Friday, September 26, 2008

Another Stone To Throw At My Cynicism – "Coming In From The Cold"

I remember this:

A seven hour stretch at the beach sometime in the early eighties. My brother and I hopping up and down in the salty green waves; the current dragging us north toward St Augustine, inch by inch. We would body-surf; which is what poor people do when they can't afford surfboards or boogie boards. You timed the wave just right, as it began to suck the water from underneath you and you leapt forward and hopefully the foam would take you to shore. If we weren't floating in the Atlantic, we were digging holes in the sand with a rusty camping shovel.

Between cheese sandwiches and generic sodas we filled up the day while passing Camaros bled Journey, Bob Seger and, occasionally, the dulcet tones of Billy Idol. We never had an ounce of sunscreen. Not once. We never had an umbrella or shade. We burned every week. Our meshy bathing trunks were filled with gritty sand and our lips cracked from salt water. My brother and I would stick to the vinyl seats in the old station wagon and we would pass out from exposure. Once we got home we took cold showers, scraped all the sand out of places it should not be and laid on a clean sheet to cool off. We never cooled off. Not on beach day. Our skin actually radiated heat so we could never get comfortable.

Why is this worth mentioning?

You will never be able to prove to me that cooling off is a better experience than to warm up. It’s a damned scientific fact of comfort and gooshiness. I don't give a damn if it the Bahamas and you are fanned by two supermodels with an endless supply of daiquiris and mango sorbet. I can top that experience with a scenario in a mountain lodge or ski resort. (I'll still need the supermodels for the scenario.)

Of course, I have never had that experience. Hell, I would have written about it already.

But I had a white Christmas last year. For real. And it's almost as rare in the Northwest as it is in Florida. Wet Christmas is more apropos.

The snow came down on Christmas morning and it stayed long enough for the kids to run outside with their gloves, scrape up a pile of grass, dirt and snow and chuck it into the street. I lit a fire, although we didn't need it. I had to. It is holiday law. You can avoid the warm and fuzzies all you want but in this culture that event is tough to beat. I've never hit 21 at a blackjack table with a tall blonde on my arm but I had snow on Christmas.

And it was cold. Nice and cold. Maybe that is why the beach and the heat don't do it for me. I like the cold AND the remedy for it. The chill is in your chest. You feel a tingling in your rib cage. It almost tickles. The cold air carries rare odors, like tree sap and fallen leaves and smoke from distant fires. Taking a dog for a walk or just a trip to the store seems more pleasant and somehow necessary. I love the amplified sounds of a chilly wind. Jesus, I even love the need for a warm cap. Don't forget women in sweaters and knit caps with rosy cheeks and all that. It’s the only time I get compliments from the women in my life. I can actually look decent in a comfy jacket. How can you not love it?

Coming in from the cold to a warm home is like nothing else in life. Shutting the door behind and as it lets one more burst of chill into the room. The obligatory "brrr" as you strip off a layer of clothing; the cap, the jacket, the boots if necessary. You know what comes next. Coffee or hot tea or slippers or a blanket. Snuggling with a loved one or a pet or a huge pillow.

Wow. I am a simple creature.

I end this with a quote from Travels With Charley, by John Steinbeck. I loved it so much I have a copy of it hanging in my house. For those Americans who can't fathom why everyone doesn't want to move to Southern California or Florida for the postcard weather, this might help explain things:

"I’ve lived in good climate and it bores the hell out of me. I like weather rather than climate. In Cuernavaca, Mexico, where I once lived, and where the climate is near as to perfect as is conceivable, I have found that when people leave there they go to Alaska. I’d like to see how long an Aroostook County man can stand Florida But I do wonder if a down-Easter, sitting on a nylon-and-aluminum chair out on a changelessly green lawn slapping mosquitoes in the evening of a Florida October—I do wonder if the stab of memory doesn’t strike him high in the stomach just below the ribs where it hurts. And in the humid ever-summer I dare his picturing mind not to go back to the shout of color, to the clean rasp of frosty air, to the smell of pine wood burning and the caressing warmth of kitchens. For how can one know color in perpetual green, and what good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?"

(Note to self: In the future, try not to include quotes from masters of American literature in your postings. They make your original work look like doggie links.)

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