Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Division of labor

THE TERRIBLE THING ABOUT SUNSHINE is how it highlights dust.
Bright sun in the wintertime isn’t too much of a problem because the days are short. If you work outside the home on a standard shift, you return in the dark. Are the porch lights on? Is it warm inside? Is there some of that lasagna left? Who cares about housework — we have no dusty wine glasses.

But now, horrors. The layers of fine river silt lay on the furniture in ominous defiance, and I know: no matter how diligently we fight back, nature will win. The layers will accumulate. We will be slowly preserved, pressed over millennia into a layer of striation as thin as cigarette paper. Then, suddenly, our detritus will be exposed in a tectonic event. A futuristic tool-user will dig into the rock and discover shards of a coffee mug, an amethyst ring with a peculiar engraving, a raccoon tooth, and a flash drive. From this cache, it will reconstruct our lives.

Housework may be the primary dividing line between men and women.

“What do you want me to do today?” John asks, as I leave for the office.

“The house is a mess,” I say. And then, because I have learned something over the decades — like, be specific — I say, “If you have time, you might want to dust and mop the dining room.”

“I think I’ll mow the back field,” John says.

“We’ve got forty-five-mile-an-hour winds.”

“Good. That’ll dry the grass.”

When the last ice age began to thaw, we humans — with our animals — were able to stop migrating to find feed. Warmer weather meant we could grow enough food for ourselves and our livestock in one place.  We built permanent structures for all of us to live in: part barn, part house. Everything must have been hunky-dory for about two weeks.

That’s how long it took for someone to realize that since everything you owned didn’t have to fit on your back or the yak’s back — you could have two pots, maybe three, instead of one.

That’s when the conversation changed from, “Let us all pause and thank the great spirit for this abundant patch of teosinte,” to “Where’s my big pot?” followed by, “Filled with bear grease, right where you left it. If you think I’m going to be the only one who cleans up around here…”

This is why — I feel a doctoral thesis coming on — married couples are much happier when they’re in the car, hundreds of miles from home, looking for a place to eat breakfast.

A few months ago, the Journal of Family Issues published a study by researchers from the University of Missouri, Brigham Young University and Utah State University; the study surveyed 160 couples who’d been married for an average of five years and had at least one child under five. Slightly less than half of the women worked full- or part-time. The researchers found that “the more wives perceived that their husbands were participating in family work tasks, the better the relationships were for both spouses.”

The title of the piece when it was picked up in the popular press was “Marriage Research Shows That Couples Who Split Chores Are Happier.”

First, let’s ignore the fact that women in Utah and Missouri may not be exactly a universal cross-section of post-industrial female diversity. Let’s focus on the two key words: wives perceived.

The philosophical struggle between reality and perception that has consumed many a great mind over the centuries now manifests itself in clear, promotional acts. Research (conducted locally with people we know well) reveals that when a man vacuums, he leaves the machine in the middle of the room 83 percent of the time and it stays there until someone says, “Wow! The carpet looks amazing!” to which he adds (51 percent of the time), “I changed the bag, too.”

The crux of the problem is that there are two kinds of tasks: those with permanent results — refinishing end tables, say —  and Sisyphean chores, like laundry. Men like to accomplish things that last. Things they can remember fondly while watching “Counting Cars.” Things like Mount Rushmore.

Women enjoy creating things that last, too, but it’s hard to chip away around the nose of Abraham Lincoln when you’re being stalked by hungry people in dirty clothes.

We are — by nature or by necessity — process-oriented. “Life is a journey,” we tell each other, and we stick up refrigerator magnets and stitch tiny pillows to reinforce the mantra.

And then we dust them.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Larger than life

A Harlem Globetrotter includes us
in his selfie.
CUB SCOUT PACK 46 and I went to the Westchester County Center in New York to see the Harlem Globetrotters last night.

Outside, it was 14 degrees, headed to 1 degree overnight (but will “feel like minus 17”).  I walked from the car on salted sidewalks, repeating the mantra of the aging:  don’t fall, don’t break your hip: your children can’t take care of you; this parking lot is their ice floe.

Inside, I realized I'd been in this venue for another basketball game, in 1986, when my son was 11. One night, because his fool coach had egomaniaical aspirations,  his team traveled from Fox Lane Middle School to White Plains to play a team from Yonkers, a group of boys who were well outside our league, geographically and athletically.  Over parental protest, the game lasted the full four quarters. The final score was 128-3.

This flashback of vicarious suffering loosed a trove of basketball memories. 

