- Floriemel, Carmela, and Margarita Coati. Cohanzick Zoo, Bridgeton, NJ. February 1. The animals come out and eat fruit to predict how many human-interest features will explain what the heck coatis are. They’re what Belize has instead of raccoons.
- Punxsutawney Phil, Punxsutawney, Totally Oughta Be Philadelphia. February 2. Groundhog famous for predicting whether we’ll get the place spelled right.
- Woody the Woodchuck, Howell, Michigan. February 2. Predicts whether spring will come to the lower peninsula in six weeks or whether spring will be like normal and arrive sometime late May. No forecast for the upper peninsula as spring has never come to the upper peninsula.
- Shrieking Sam the Shreveport Clam, Louisiana. February 4. Will holler up a storm about whether a storm is coming in. Does not count own hollering storm as a storm.
- Jormungandr, Low Earth Orbit. February 5. Rises early in the morning to determine whether this will be the year he eats Scandinavia. Spoiler: hasn’t for the last 876 years, starting to think he never will. Dress warmly anyway.
- Chris Squirrel, London. February 7. Adorable fluffy-tailed character in a computer-animated funny-animal movie about the Yes bassist. Forecasts whether the coming year will feature lasers.
- Kenny Kangaroo, Pittsburgh, February 8. Forecasts whether the Kennywood amusement park would close for the day at 8:00 or 9:00, if it were open in the middle of winter like this. Mostly a public-relations thing, unlike the other weather-forecasting animals.
- Carl, Des Moines, Washington, February 10. Oversleeping groundhog that makes us wonder why we need a Des Moines in Washington when the one in Iowa would seem to sate all our Des Moines needs, really. Forecasts whether eastern Washington state will have a quarter-inch of rain this year or whether it’ll stay dry.
Again I’m not angry that we haven’t got nearly as many leaves in the yard as we’d expect for this time of year. It’s better than that year we had so many leaves that we overloaded the garbage truck’s ability to carry them away. We had to take extraordinary steps, bringing buckets of leaves to abandon behind the Kroger, carrying extra leaves in our pockets to drop on the floor at work, compressing piles of leaves into a pancake-like matter that we sold at the farmer’s market until they found out what “stroopwafel” was supposed to be and chased us out with rakes. In comparison this is great stuff.
I’m just — you know, I hesitate saying this lest I sound daft. But is it possible that we’re being victimized here? Like, how do I know there’s not someone coming in and bootlegging our leaves, swiping the bounty of our trees and running them down to some fallen-leaf-deprived area? And I’m not annoyed so much that someone might be stealing our leaves, since we weren’t doing anything with them anyway. It hurts to lose a bit of a revenue stream but I’ll admit we don’t really need what we might get from joining the legitimate maple-leaves-to-Florida network. But not being asked, that’s offensive.
So this is a long shot, but hey, if you’re the leaf bootlegger swiping them from our yard? Come clean. It’s all right if you keep taking them, we just want to know about it. Doing it ethically has value.
Just like the title reads. My love got curious and looked up just what people could do at Michigan Secretary of State offices and it turns out it isn’t merely the ordinary Department of Motor Vehicle-type services you can do there. You can, for example, register to vote. Sure, you can do that at a New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission office, but — and here’s the thing — only as part of Motor-Votor plans. That is, you can do it only if it’s at the same time as doing some motor-vehicle-related business. If you just wander in to a New Jersey DMV office with the intention of registering to vote, you’ll be turned away by DMV-paperwork-inspectors. They’ll look over your itinerary and tell you that, no, the only thing you can do in their offices without any connection to motor vehicle paperwork is to sign up for an official state non-driver identification. Oh, and go to the bathroom, they’re okay with that.
But not so in Michigan. Here, you can go to what I had thought of as just the quirkily-named local version of the DMV and sign up to be a notary public. I mean, you could do that at a New Jersey DMV office, but only because you brought the form in to the bathroom with you. You couldn’t expect anyone to process it. Also at the Michigan Secretary of State office you can submit papers to have the Great Seal of the State of Michigan affixed. I’m pretty sure you just give them to the office and they send it in to be Great Seal affixed. I mean, they can’t have a Great Seal in every Secretary of State office since that makes a mockery of the whole Great Seal concept. But in case you need a Great Seal affixation, well, there you go. It’s to the Secretary of State office. Pretty sure what they do is send your document over to the Office of the Great Seal, which is a thing that exists, to be affixed there, and then you get it back somehow. Oh, you could just mail your thing in to the Office of the Great Seal directly, at a mailing address that is not the physical address of the Office of the Great Seal’s office. My point is just that if you go to a New Jersey DMV office you’re not going to get any documents affixed with that state’s Great Seal.
