is the only control I’ve got. It’s quiet, but requires an awful lot of blankets.

I’ve told my super about the noise, and he said he’d look at it. He swung by one afternoon and mumbled something about fixing it next week. It’s been two months. No one’s come by to repair anything. So I’ve taken matters into my own hands. Now, before I go to sleep, I turn on my fan.


And a white noise app I’ve got on my phone.

SOUND: White noise app and the fan.

Then finally I put in earplugs, and everything goes quiet enough.


At this point, I’m mostly just curious — what going on inside my radiator that’s causing all this noise? I called a guy who fixes them for a living. He says steam radiators like mine sometimes get misaligned. That means the super-hot steam that’s piped in sometimes condenses into water and pools at the bottom of the radiator. That blocks up the whole system, and when steam hits it, the massive temperature change creates that huge bang that’s become the soundtrack to my winter nights.

It’s pretty warm today in New York, and maybe we’re starting to see the beginning of spring. But I’ve seen snowstorms in April before, so I’m not overly optimistic. Still, the ice and snow are starting to melt and, more importantly, my radiator hasn’t made much noise the past few days. Maybe my winter of discontent is almost over.

HOST: Matt Collette lives in West Harlem. He should rest easy until the summer — he also sleeps next to a window overlooking an especially noisy street.

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