Twenty years earlier, in the fall of 1966, I worked as an editorial assistant at Datamation, a computer magazine in Los Angeles. Our offices were on West Olympic Boulevard, across the street from a motel that may have been called the Olympian; in any case, professional athletes hung out there all the time: it was near the Forum, where the Lakers played basketball, and Exposition Park, where the Rams played football.

There was a television in the bar, always showing sports, a big deal in those years before sport bars, or sports bras for that matter, were common. 

An even bigger deal was seeing the basketball players who stayed there: Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Bill Russell...

Datamation had four season-ticket floor seats to the Lakers games for the purpose of entertaining advertisers. On those lucky nights when no advertisers were in town (Ross Perot of Electronic Data Systems in Dallas was a regular), one of the salesmen would stroll out to the reception area and toss a couple tickets on my desk.

This was a significant bonus: a pair of tickets was 75% of my monthly take-home pay. Plus, I had become a huge Laker fan.  And I wasn't alone. At every home game, Doris Day and her boyfriend, Dodger shortstop Maury Wills, sat with the Lakers directly across the court from our seats. We were close enough to see her turquoise eyeshadow; I can see it now. (In her autobiography, I am obliged to note, Doris denied she was Maury’s girlfriend. Perhaps I should refer to them as "long-time hoopside companions.")

One afternoon at Datamation, the editor shouted why didn’t we all go over to the Olympian and have a drink. (Those were the days documented in “Mad Men.” Everybody drank hard liquor during work hours. When I was new on the job, I didn’t know how to drink socially. I’d gone to college, where I drank a lot of beer, had a few boilermakers, and threw up.  This was not career-style boozing.  I asked my landlady – who was so old, nearly 60, that I wasn’t sure I should believe any of her advice – and she suggested I order sherry. I did. I drank Dry Sack for years before I learned about fortified wine, and discovered I was tripling the chances of disgracing myself.)

The Datamation staff trooped across Olympic Boulevard and sat down at a long table to talk, drink, and watch a basketball game on television (where was it coming from on a weekday afternoon? I now wonder).

“What would Martians think of us,” the editor asked suddenly, “if they were to arrive and notice that we are a culture intensely serious about running up and down in a small room putting a ball through a net?”  

“Yeah,” I said. “In our underwear.”

That ended the party. The editor smashed his Scotch mist to the table, stood up, and pointed at me.

“Don’t you ever step on my lines again,” he said, and he left. With his secretary.

I could have used a Dry Sack last night while sitting on a low, broken stadium chair, pitched slightly forward, watching a split view of the Globetrotters vs. the All-Stars. Also, the seat was directly behind a portable backstop.  Endlessly, the announcer screamed into the microphone, a constant barrage of unintelligible jokes acted out by globe-headed mascots and punctuated with “are you ready to rumble?” rhetorical questions. At one point, I yelled, “I was ready an hour ago,” a move that so enchanted the Cub Scout granddad on my right that he gave me a pretzel.

(But, then, I asked, “Where’s the mustard?” If he’d had a secretary, he would have left with her.)

Later, tucked in and toasty, I decided I’d had a wonderful time. I remembered that the Harlem Clowns, a second-tier version of the Globetrotters, had come to Ferndale in the ‘50s. Everyone went to see them. There were professional basketball teams in those years, but who knew? It wasn’t on television. We may not have even had television in town yet, I can’t recall, but it certainly was not routine to see slam dunks and fancy dribbling and sleight-of-hand passing -- or very tall black men dancing to “Sweet Georgia Brown” in the middle of the FUHS gym. They were gentle, agile, exotic giants. I felt like a flea, a fluff of dandelion seed, a fragile organism in the midst of magic.

Would my grandsons, denizens of Pack 46, be so impressed? They play sports video games; they’ve attended dozens of professional sporting events, including Knicks games; they watch eternal ESPN.

To my delight, they were thrilled. At the end of the Globetrotters’ show, a player with the name “Big Shot” on the back of his shirt gave his sweaty headband to Carson.  Another player, “Turbo,” took a selfie with Cooper, Carson, their mother Lauren, and me. Lauren posted it on Facebook.
Lots of “friends” “liked” it. I didn’t. I was wearing four bulky sweaters under my coat, my eyes were shut --  and fluorescent lighting? Please.

Maury Wills wouldn’t give me a second glance.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The dream is alive

THE GROUP AROUND THE TABLE Saturday night in Escondido included four friends I’ve known for over 40 years. We managed to eat an enormous dinner without a pause in the conversation. 