So while I had carelessly thought of this Michigan thing as a bit of quirkiness, that’s just because I had failed to investigate the matter. It’s entirely on me for not knowing this. At a New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission office the only non-motor-vehicle business you can transact is getting a non-driver state ID and go to the bathroom. At a Michigan Secretary of State office you can carry on all the business a person might expect to conduct with the Department of State. Except that you can only get the Great Seal affixation-submission business done from one of the six Secretary of State SUPER!Centers, which are like regular Secretary of State offices except you giggle when you see their name put out like that. Also I imagined that the Secretary of State office I went to wasn’t a SUPER!Center, since it’s on the east side of Lansing and the Office of the Great Seal’s office is like two miles west on the same road. But no, it is, and now I have that bit of trivia to deploy on some unsuspecting documents-authentication group sometime. So, you know, this has been a fruitful weekend overall.
Also the jury duty people called back and said as it happens they didn’t call my number anyway so no harm done when I forgot to check in for three days. I still feel awful about that.
My love and I went to the Clearly Used To Be An Arthur Treacher’s Fish And Chips a couple blocks away, because a bunch of restaurants that have been around forever closed recently and we didn’t want to miss this one. While reading the newspaper there we got to the summary of recently-introduced state legislature bills, so you know what kind of fun people we are. I remind you, I’m a person who owns multiple pop histories about containerized cargo. But among recently introduced pieces of legislation is Michigan House Bill 5770. If passed, it’ll change some state law references regarding the Department of Community Health to the Vital Records Office. The blockbuster bill would also change “Department of Human Services” references to “Department of Health and Human Services”, reflecting some department mergers and renamings. Also if I’m reading it right they’re changing a reference to the “commission for the accreditation of birth centers” to the “commission for the accreditation of birth centers”. I think that was put in to see if anybody was reading closely. I was skimming.
I don’t mind the state legislature bowing to the forces of Big Copy Edit like this. Of all the special interests that might have their way in the capitol, the fearsome Blue Pencil Squad is one I’m not so afraid of. Sure, I’d like the roads to get fixed too, but I understand that takes money. This just takes fixing the web site listing state laws.
What gets me is that this bill has seven sponsors. Why? What was the controversy someone was hoping to squelch by showing the bill started with broad support around the state? Is it the bit where the use of “pursuant to” is changed to “under”? I bet it’s that. I know the kinds of people who say “pursuant to” and they will put up a heck of a fight to make other people say it.
I don’t mean to make this a political blog. But put me down in favor of correcting references to government departments in order to reflect the current names or the mergers of agencies into new administrative structures. And I don’t care who I’ve offended by saying this, unless it’s my love or the guy making my fish and chips meal. To them I say I’m sorry and remind them of my deep and long-held moral cowardice. Thank you.
I’m over forty years old. I have an advanced degree in mathematics. I have lived in Michigan for four years. I have only just this weekend stopped to wonder: what battle is Battle Creek, Michigan, named after?
My best guess: French explorers named the spot for where they refilled their water stocks. Then when the English poked in they figured ‘Bottle Creek’ must be some crazy moon-man mistaken pronunciation and they fixed it to ‘Battle Creek’ and we’ve been stuck with that since. So, yeah, please lock that in as my answer, won’t you? Thank you.
And according to Wikipedia, it’s actually named for a battle in the winter of 1823-24 in which two of the natives got into a fight with two people from a federal government survey party. In the fight one of the natives was wounded. After the fight the survey party fled. So, yeah, it involved not quite as many people as were needed to play the classic game show Password Plus. Although I guess there is a folk etymology that the river’s native name, Waupakisco, itself is some kind of name meaning “battle creek”, for some battle they dunno when it happened or what over, which makes people who know the language roll their eyes and sigh. So there we go.
Last week around these parts I mentioned this huge lump of coal. It was dropped off a train in Lansing over a century ago. It was around in 1976 to take school bus tour groups to. Now it isn’t there. As far as I can tell. I want to give a full report about the spot where it’s supposed to be, so I can say what’s there now. Maybe the coal was gone but it had been replaced with a heaping pile of bauxite, for example, or perhaps potash. Maybe jute or some naval supplies. But I didn’t have the chance to get over there. Well, I got in the area, since it’s near the pet store. But I had to go over to the pet store under emergency circumstances. They didn’t allow for a side trip to go looking for deposits of cinnabar or whatever. But I looked at the place on Google Maps Streetview and I didn’t see anything. I think.
