It Is Supposed To Be Cold Tomorrow


I have to write this piece today. Tomorrow we in Lansing, Michigan are supposed to be getting some cold in. By ‘some cold’ I mean ‘all the cold’. The sort where the temperature (Fahrenheit) isn’t just dropping below zero but all the way into the imaginary numbers. It’s the kind of cold where they warn you it’s too cold to leave buildings outside. Where you don’t see sparrows coming to the bird feeder anymore because they get halfway to the freezer, ice up, and these feathery snowballs tumble into unsuspecting squirrels.

So I have to talk about all this before I call my parents. After lives spent happily in New Jersey, with roughly similar weather, they moved to South Carolina. “What the heck,” my mother said, “We don’t know anybody there and my whole experience there has been one weekend with my friends in Charleston. That’s where we’ll spend retirement,” and my father said “What?” because his hearing aid had iced over. It’s worked out really well for them, except that between September and April the first twenty minutes of our phone calls are about how much warmer it is down there.

And it’s not like we always have terrible and cold weather. This winter’s been warm enough we’re all a little bothered by that. I know this makes us just sound disagreeable. But we’ve had it warm enough that it was, like, in the 60s and sunny, with nice strong breezes and seagulls coming in from the Great Lakes. Let me remind you, this is Lansing, Michigan. We’ve been having the kind of weather that gets incompetent seagulls. But most of the time it’s been a more normal winter, just a little warmer than average.

And it’s not like South Carolina’s weather is always better. Between May and August the first twenty minutes of our phone calls are about how their evacuation for the hurricane has gone. It’s not always a hurricane, mind. Sometimes it’s a tropical storm. Sometimes it’s a very lost nor’easter. Part of what’s nice about South Carolina, as a retirement state, is the low cost of living, which is to say they don’t have taxes, because they don’t do things like build a second bridge off the island where my parents live. Or have roads that don’t flood when it rains, or it’s very muggy, or someone leaves the sink running while brushing their teeth.

But we’re not in hurricane season now. So I have to get this written before calling them and they talk about how frigid tomorrow should be. This won’t keep them from hearing about it. But if I can get to talking out the weather here, before I call them for the week, I … don’t actually know what I’ll accomplish. At least I’ll have done something.

And weather this cold you do have to do something for. It’s the kind of cold that even being warm doesn’t help with. We have a good-quality water heater, the kind that gets the water hot enough to melt the water heater, but that won’t make a shower hot enough to completely revive my toes. Dressing is also a problem. The only thing to do wear layers. This means whenever you encounter any piece of clothing, put it on. Since I work at home this is tricky. I’ll pop into the bedroom for something or other, and have to put on another shirt or pair of underwear. By about 5:30 I’m a rolling ball of fabric.

And that’s staying inside. I don’t figure to go out. In this cold it’s a bad idea to let your tongue touch the air, as it’ll get stuck. Your tongue ices over. Then the ice that that’s caught on will get stuck on the air. That ices over, and again and again, and then you’re dangling a five-foot-long ice tongue out your mouth. And then you can’t go anywhere except on foot. Driving is out since you fit the encased tongue through the car door. You can’t lift your head enough to see when the bus is coming. All you can do is try to walk somewhere and find the doors there are frozen shut.

So that’s why it’s important I finish this, then call my parents, and then deal with tomorrow’s nonsense.

Every Home Repair Show I Ever Happen To See


The show starts with some upbeat music, cheery stuff that keeps threatening to have a tune. The credits dissolve to Jeff, who’s wearing a blue shirt along with his tool belt. “Hi there,” he says, “And thanks for joining us for another episode of Fixed In A Jeffy. We’ve been working for the last several weeks on a lovely ten-story single-family dwelling in Naugatuck, Rhode Island, and we’re going to continue not listening to those spoilsports at the historical society who say it’s Connecticut. Let’s check in with Jeff and see what he’s found.”

They cut to another Jeff, who’s got a red shirt but lacks a tool belt. He says, “This lovely building, with a footprint of nearly 120 square feet, was originally built in late 1886 as a cotton distillery who saw potential in the Pawcatuck River and didn’t know where they were. It was rebuilt as a different cotton distillery in early 1887 and again in 1893 by people who had a knack for assembling these things. During the Second World War employees in this facility put strands of the finest, strongest treated wool across the Norden bomb sight until the War Department caught them. We’re hoping to convert it to fit a small family like ours.”