While we were gathered to acknowledge seventieth birthdays, the celebration was about friendship. Coming from different places around the state, and the world, we had all come of age together in Pasadena in the late ‘60s. Los Angeles, in those days, was a forgiving place to be in your twenties and a full-fledged member of the working poor. Dinners out cost $3. I bought my first house for $19,000. After the down payment, my mortgage was $134/month, and I had a garage in the back with two attached apartments that earned a total of $200/month in rent, bringing my monthly income to $1,100.  In terms of discretionary income, it was the wealthiest time of my life.

In 1974, my then-husband, Ron, and I drove from Pasadena to the east coast and back in a rambling, five-week road trip. To fund the adventure, we first drove the thirteen hours north to Humboldt County and cleaned out my parents’ barn and garage. Returning to Pasadena, we placed an ad in the Star-News: “Heirs liquidating Northern California estate.” The dealers were at our door at 4 a.m. We sold everything and grossed over $500.

That night, August 8, 1974, Nixon resigned his Presidency. We watched it on a 17-inch black and white television from Sears. (A year later, our house was burglarized eight times in six months and the tv, which sat prominently on an old icebox, was never taken.)

We whooped over the denouement of Watergate and left the next morning for America. First stop, Vegas. We budgeted $1 each to play the 5-cent slots, won $3 and took off.
A month later we ran out of money during a monsoon in Shreveport, Louisiana. From a storm-battered pay phone, we called Ron’s brother in Tulsa, collect.

“We only have $3.40.” He offered to wire us enough to get back to Los Angeles. We agreed that $75 would be more than enough. It was. 

We had taken with us our one credit card, Shell gas. At the end of the trip, it had a balance of $300 -- very high, but then, gas had shot to 53 cents a gallon in the OPEC crisis.

In Meridian, Mississippi – a name that was still dripping with blood from the civil rights murders ten years earlier – we pulled into a decrepit Shell station with a sign advertising gas at 31 cents a gallon.

“Is that right?” Ron asked.

“You dreamin’?” the owner said. “I just don’t change the sign no more.”

When the owner approached our car closer – and carefully, we were also traveling with a German shepherd – he glanced at our license plates, and decided to show us some southern hospitality.

“Car needs a cleanin’,” he said. “I’ll get my boy.” 

He shouted and an aging black man walked out of the garage office, grabbed some soiled rags and a spray bottle, and tackled the grime. He avoided eye contact with both of us.

“Get your missus out of the car,” the owner said to Ron. To me, he said, “You need a coke?”

I was thirsty, but I didn’t want a coke. Do you have anything else I said, and he said he had all kinds of coke: grape, strawberry, lime, root beer.

“Oh,” I said, “Coke is generic for soda?”

“How much is the car wash?” Ron asked quickly. “Can we put it on the Shell card?”

“Cash,” the owner said. “Give him whatever you want. Two bits.”

The car had been hand-scrubbed outside and thoroughly cleaned inside, even while the German shepherd was ominously alert.

Twenty years later, a few weeks after moving back to the ranch in Humboldt County, I was in the back room of Nilsen's Feed Store, buying Round-Up to kill the nettles on the ranch, when a Dickensian dairyman from Loleta interrupted and said, “You don’t want to use that. It’ll burn your skin, poison you. Get a Mexican to do it.  You don’t even have to pay ‘em if you don’t want to, they can’t do nothin’ about it.”

I share that unpleasant story to balance the scales with Meridian, Mississippi. For years, I had recounted the story of the gas station owner as my single-moment proof of southern racism – only to be bluntly reminded that the evils of being human are not safely confined by geography or history.

No one at the birthday party over the long weekend mentioned Monday’s holiday or the civil rights events and struggle it honors – a movement in which, in varying degrees, we had all participated; it was a passionate commitment that became the foundation, the first coat, of our lifetime bonding. 

In the midst of the celebrating, the eating and drinking and laughing and loving, the era would not be foremost in my mind if not for a Facebook posting by my daughter-in-law, Lauren.

She had taken a photograph of a worksheet from my grandson Carson’s second-grade class at Link Elementary School in New City, New York. 

His assignment, printed at the top, said, “I Have A Dream…” and the instructions read: Draw a picture of a dream you have that would make our world a better place. Write about your dream.

Accompanying a graphic novel series of panels he had illustrated and labeled, "Help each other be stronger," was his narrative:

“My dream is no fights, no guns, no wars and no more hurting each other.”