But lumps of missing coal aren’t all the interesting stuff described in Helen E Grainger’s 1976 book Pictorial Lansing: Great City On The Grand. I think there’s supposed to be a colon there. The cover isn’t quite clear. I’m sure it’s not Pictorial Lansing Great City On The Grand That Changed The World. The book’s got, for example, a picture of Ransom Olds’s mansion. He’s the person who invented the Oldsmobile. Just like you might guess if you were bluffing your way through the question “Who invented the Oldsmobile?” and you rejected “Biddle Jehoshaphat Mobile” for no good reason. The Olds mansion was torn down in 1966 to make way for an Interstate, which is a wee bit on-the-nose, people. The mansion had an Aeolian organ that was “sold and delivered to Oregon”. So if anyone in Oregon’s seen an Aeolian organ and doesn’t know where it’s come from, here’s a lead.
Then there’s the Lions Den. It’s also known as “The Lawrence Mansion”, “Squire Haven’s 1861 House”, and “Brauer’s 1861 House”. It is “now, in 1976, the oldest building in Michigan that has a restaurant in it”. Somehow the phrasing of that sentence makes me doubt my conceptual model of restaurants. It shouldn’t. There’s nothing revolutionary about the idea of a restaurant that doesn’t take up a whole building. Or a building that doesn’t have a restaurant. The phrasing just fills me with doubts. I don’t know. Anyway, a neat feature of the 1861 Lawrence Brauer Squire Haven 1861 Mansion House is a glass on top. The book says “the day [construction workers] finished it, all the working crew had a drink from a wine glass and then one of the workers climbed up and put this little wine glass upside down on top of the spire that goes up in the sky from the cupola”. The next page has a picture of the glass on the cupola on the spire on the building on whatnot.
It’s also gone. My love did some research and found that the glass was replaced at least once. And it was painted over and paint-welded to the spire at least once. And sometime last decade the building got declared architecturally unsound. It was down before it could slide downriver and crash into an Interstate. They were planning to build condos there, if I have it right, and then noticed it was 2008 so they decided to instead not build condos.
Now for something that is still there. I know it is because I keep seeing it along Michigan Avenue. But never up close because it’s on the median and there’s not anywhere nearby enough to park without looking weird. I’m glad the book tells me what it is so I don’t have to go experience it myself. It’s a blurry copper-I-guess plaque on a stone that doesn’t look at all like coal and if the book is right it reads:
This block of concrete represents the efforts of Lansing’s pioneer residents in the laying of one of the first and longest stretches of concrete pavement in the world, between Lansing and East Lansing.
That’s like four miles, downtown-to-downtown. Grainger didn’t know when the plaque was put up. The Highway Commissioner named took office in 1933, so, probably it wasn’t 1931, but otherwise who knows? Can we rule out 1954 in its entirety? But that’s all right, because Grainger didn’t know when the concrete pavement was put down either. She guessed not later than 1914. So I want you to appreciate all this. It’s a plaque I technically speaking have not read, put up sometime we do not know, commemorating an event that happened at some time we do not know. I’m not saying this is the funniest thing in the world. I’m saying this is one of the more giggle-worthy things I’ve run across in easily twenty-two days.
So in all, I would like to say that here in mid-Michigan, there are things, or used to be, and that isn’t so bad an arrangement.
The consoling thing about every company building up massive databases of every bit of information about all of us is that they’re all fantastically incompetent at it. By this I mean, yes, Best Buy, do keep asking if I’ll consider buying the cable modem that I bought from you seven weeks ago. I could easily use a second in case I need to crush walnuts between the two, I suppose.
There’s weather news besides the impending end of time and space. Of course there would be. Last weekend, for example, we had a thrilling windstorm that saw breezes of up to 350 miles per hour and that left a large chunk of South Bend, Indiana deposited on top of Battle Creek, Michigan. Don’t go getting excited. It landed upside-down and all the jelly fell on the floors.
But there’s a projected major storm ahead. This is kind of exciting, since it means we might get to stay home from school. And it’s been a gentle winter so it’s exciting to get some of the real stuff in. According to the National Weather Service there’s the risks for:
- six to ten inches of heavy wet snow
- Strong north wind gusts to 40 mph
- Some blowing and drifting developing Wednesday night
- major travel disruptions
- Scattered power outages
- Potential for school closures on Thursday
“And,” they might as well add, “we’re sending a snowplow driver around to kick you in the thigh”.