The first Jeff says, “And there’s some real time pressure here. We’ve only got about a week until the owner gets back and probably picks some kind of fight with us. So let’s take a peek at a home in Eddie Foy, South Carolina, which much like Jeff’s here has got walls.”

There’s a musical interlude and the show comes to another Jeff, who’s got a green shirt and doesn’t care who sees him. This Jeff steps into the two-story hall with cats running up and down the stairs. “Homeowner Jeff has been gutting this absolutely gorgeous room, and it turns out to be because of a common mistake made the last time the house was renovated. Can you tell us what that was, and how many people are making it even without looking?”

Homeowner Jeff, wearing a white collared shirt that’s got two nonconsecutive buttons undone says, “We were experimenting with a nontraditional wall covering. We hoped to cover from floor to ceiling with a sparkling red lycra and that didn’t work at all. In the first place, cats would leap at the walls and get stuck, and then they’d be angry at whoever un-catched their claws. Un-caught their claws. Unclawed their catches.” Other Jeff slaps his shoulder, breaking him out of this loop. “We could have lived with that, but we also got joggers. Non-competitive, of course.”

The first Jeff (third of that name) nods. “Of course; this isn’t the badlands. Still, you don’t want flocks of joggers coming through and breaking up your private community space. Still, it begs the question — ”

The first Jeff (the first one) cuts in, smiling, but not meaning it. “Now, Jeff, we’ve talked about this. You mean to say this raises or asks the question. Back to our recorded segment from South Carolina.”

The third Jeff (the third one) nods, on tape. “You’re right of course. This raises the question, why lycra in the first place?”

The fourth (second) Jeff says, “We got there by a very interesting path and let me share the story with you. But first, I want to show you something.” He opens the door and they walk through a dissolve cut to the bottom of the driveway. “I designed my own mailbox so that it would look like an obscure dolphin called the melon-headed whale. You just slip a piece of paper in here — ” and he does, “And a little flag pops right up through its blowhole!” Which it certainly does.

Jeff (one of them) nods, saying, “Thank you. That is a creative and distinct way to comply with no currently known postal regulations.” A cat races out of the open door, leaps up the left Jeff, and lands on the flatbed of a truck that’s puttering down the street, which carries it out of sight. “I think some of this might be useful to you up in Vermont. Jeff?”

They return to the second Jeff. “Now, we’ve talked about this. Vermont and Rhode Island are radically different places, what with being represented in completely separate divisions of Lechmere’s Department Stores back in the day.” The camera pulls back to reveal he’s standing in front of the air conditioner unit behind the house. “So. We’ve found something alarming back here that isn’t just a repeat of the hornet incident. Join us for next week’s Fixed in a Jeffy when we look into that, won’t you please?”

Yes, I suppose that I shall.

The State of Snacking, 2014


Maybe you remember New York State getting into some comic parliamentary-procedure hissy fits over whether to declare an Official State Snack, since it was pretty funny as state legislators get in declaring Official State things plus The Daily Show and I think The Colbert Report featured it a couple nights running. Certainly I remember it when I think about shortly before deciding not to snack on yoghurt. Apparently everybody in Albany got tired with the issue because they approved it last week and now New York has an Official State Snack, in case you want to snack in a stateishly official way.

According to the Reuters report on it, there are other states with Official Snacks, some of which make good sense: Texas has tortilla chips and salsa and Illinois has popcorn, both of which I have to agree are unmistakably states. Utah, apparently, declared Jell-O its official state snack, taking the Jell-O corporation almost completely by surprise. You can almost hear the ghost of Jack Benny going “What?”

The startling thing is that South Carolina has an Official Snack of boiled peanuts. I’ve read the article multiple times and read it out loud to make sure I haven’t got it wrong, but there it is: boiled peanuts. I would guess they had translated something wrong, maybe going from roasted peanuts or peanut butter through Google Translate and coming out with something obviously nonsense like “marsupial cactus”, and taking their best guess at fixing it knowing it should be something-or-other peanuts. But the article was posted by Reuters and I’m pretty sure they have English speakers over in Reuterland. So as ever, learning something new causes me to feel like I know less about the world.