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The joy of penguin pajama pants

I’m sitting at the dining room table of my friend-since-fourth-grade, Sue, who lives in Los Angeles. I’m wearing a pair of blue chenille pajama bottoms imprinted with penguins and snowflakes.

Last night, when it became clear that a run to the grocery for salted caramel gelato had reached emergency status, I said, “Wait a minute while I change my clothes!” and Sue said, “This is L.A. You can go to the store in your pajamas.”

Yes, I know girls have been wearing pjs in public for years, but I haven’t. I was disconcerted about my appearance until we reached the cashier at the mini-mart – he was a cross between George Clooney and Antonio Banderas – and he called us both “Ma’am,” thus confirming that if I was signally anything by my attire, it was not romantic availability; it was mental illness.

Nevertheless, the penguin pants are my choice for Best Surprise Purchase of ’13. I bought them at the Five Below store in Nanuet, New York (the store’s name means “under $5”). The pajamas cost $3; of course, they are made of materials worth 10 cents and were probably hand-sewn by slaves. Their origin is so dicey they have no label. I’m more ashamed to wear them because of my complicity in human rights violations and chemical pollution than I am for their garish, cartoon excess.

Still. I’m wearing them now, and when I’m in Ferndale, I rush home from the office to put them on. My biggest regret is that I didn’t buy the entire stock from Five Below, so that I don’t have to do laundry every day.

The Surprise Best Purchase is one of life’s delights.

 I posted the idea on Facebook last week, and asked folks to share their own nominations from the past year.

 The concept evidently wasn't clearly communicated..

David  said, “…a new D3200 Nikon camera!...” and Alicia offered her “Bose noise canceling headphones (Quiet Comfort 15) for work travel” and “our new furnace!” Kirk said it was “same-day repair of my track pad at an Apple Store in Monterey…”

Alicia eventually realized she hadn’t read the parameters clearly, and offered “the Sherpa throw from Costco,” as a new candidate.

Laura wrote, “What comes to mind is the Siamese kitten I did not purchase. May have been the smartest piece of finance for 2013 for me.”

Okay, let’s try this again.

Over the past twelve months, you’ve purchased something – maybe for a lot, maybe for a little, price isn’t the point – something you bought carelessly. As in, “Yeah, might as well throw in that bag of chili mangoes.” When you began to use/eat/watch/wear/read the item, you had a whoa-moment.

You had accidentally enhanced your life, reinforcing one of the truths about the Forever Years:  your cup runneth over with joy in the most insignificant of things, the briefest of moments. 

Since I'm already in my pajamas, I'm going back to bed for a while.  And I'm taking a bowl of gelato with me.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Sugar for the Sixties

TUESDAY MORNING,  I arose at 4:30. I’d been conscious for thirty minutes, moving slowly from the feast of dreams to the famine of reality. No, that is false; I just wanted to write that dreadful simile, with the same ornery impulse that tempts me to buy a transparent silver blouse and wear it to work.

I was up and about early on January 11, 2005, the day I became, chronologically and academically, a member of the class of ’61.

My sister Tonya had called the night before. “How does it feel?” she wanted to know. She has a ten-year lag behind my aging process and she wants a preview, even though there has not been a single life stage I have experienced that has had any relevance for her.

Over the weekend, Janet, a friend I met in 1947, had come to visit. Our conversation, the first in nearly 25 years, revealed a variety of historical guideposts. “It had to be 1980," I said about one Christmas gathering,"because Marie was living with us which means Max was in kindergarten." Later, she challenged me about a trip to South America. "I went to Peru alone, so it was 1970,after you were married, because at your wedding in 1969, my marriage had just ended, which is why I sobbed while reading First Corinthians 13 and my nose dripped on my taffeta dress. Whatever happened to that dress?”

 “Never mind,” Janet said. “It wouldn’t fit you anyway. Tell me, how did you get from a size four to a size … whatever you are now?”

(Well, there are many reasons, and one of them is that another friend sends me, for every occasion tin – are they tin? – cans of lemon cake and chocolate fudge cake.)

I microwaved a cup of day-old coffee and sat at my desk. In my e-mail was a letter to me that had been forwarded from my editor. I hope it’s pleasant, I thought; no one wants bad news before dawn.

Dear Wendy:

In a recent column, you discussed the sweets you miss at local businesses during your errands. Therefore, I offer you this tidbit:  I am a nurse at Redwood Memorial Hospital.  When floating from ICU to MS one day, I asked Joyce, the LVN who is always able to get geriatric patients to eat for her when no one else can, how she does it.  She replied that she simply sweetens all the "healthy foods" on their trays before offering the meal or hand-feeding them.  