It’d be a little inconvenient to me if the snowstorm really does hit as projected. It would screw up plans I have for the day. But there’s something satisfying about nestling safely indoors through a heavy storm. You go upstairs sometimes and peer outside, checking that yes, the snow is going there just like on the first floor. There’s individual snowflakes as much as ten inches across and weighing up to 25 pounds. There’s gusts of wind high enough squirrels are able to glide from tree to tree by holding a leaf over their heads. There’s the reminder I left all the wood in the garage, where it’s no good to us for building a fire. It’s all quite grand in its way, sitting tight, wondering why the National Weather Service can’t be consistent about its capitalization, and waiting for the thaw and a pothole the size of Battle Creek to open up. Can’t wait.
- You forgot to put the recycling out!
- If you’re on the landing exactly at midnight New Year’s Eve you can get into the secret extra floor there.
- There’s somebody, anybody, back east who knows you’re in the Eastern Time Zone.
- That shield bug in the bathroom that’s been motionless and on its back for two weeks? It’s not dead yet somehow.
- There’s still a Radio Shack in town.
- You will never be perfectly confident that the faucets are turning off correctly.
- Tucked inside the wall you can never get a picture nail to stick in? That’s the canvases of 19th century moving-panorama showman John Banvard’s famous half-mile long painting of the Mississippi River, once the toast of American and European theatrical performances, and thought to be completely lost.
- Oh, the basement, let’s not even.
- The button you never use on the dishwasher is for its twelve-minute Licking Cycle.
- That’s no home, that’s some 60s black-and-white French science fiction movie in which people grunt about how the essence of mankind is love and faith, courage and tenderness, and then getting shot until they fall into swimming pools at the direction of the all-powerful computer god, which is played by a heat lamp behind a box fan.
To The Department Of Winter, Michigan Bureau:
So, let me start off by saying that while I’ve only lived in Michigan a smidge and two whiles, this is looking to be my fourth winter here. Also let me point out that I’m not some wimp who can’t take slightly abnormal weather. Weather-wise, I’m better-experienced than you maybe think. I lived almost my whole life in central New Jersey. There we get every kind of weather although not in such intense amounts as to be really inconvenient. Give or take the odd Superstorm Sandy washing away Ocean County. And I went to graduate school in upstate New York, with wholly different patterns of having an extra month of the lousiest parts of winter.
And then I even lived a half-decade in Singapore, which has a daily high of 92 Fahrenheit and a thunderstorm every afternoon between 1:30 and 3:00. If it doesn’t rain you can go to the Ministry of the Environment and get your hand stamped for a day’s free admission. Though if you tell them you’re there for a rain cheque they won’t smile. There, winter is kept in well-supervised ice-skating rinks. It’s available for S$6 the first half-hour and S$4 every half-hour afterwards. Or you can walk by a 7-Eleven because the doors are open and the air conditioning set to Popeye strengths. To find a 7-Eleven in Singapore first go to Singapore (critically important! Do this first!), pick a direction, and walk up to 250 paces in that direction.
But what I’m getting at is this has been a freaky December. I was expecting it to be a little colder than this. Like, I was expecting it to be cold at all. It isn’t that I have a particular love of the cold. The winter outside Albany for 1997-98, for example, was chilly enough that my toes still haven’t thawed out. And back the winter of 2013-14 Michigan put up a bravura performance of coldness, with a string of 84 days below freezing in January alone. The 16th of January that year (2014) was so cold the sun refused to rise because the lock to its heavenly chariot had frozen solid.
This December, though, has been bizarrely warm. The only time we’ve gotten near freezing was when I passed out from heat stroke over the ice cream counter at Quality Dairy. And while Mackinac Fudge Cider might be a great flavor, it’s just not wintery. It’s made a mockery of my putting up storm windows. And it’s hurt the feelings of my rushing to put the Christmas lights up outside when we had that nice day in the mid-40s. We’ve had date trees blooming into new fruits, and I’m pretty sure there aren’t even any date trees in Michigan. I think.
And it isn’t just making me feel silly doing household chores. It’s had major effects on the wildlife. For example, the squirrels are supposed to stuff themselves silly all autumn. Then they sleep it off through the coldest of winter. Then they sneak into the attic and try to burrow through our excess supply of Suave shampoo. But without a hint of cold weather they’re trapped in stuff-themselves-silly mode. It’s getting hazardous to step outside. Squirrels fattened up to sphericity keep losing their grip and plummeting. We have to take the groceries inside between cannonballs of angry rodents.
