Groundhog day

imagesI’m cold. Frigid. Shivering. Frozen. Blue-lipped. Frost-bit. Chap-lipped. Dry-eyed. Over-exposed. Stiff-limbed. Triple-layered. I’m a long-john-wearing, mouth breathing, permanent snowman with numb toes and tiny ice crystals churning thickly through my circulatory system where warm blood used to flow. Winter, I surrender. It’s an unconditional defeat as I am categorically undone by the cold.

Bad news. More winter is on the way according to weather experts. Both Punxsutawney Phil and local product Staten Island Chuck saw their shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter. “Are you going to take your meteorological advice from buck-toothed rodents?” Robyn asked. Sure. The groundhogs’ gloomy forecasts make sense in this near-permanent state of winter we’ve been living in here in New York City.

I used to admire snow. The way it could fall in every variation. Big fat dry flakes that fell thick and never-ending. Less substantial snow that planted tiny wet kisses of snow on your face. The way it covered things up to give everyday objects a certain grace they didn’t possess in their regular plainness. The shape of a car under a lot of snow gives it more personality. The shape of a mailbox looked elegant under a winter blanket of white. The shape of a trash can even somehow gained symmetrical beauty.

Not so much these days after 18 snowfalls where the snow from nine days ago is still piled up along the edges of streets and sidewalks like trash after a parade and ice floes are still drifting lazily down the Hudson River.

Robyn came home one day to tell me she got a job in Ocala, Florida. We would be moving there. She would move first. Avery would finish out first grade with me in Florence, Alabama. Andrew would finish out his sophomore year of high school. We would move all the stuff in the house and leave as soon as the school year ended. I wanted to be excited about this new opportunity. But I was nonplussed about moving further South because of the increased heat. I’d grown up in the temperate Piedmont area of North Carolina with mild winters and mild summers. Alabama had been more than hot and sticky enough for me. I thought of the Florida heat that paralyzed you. Made you want to sit for hours in front of a window air conditioning unit because it was the only spot in the house cool enough to live your life comfortably. “Why not just move to the equator and be done with it?” I asked Robyn.

“White people like the cold,” according to a street vendor at a farmer’s market in mid-town Manhattan in early November. He makes this blanket cultural declaration at a time I now recall wistfully when the weather had just dipped down into the upper 30s. It confuses me. It’s more weird than the ominously repeated “Winter is coming” in the HBO series Game of Thrones. More fraught with danger in a real world sense. I have just noted to the vender who sold me some spanikopita that he must want me to buy everything he’s selling so he can get out of the cold weather. He nods in the negative. “I like the cold,” he says. “White people like the cold.”
I am walking around with my friend Mike who looks at me. I look back at Mike. Did we really just hear that? “I didn’t know white people liked the cold,” Mike says to the man, a very white man with a solid frame and cheerful red cheeks. He’s so white he could play for an early fifties Celtics team. “We do,” he says “You’re white, aren’t you?” Mike nods. “No. I’m Hispanic.” The man shrugs. “Well, we like the cold.” It’s clear there’s no malice intended. Just a statement.

“That’s interesting,” Mike says. “We don’t go out much in the cold. We don’t like to hike around in it. Just go to be going in the cold.” I am at a loss. I am only one white person, but suddenly I’m in the role of speaker for my race. “I don’t particularly like the cold or winter,” I tell Mike. I like summer, spring and fall. I like to be out. I’ll go out in winter, but I have to force myself.”

It’s only later when I really think about it that I remember I have olive skin. Maybe I’m not white enough to like the cold. How white would I have to be to appreciate the cold?

My porcelain-skinned wife does not like summer. She stays inside in air conditioning as much as possible. “It’s too hot for a bicycle ride or a walk,” she explains. She’s happier when the leaves start changing colors and falling. But she’s also no great fan of the cold. If the temperature hovered around 62 degrees every day, she’d be happier. But she walks half a mile to work and back in every kind of bad weather, only taking a cab in extreme weather emergencies.

I’m about to acclimate. Under five layers of clothing, I’m about to find my winter groove. It will happen suddenly. This murderous feeling I have towards Groundhogs will pass. I’ll breathe in. Breathe out.

My frozen breaths will plume out in the chilly air. Local meteorologists with less fur and less pronounced buck teeth are predicting more snow tomorrow.

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Groundhog day

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