 It seems that the taste of sweetness is the last of the senses to go before we drift into the great beyond of eternal rest.  Therefore, your interest in the sweet treats implies -- no, I would not say that you are yet geriatric -- but I would suggest you try sweetening the soup!

Your loyal fan, Ginger M.  

I had never received a letter from Ginger M. before; I didn't know her; the coincidence of her sending geriatric advice on my birthday could have had only one purpose.

It was time to buy the silver blouse.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Snow day

AS I AM WAKING UP, I hear a car move pass the house, its tires swishing, slushing, spitting – sounds that evoke a dentist’s office.
Cooper and Carson in fauxhawks,
one of those family
snapshots that will survive
the apocalypse to appear
in wedding videos and
gold-watch retirement


“It’s not going to last long,” my daughter-in-law says. “It’s supposed to start raining. The mountain road is going to be pure ice.”

Up the mountain road, on this snowy day in the hometown of West Point,  Highland Falls, New York, my son and his wife are opening a fast casual restaurant they have named American Burrito.

The boys, my grandsons Cooper and Carson, six and nine, respectively, sit on the sofa watching a television show amped with canned laughter. I wonder how someone is trained to insert canned laughter into a taped show, if he first undergoes a lobotomy to erase all traces of a sense of humor. The edited chortling was recorded years – decades – earlier. We are listening to dead people laughing.

I hear a young girl say a familiar line about popcorn balls.

“Didn’t we watch this show last night?” I ask.

“That’s what they do,” Lauren says. “They watch the same thing over and over. ‘Madagasar 3’? Four times in one weekend. They’ll be watching this all day.”

It was 7:30 a.m. They were in their pajamas. Max had left for the restaurant hours earlier. There was an absence of urgency in the house, what gothic novels call a preternatural calm.

“School?” I ask.

“They have a two-hour delay,” Lauren says, “because of the snow. I have to pick up more pinto beans and the new menus. You’re here. They might as well stay home with Nana.”

The eyes do not stray from “Good Luck, Charlie,” but the ears flicker like wild deer.

I am given instructions, shown the food, the controls for the electronics, the spot in the snow where the dogs can pee.

The dogs, two terriers in a sleepy heap, ignore me as Lauren leaves the house. When her Jeep rolls out of the driveway, they amble into the bathroom and pee on the floor.

Within seconds, a game of “Hedbanz” has begun and ended badly in a screaming ball of boys.  The living room is awash in cards that say “I am a chicken,” “I am a unicorn.”  A bowl of peanut M&Ms is scattered among them. The older dog eats them.

“Chocolate is bad for dogs,” I say, followed by canned laughter.

The television in the living room is left on, and we adjourn to nearby playroom, where a second screen looms over two camp chairs and two bean-bag chairs. The walls are covered with posters of extraordinarily buff men.

“Sit here, Nana,” Carson says. I lower myself slowly into a black bean-bag chair. We’re about to play a video game based on the World Wrestling Federation.

Cooper hands me a complex remote controller with a variety of toggle switches and buttons.  

“I’m John Cena,” he says. “You can be The Rock.”

“What’s he doing with his fingers?”

“This is just like real life, Nana. That’s what he does in real life.”

 “Is that a peace sign?”

The X-Box version of John Cena raises both arms, spreads his hands, and in each hand makes a circle with his thumb and his index finger.

This gesture triggers whoops and giggles from the boys, laughter that in no way resembles the scratchy cacklings of the dead that still underscore every line in the Disney program no one is watching.

 “His fingers spell a bad word,” Cooper says.

“A-s-s,” says Carson. “And the circle –”

“I get it,” I say. “How rude.” 

Suddenly, wrestling is over and we’re choosing college football teams, selecting uniform colors. I’ve barely mastered a flying headlock and now I’m a quarterback for Boise State.

“Select a play!” Cooper yells. “Hurry up!”

The only play in the list I recognize is a Hail Mary. I select it. I lose.

“You can’t do that without a receiver,” Cooper says, with slight condescension. How sad it must be to live life as me, someone who has Himmler, Heineken and Heisman in more or less the same brain cell.

“I’m putting on a show tonight,” Carson says. “Here’s your ticket. It’s not a real ticket, it’s a pass. 
You’re getting in free.”

The show will be in the living room. In the remains of “Hedbanz,” a rehearsal takes place. Cooper composes the music -- piano, drums, guitar -- on an iPad. 