Even if we’ve waited for a good breeze to knock the squirrels out first we’re not out of danger. Red squirrels are cantankerous critters in the best of circumstances. When they’re stuck howling at the world for someone to roll them over onto their paws they get downright vicious, not to mention personal. I left middle school for many reasons, but mostly because I don’t need the kind of hurtful comments I’m getting from the red squirrel community. We’ve seen some similar results from the mouse community. And we suspect there’s a raccoon waiting for us to put the heater in the pond so he can hurl it back out of the pond and remind us who around here knows how to hurl stuff out of the pond.
That’s all stuff I suppose I can get used to. I mean, I got used to “winter” in Singapore, by knowing where all 42,000 island 7-Elevens were and maneuvering around the arctic blasts. What’s got me nervous is the sense of the other shoe waiting to drop. What kind of retribution is a month of outright balmy weather going to get us? Cold and snow is only going to go so far. This kind of weather earns us, like, a hail of frogs made of hail howling the things we’re afraid our loved ones secretly find disappointing about us.
So I want to say I’m enjoying the weather being so warm that it actually feels chilly, because it feels too silly to dress like it’s been December. But I’m afraid of what you have in store. I’d want to get out of this with retribution that’s nothing worse than, like, one blizzard they’ll be talking about for years and maybe a single weekend where the argon liquefies out of the atmosphere. Is there some way to get the winter adjusted so we don’t have anything worse than that coming up?
I know it’s a long shot, but I thought it only fair to ask. Thank you for your time and attention.
PS: Thanks for the help with that spider.
- Presque Isle.
- Saline. Really?
- Clio. Why should that be any different.
- Rives Junction. And it’s the “Junction” part somehow.
- Scipio but that’s because I’m being deliberately difficult in this one particular case.
- Lima. Lima? I can’t even have this one?
- Just gonna go ahead and put “Lansing” down on this list.
- Charlevoix. At this point I’m going to say they’re the ones pronouncing it wrong.
- Paw Paw. I’m guessing.
- Chrysler. There is no such town or city but I’m going to guess if there were I’d say it wrong anyway.
We had some terrible storms in Michigan yesterday. It was serious stuff. But we got off easily. Yes, we had over 26 feet of rain in two and a quarter hours. I had been outside during the afternoon, during the lighter part, and needed a five-minute shower to dry off. And we got those flashes of lightning that just linger, leaving a glow in the sky that lasts for … well, the longest I made out at lasting for twelve minutes. I’m sure that’s normal. We had to spend most of the day today picking up the sidewalk and squeezing out the water, which is, again, a really petty chore to have given the weather. The biggest surprise was that our goldfish pond had got washed five feet down river. Second-biggest is that our goldfish think they’ve had enough water for a while now, thanks. It was a night. A lot of people had it much worse.
I was at Taco Bell, which is a tiny bit interesting because until about two years ago I’d never eaten at one. It isn’t like I have anything particular against Taco Bell, even though their corporate overlords used to have the supervillain-corporate name of Tricon Global, and now have the faintly-Orwellian menace name of Yum! Brands, Inc. I just never got around to it before. I probably should have. I sincerely like their extruded burritos. But I’ve always liked extruded things.
What I want to get at is that besides the seven-extruded burrito and a cheese quesadilla I ordered a pop. I did this because I was thirsty and this was Michigan. One thing I’ve known since childhood about the midwest was that “soda” was called “pop” there. This I heard before the 90s, when everybody got on the Internet and started discussing how they call the same things by different names and how other places than home pronounce words wrong. (That was all anyone talked about online all 1997.) When I moved to Michigan, I found this “pop” thing was true. But the guy working the register didn’t understand me. I said a regular pop, and please, and still didn’t get my point across. So I gave up and said “soda” and that was fine.
Thing is, this keeps happening to me. Or at least around me. I ask for pop from people who should be used to people asking for pop, and they don’t know what to make of that. I’d understand confusion if I asked for pop from someone that would be unusual, such as in New Jersey, at a furniture store, from the guy the building code office sent to check on a crack in a load-bearing pillow. I couldn’t complain much if the guy chose to slug me. But why is this confusing?
I have to figure the problem is my accent. I come from New Jersey, and I’m not more defensive about that than average, and I must just say words like “pop” in ways they don’t understand. I don’t have a very strong New Jersey accent. I routinely surprise people when they hear where I’m from. “You don’t sound like you’re from New Jersey,” is the sort of thing I get. “I’d have guessed you were from … ” and then they’re not able to pin down just where they were thinking I was from, and they knock over a pyramid of soda cans and run away in the confusion.
