Too-much-information alert: This morning, Polar-Vortexed to distraction, I weakened and dug out the long underwear. Haven’t felt so longjohn cold since that day ten years ago in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
How cold was it? Plastic surgeons were doing reconstructive surgery on people who’d frozen their asses off. No, really. They just fell right off.
The temperature gauge that day read 45 below. I knew that in Maryland, comfortably south of the Mason-Dixon line, a state law prohibited gauges from going beyond 10 below. If it turned any colder, they figured, everyone, including Mason and Dixon got shipped in refrigerator cars to Alaska for igloo repair.
I’d gone to Grand Forks on a writing project. On the day it fell to 45 below, I sat in the cozy office of a white-haired old-timer and complained about the cold. He seemed surprised.
“You’ve got your long underwear on, don’t you? I’ve got mine and I’m fine.”
I smiled and felt a tad superior. Kids and old guys wear longjohns. Real men ignore the cold and bash on, regardless. Of course, regardless often means they are found as stiff and dead as a stop sign.
That is why intelligent real men (don’t say what you’re thinking) try to limit their cold bashings to under 20 feet.
I told the old-timer I’d think about the longjohns. I was lying. That night, after dinner, I walked 50 yards or so to my parked car. Colder yards have never been bashed. I’m pretty sure I lost two, maybe three lives.
I longed to be somewhere, anywhere in the south. Then, quickly—in case any passing, miracle-granting angels heard my plea—I issued a clarification: something in a South Carolina or a South Beach, please. I’ll pass on South Dakota.
With teeth chattering, I drove to my motel. In my room I found the inside back wall covered in an inch of snow-white frost. I’d obviously stumbled into an old refrigerator in need of defrosting.
Faced with the prospect of shoveling my wall, I described the vertical tundra-scene to the desk clerk. “Oh, for fun,” he chuckled. “That’s gonna happen. Yah sure, you betcha. It’s Nort Dakohhhtah. Just sleep with your socks on.”
The next morning, the sun lay frozen to the horizon. Bundled like a papoose, I waddled to my car where I beheld a humbling sight: a college kid, scuffing down the snow packed road in sneakers. No hat. No coat. A flannel shirt unbuttoned and flapping. Hands tucked into his jeans.
I watched him just doot doot doodling along, the picture of nonchalance. Oblivious not only to the weather but every bit of wisdom ever spoken, written, sung or mimed.
He turned a corner and faded from view. But sometimes in my dreams I see him, a gleaming ice sculpture frozen permanently to a lonely patch of high plains.
I drove straight to the mall, bought me some longjohns, underweared-up and survived to write this tale.
Oh, by the way. When you take your johnnies off at night, if you haven’t washed them in a while—let’s say a month—they will crawl downstairs by themselves and watch re-runs of The Walking Dead.
So make sure you buy two sets. Never wear both at the same time unless you’re in North Dakota. And get rid of cable.
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2014, all rights reserved.