Carson has changed from pajamas into the garments of a Mongol invader. He leaps onto the ottoman and sings an original song that has something to do with “stopping on the road in flames.” 

The rehearsal continues. I explain apologetically that I have a column due to an editor in California in a couple of hours. I set my laptop on the coffee table. One of the terriers takes a fancy to me and sprawls over my right arm. Occasionally, she types something.  Her soul mate, who is lying on my left foot, snarls. The M&Ms aren’t settling well with him, if one can believe the olfactory evidence.

When I finish, I read the column aloud for errors. Every time I say the name of one of the boys, there is laughter. Real laughter, for real life.

You can believe it from The Rock.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Freezing cold in California

ON MONDAY, NASA satellite data reported that the temperature in East Antarctica was -135.8 Fahrenheit (minus 93.2 Celsius), the earth’s record for the coldest temperature ever recorded. Ice scientist Ted Scambos from the American Geophysical Union scientific meeting that was held in San Francisco on that day, told the Associated Press, “Thank God, I don’t know how exactly it feels,” but he added that “scientists do routinely make naked dashes outside at the South Pole when it’s minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit, as a stunt, so people can survive that temperature for about three minutes.”
     It’s an unsettling image, one that was judiciously cut from “March of the Penguins.”
   Hovering over Centerville Road, just hours before, NASA’s satellite noted temperatures in the low 20s (F), and photographed people, maybe scientists and maybe not, wearing mittens and woolen hats even while in the shower.
     There are folks, transplanted Ferndalers mostly, who have been on Facebook this past week calling some of us “West Coast weenies,” for feeling the chill come up “right through the sweater I wore to work,” as Ann Farley wrote. The critic, an anonymous neoWisconsinite, employed derivations of “whine” several times in the 24-hour-thread (a somewhat ironic reference; the last we heard, the gentleman in question had a whine cellar).
     On the Facebook comment thread, Fred E. Giacomini defended the west coast by weighing from Oregon: “It was -15 degrees in Bend early Sunday morning [and] -31 degrees 30 miles south in LaPine.”
         The Midwest holier-than-thou hockey jock poked gently at Susan Regli’s comment that her son, Tyler, who is going to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, has it worse, “…and [is] loving it!” (“Check with me in March,” the Eel River ex-pat responded, “we’ll see if he’s still enthused.”) As I write this, it is nearly noon in Grand Forks, and the temperature is -10 (F). “Feels like -21 (F),” the Weather Underground cheerfully reports, and snow tonight. In North Dakota, night begins at 4:30. Tyler Regli will have a lot to share when he comes home from Mars for Christmas.
     I chose a college in the cold, too; although unlike Tyler, I did it unknowingly (the PE courses in skiing — which we could do from class to class — should have been a clue). The school had many interesting rules for girls, one of which was that we could not wear pants (trousers/slacks/heaven-forbid-jeans) to class or to the library unless it was 14 degrees Fahrenheit or below. (This was in the days before Celsius discovered America, so we only had one number to figure out.) We had thermometers hanging out of our dorm windows, and we took the regulation so seriously, we would reluctantly put on a skirt and nylons if it were 15 or 16 degrees. The professors and the dean of women would know the precise degree at the moment we entered the classroom — that’s what we assumed? But we didn’t question the regulation, which is a poor reflection on the effectiveness of the critical thinking we were paying to be taught.
     This week, I not only wore trousers to work, I wore jeans with tights under them, and socks and layers of tee shirts and sweaters and mittens; I never took off the wool hat I bought in New York in 1979  or the very long scarves Sally Dolfini knitted for me during her tv-binge on “The Sopranos.”
     We’ve been talking about the weather with everyone: frozen water pipes, fuel bills, and if we have enough firewood for a worst-case winter (we do, and it’s thanks to Tyler Regli, who chopped it and stacked it before saddling up the huskies and heading north).
     Here’s what I’ve learned. Cold weather takes time. Dressing and undressing, even without the naked dash. Cold weather makes us fat. (Milt Mossi brought a bushel of persimmons up from Napa at Thanksgiving and they just ripened. In the last week, I’ve baked four loaves of persimmon bread, each with a cup of butter and a cup of bourbon, and we’ve devoured them without sharing a morsel with anyone but the dog.) Cold weather makes us squint. The light is so bright when it’s crystallized with ice, and who knew the windows were so dirty?
     And cold weather makes us laugh. We are fragile mortals, the simplest of comforts are the best, and you’re right, Pete. We’re weenies.