I know what people expect from a New Jersey accent. It’s a bit loud and fast, with touches of 1940s Movie Brooklyn in it. College football is unpronounced. The average sentence will have something that has to get beeped out. Instead of clearly pronouncing the “-ing” at the end of words, speakers punch something. Maybe a person, maybe a tree, maybe the shoreline, maybe the abstract concept of justice, maybe a vending machine. Just something that’s available. The New Jersey accent is a crossing of the basic Atlantic Midlands dialect with swerving across four lanes of heavy traffic to cut someone off. I haven’t got a strong accent, because I’m too shy to punch an extruded burrito in a Taco Bell in Michigan. Most of my accent expresses itself in referring to Bruce Springsteen as if we were on a first-name basis, taking a surprising amount of guff for talking about people in queues being “on line”, and in getting into tiresome arguments about how people in other states are forced to pump their own gas. Also I expect to be able to order pork roll, although not at Taco Bell. I like to think my natural speech is a good bit rhotic, but I have no idea what that means. I might just want to be rhotic for the attention.
Except that doesn’t make sense because I hate drawing attention to myself. I feel like I’m taking too much of the cashier’s attention just by ordering my food. Going back around and explaining that by a pop I mean a soda, which is how he would have said pop is just horrible. I want to curl up in a ball underneath the plastic packs of chili sauce and go unnoticed, except they’d probably catch me when I snuck off to the bathroom. Except what would I have to go to the bathroom for if I can’t get a pop to drink?
A controversial thing going around Michigan right now is a public referendum for a road-repair plan. As side effects it also changes how schools get funded, changes the sales tax, and requires a band of the state National Guard to tromp into Toledo once every two years and say, “Is too ours anytime we want it”. It’s kind of complicated. Even the media guides to it drift off after a few paragraphs and admit, “every time they explain it to us it sounds like it makes sense but then we leave the room and we forget how it works again”.
But there’s advertisements for it on the TV now. One advert just explained how under the new plan roads will have to be warrantied. I never thought of warrantying road construction before. I guess I had just assumed that as long as nobody stole your road within four months of construction then everything was fine. It’s kind of comforting knowing that roads can be warrantied and maybe even will be. But now I’m imagining my next visit to Best Buy. I’ll be waiting at the customer service desk, trying in despair to think of anything I can buy that wouldn’t be a waste of my $5 gift certificate. And ahead of me will be the Mayor of Lansing, holding a chunk of where I-496 turns into 127, pointing to a receipt that’s eight feet long, and arguing a pothole. I always get stuck behind problems like that.
I’ve come to realize that I have no idea how to pronounce “quinoa”, and furthermore, that I’m fine with that. Perhaps someday I will learn to say it aloud, perhaps someday I will not, but I am disinterested in what the outcome will be. As life ambitions go it’s rather like hoping to someday see Promontory Summit, Utah; it would be kind of nice to, but I would not think my life ill-spent if it turns out I never do.
I confess I’m not sure exactly what quinoa is; the name makes it look something kind of grain-y, and I guess that’s fine, what with the world needing grains so the farmers feel like they’re not just keeping busy. I know from reading the comic strips that there are people who’ve decided to eat it, and possibly nothing but it, lately; and that there are a lot of people who think this is the most absurd silly foolish thing ever, what with quinoa being a thing they didn’t eat, so far as they remember, back when food was normal and not scary or weird, when they were eight.
All I really know food-wise is that the stores around here have gotten filled with boxes of paczki, as every Meijer’s and Kroger’s and convenience store builds a fortress of doughnut boxes. I appreciate paczki, sure, what with it being food and all that, but the quantities of it are mystifying to this transplant. I accept it as part of human nature’s beautiful diversity, the way in Michigan people also elect the state Attorney General and follow college football. I do know how to pronounce paczki, half because of the Polish side of my heritage, half because the boxes and signs all spell out how to pronounce it. I don’t think they have anything to do with quinoa.
So Michigan’s official state groundhog, who works out of an animal rescue shelter very near to Howell, and not out of the capital in Lansing, predicted six more weeks of winter, which would still be a pretty early end to winter. This doesn’t surprise folks much because we got up to eighteen inches of snow on Sunday and there might be more coming in tomorrow, although it’s better than last winter, which moved in around August 24th and still hasn’t left.
What is surprising is that the prediction was made by Murray, who’s the state’s backup groundhog because Woody the Woodchuck, the main groundhog, was recovering from a respiratory infection. I’d like to think the state has a main and a backup groundhog because, hey, two major peninsulas, two major woodchucks, but that seems to just be coincidence. Also, Murray is named after Bill Murray, and as you might expect Murray is a female groundhog. I suppose this reflects people not asking groundhogs some obvious questions before naming them.
Also, not to get into an inter-state rivalry thing here, because I can’t, because I’m from New Jersey, but the groundhog in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, bit mayor Jonathan Freund, who — according to groundhog handlers Jerry and Maria Hahn — went on to misrepresent the groundhog’s weather prediction. I can sympathize with Freund getting it wrong after being bitten by a Wisconsonian groundhog, though.
To explain why I discovered only at the end of the day Monday that I was wearing a shirt inside-out I need to give some context. I don’t think I need to explain the wearing of shirts, as that’s been popular nearly my whole adult life, and Monday has been almost perfectly assimilated into American culture since its invention in 1964 as a way to ease the transition from Sunday to Tuesday.
Now, it’s wintertime. It hasn’t been as cruel a winter as last year, but last year’s was exceptionally cruel, frequently using the power of social media to ridicule individuals and harass them in what had been safe social areas. This winter has been much nicer, but it has still been getting cold, and the weather’s been getting bad. My love pointed out there isn’t any such thing as bad weather, only people badly dressed for the weather. I answered this by asking what about when the weather is minus two degrees Fahrenheit, and a heavy, wet snow is coming down so hard you’re on the verge of whiteouts, and it’s about ninety minutes after sunset. My love went “hrm” to this, and I added that you were stuck with a flat tire more than an hour away from home, on a frontage road outside the abandoned scrap metal recycling center, and your cell phone, which you never use and you charge all the time, is out of battery, as it always is, and none of these additions are properly the weather per se but they do help set the scene. My love walked away to ask our pet rabbit if he wanted a raisin, which he does.
Still, the right way to deal with weather like that is layering, which we start doing around November and let up on around March. The principle of layering is simple: you can stay somewhat less cold by, whenever you find an article of clothing, putting it on. Whenever you find an article of clothing. So just strolling around the house I’ll put on underwear, sure, and long underwear, and here’s a t-shirt by the bed, and a regular shirt that was on the dresser, and a dress shirt that was in the bedroom closet, and the soccer shirt from that one time I played soccer in tenth grade, and the novelty “2010” eyeglasses because eyeballs get cold too and what the heck New Year’s Eve might roll around again, and go downstairs and put on the blanket we put over the couch for guests because that’s kind of a dress shirt for furniture, and then put on the reclining chair, and that’s all before I’ve even got to the closet where we keep the jackets.
If it’s done right, by about mid-February you’re basically a gigantic elliptical bundle of flesh and cloth, and it’s not all that cold as you step outside, trip over your six pairs of shoes, and go tumbling down the road. People from warmer climates may believe that mid-Michigan in the upcoming weeks will be a field of spinning balls of population bouncing off one another until they roll into a snowy creek, all the layers keeping folks from freezing to death until the currents can sweep them into the Grand River. This is absurd. Given the plowed streets, people are much more likely to roll down to the strip mall and into the nearest Michael’s, where they bounce into the folks waiting in the line where, even though there’s four registers open and nobody has more than maybe three things to buy and everybody’s paying cash, the line never advances any. The disruption is appreciated since it gives customers the chance to give up on their plans to buy decorative boxes and plastic flowers and run off to the Petco next door and stare at heaps of sleeping ferrets instead.
You might think this makes laundry terrible, since there’s so many clothes to wash if you got them all taken off at once. And it’s true that the laundry loads are bigger than summer, but you don’t have to wash all the layers at once. The two great sources of dirtiness, in clothing, are the outside world, and only the outermost layer of clothing ever touches that, and the body, and only the innermost layer touches that. Everything else is just touching other clothes so you can let them slide a while or, if you’re wearing enough layers, let the accumulated fabric pressure crush any dirt that might somehow get through into little bitty lint diamonds, which are good for industrial lint needs.
Anyway, so this all gets back to how I discovered I wore a shirt inside-out on Monday: it was underneath that thing I wear that isn’t a hoodie, I guess, but that I call one because I don’t know what else to call it, and I didn’t discover this until I was getting ready for bed by taking off the outer eighteen layers. I feel kind of silly about it, but, I understand how this sort of thing happens and nobody else noticed.
I’m pretty sure this is just a minor East Coast/Midwest cultural difference, but I’m also pretty sure my father-in-law’s heart breaks a bit when I admit I’m fine with the Scarlet Knights getting beaten by whoever it was they played.
The local newspaper mentioned that at South By Southwest a trade group from the Lansing area advertised to whoever’s interested in this sort of thing the proposition “Escape To Lansing”. The big selling point — and the one that’s on their web site — is that Lansing is free of many disasters which make it annoying to do business, to wit:
Hurricanes. True. Mid-Michigan is admirably hurricane-free, what with most hurricanes refusing to tromp over the Appalachian mountains and deal with trying to follow the highways around Toledo.
Scorpions. I can’t dispute that the Lansing metropolitan area has a pretty low number of scorpions, and most of those who are around are either in their designated pens within the pet shops or are work-study students helping make sure that visitors to the college or university library are briefly examined by eye and grunted at before they finish entering or exiting. I have to question whether scorpions are a major problem in most business districts, however. If they are then maybe startup businesses just need to buy screen doors.
Radioactive Gas. I hadn’t imagined that Lansing ever had a problem with radioactive gas emissions gathering to dangerous levels, but now that they’re going to the bother of telling people there’s no radioactive gas it’s started to make me worry. They maybe shouldn’t have raised the issue.
Earthquakes. Michigan has a very low earthquake risk, with the greatest hazard being earthquakes which other states or Canadian provinces hold and which spill over owing to inadequate soundproofing in the walls between states. The upper peninsula was subject to a series of earthquakes in the mid-19th century as the copper underneath it was dug out and turned into telephone wires in New York City and Boston, and the remaining crust collapsed over and over again, but the ground has mostly settled since then, and any attempt to get an earthquake going will be dampened by abandoned mining equipment. No serious risk there.
Justin Bieber. This seems petty. Pop stars are a fundamentally unpredictable, whimsical force of nature, prone to blowing into our lives and inspiring tiresome conversations about how we don’t like them and then blowing back out again, sometimes leaving us with a song we can’t quite get out of our heads. We have little to fear from them, and they pay for their existence by giving entertainment journalists something to talk about which isn’t lists of TV shows you won’t watch. They should be appreciated for how they enrich life’s tapestry of things we don’t really have to do anything about.
Tsunamis. Actually, the adorable little wave they use here makes me think of the original Bell Atlantic logo. While it’s true Michigan had very little phone service by Bell Atlantic before it changed its name and become a more annoying company, I don’t see why South By Southwest attendees would be particularly impressed by this. If they didn’t want to do business with Bell Atlantic they could as easily do that in Austin.
Volcanos. Michigan hasn’t had an active volcano in about 2.5 billion years, but it seems presumptuous to say that companies would want to relocate to mid-Michigan just to avoid volcanos. Obviously companies that do volcano tours are going to be attracted by having volcanos, but what about places that hope to get in on something igneous? Maybe they’re figuring corporate headquarters can be away from the magma action and this will be somehow worth it in the end. I don’t know.
Sharks. I’m fairly sure there aren’t many shark attacks even in the business districts of coastal towns. I have to imagine a company that’s routinely losing key personnel or equipment to shark attacks, and isn’t in the shark-annoying trade, is screwed up in fundamental ways. If they relocated to Lansing they’d probably just get lost in the woods and see their business plan get eaten by squirrels.
I notice they don’t say a word about the ice storms causing blackouts or that stretch in early February when it got so cold all molecular motion ceased. Well, it was a harsh winter but we do generally have indoor heating. They also don’t mention that in Lansing you’re relatively unlikely to be surrounded by Texans, which I’d think would be a selling point in Austin. But they didn’t ask me to contribute promotional material.
Also, apparently Lansing has a 3-D Printer you can use, if you need it. Sold!
I told our pet rabbit I’d try doing something about the cold, and I did, what with making many snarky comments about it online. I didn’t have any better ideas. But there has been progress: yesterday and today it got above freezing, enough that some mysterious force is going around and making the icicles all melt so our house looks less like it’s trapped inside some snow-monster’s maw, and just this morning I saw some bizarre municipal truck with this kind of curved metal wedge running back and forth on our street and shoving snow and ice out of the path of the road. No idea what that’s supposed to be.
Meanwhile I’ve found historical data showing that it really has been harsh, but far from the worst on record. The winter of 2007-08, it turns out, saw an accumulated snowfall of nearly seventy inches, and that after the month of February was cancelled due to terrible road conditions keeping it out of the mid-Michigan area. In 1975-76, snowfall totals were high enough that the National Weather Service ran out of numbers and started measuring in terms of letters and, by the end of March, triangles and little cartoon clouds. And the worst mid-Michigan winter in history, 1880-81, saw so much snow as a result of a second winter actually sneaking in during January, in the middle of the first winter, and tossing its pile of snow around and mostly down.
Our rabbit says he’s having none of this, thank you.