Winter? No thanks.

Savannah Morning News

Jan 14, 2018


Before “bomb cyclone” we had “lake effect,” a deeply embedded, highly dreaded phrase recognized by anyone from the Midwest. Remember? It’s amazing how fast you can forget (or suppress) those two words. Lake effect is not good, especially if you’re driving. Your shoulders hunch up, your hands grip the wheel, you start to sweat. Lake effect means there is snow right around the next turn, lots of snow where before there was only grass. It’s what happens when cold air passes over a warm lake, say, for instance, from Lake Erie, when you’re approaching Cleveland. Sometime around December, your Ohio radio announcers (or Michigan or Pennsylvania), your weather people, your newspapers will start using the term. And you will remember and you will cringe.

It doesn’t matter how long ago you heard those words. They’re wedged in your memory bank.

So is black ice, Arctic air, freezing rain, heavy snow, bundle up.

So is driving down a hill in your car, knowing to stay a reasonable distance from the car in front of you, putting on the brakes in reasonable enough time to stop for a light and realizing you are not coming to a stop, so you turn the steering wheel one way and watch the car go another. And when whatever you did works you give thanks to whomever. You promise to do ten good deeds in the next week. You were that close.

Little of winter matters if you’re not driving. Then it’s all snow angels, snow ball fights, s’mores. It’s the quiet after a snowfall or the start of a snowfall. It’s the neat geometric edge of snow on a fence, the blue sky, the sunglasses to counteract the bright, bright white, the crunch of your footstep on the snow, the aesthetic photographs. It’s recognizing (for no particular reason) which side of the street faces north (snow), which faces south (no snow). It’s seeing the red flash of a low-flying cardinal or hearing a woodpecker working the side of a tree. It’s spotting your black dog way far away against the white hills.

It’s walking single file in a city before the sidewalks have been cleared, trying to talk to the person behind you while your words are muffled by scarves and hoods. It’s remembering to cover every inch of skin before you leave the house, before you lock your door. It’s getting locked out of your house or your car because your key won’t turn in the lock. It’s knowing that if a beach chair is ensconced behind a parked car in front of someone’s house that means something (claimed real estate) and don’t mess with it.

It’s the dry air inside your house no matter how many humidifiers you use and then it’s looking for the Carmex lip balm and finding it in last year’s winter jacket. It’s seeing the dirty drifts of snow day in and day out against the curb, a blight that will stay there until spring. It’s watching the spreading yellow of your dog during her business, finding the single mitten, the single glove, the frozen scarf, gnarled, deformed in the snow. It’s battling denial by using the edge of a credit card to remove the thin glaze of ice from your windshield before you break down and buy a real scraper.

It’s waking up in the morning and realizing you are sore but you haven’t done any exercise. You didn’t move furniture or bend down to weed. Then you remember: how you had to catch yourself from falling on a hidden piece of ice, how you threw your arms in the air for balance, twisting your back to keep from falling on your behind.

And then cabin fever hits. Another phrase you haven’t dealt with in a while. But it doesn’t come right away. First there’s cleaning out your desk, straightening up your closet, finishing that Toni Morrison book, listening to Marvin Gaye. La la la. This can go on forever. You think, I love being snowed in, I have enough provisions to last a month if need be. Well, maybe a little chocolate, a little Kahlua. But that’s all. You write letters. You call friends. The holidays are over so you’re out of your funk. The gatherings have lessened.

For some of us restless types it doesn’t take long for cabin fever to hit. That’s when you learn there are other names for this affliction. There’s seasonal affective disorder (SAD), winter blues. How about temporary insanity?

It’s a short romance, more like a snowmance, this infatuation with snow flurries and snow angels. Yes, the mosquitoes are gone, the ticks and roaches are history, but it’s enough already. We want our life back.



So, like, I think …….

Savannah Morning News

Jan. 7, 2018

“So. What do you think about the next election?”

“So. How were you affected by the hurricane?”

“So. What’s your next project?”

Have you noticed? Six out of eight sentences in today’s conversations start with the word “so,” between friends, at cocktail parties, on the radio.

There are still some holdouts.

“Why do you think there is so much disparity in the world?” asks the erudite, nuanced Robert Siegel, the last of the great interviewers, who is leaving his 4 p.m. post on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

“So,” the interviewee starts in response to Siegel’s carefully considered question, buying time, gathering thoughts, delaying a bit.

“So” has become the first cousin to the old Valley Girl standby – “like” – where sentences might start with “like” and end in a question.

“Like, I thought I might go to grad school?”

“So” and best friend “like” are stall words. They offer a pause until you can get back on your feet, until you can think of something articulate to say. “So” announces you do have something to say (if only you could remember what it was). The same with “like.” These shell words get people to look your way. They act to soften your opinion when you’re not really certain you have an opinion, when you’re beating around the bush. “The day was, like, perfect.” No, darn it, I think to myself. The day was perfect. It wasn’t like perfect. Why can’t you just say that? No one’s going to hold your feet to anything.

The perfectly meaningless phrase, “you know,” does the same thing. When someone is telling me something and stops to say, “you know,” about a dozen times, I want to say, “No, I really don’t. I really don’t ‘know.’”

Then there’s “I mean.” This is quickly edging toward “so” in the stall department, followed by, “I just feel.” The sentence starts with “I mean …” Yes, yes, I’m thinking; I’m on the edge of my seat. What exactly do you mean? But it doesn’t end there. It moves on to, “I just feel … “ By this time, I’m starting to lose it. I’m thinking how can I get out of this. Please, enlighten me. How exactly do you feel? And why should I care what you feel anyway? This isn’t about feeling. We were talking about the weather. I think. It was so long ago I forgot.

I blame it all on emoji’s. Don’t know what they are? A) I doubt it. B) You’re lucky. C) You don’t have a cellphone. D) You are so old-fashioned you don’t text. Someone – in Japan, I’m guessing since it is a Japanese word and the Japanese are the masters of graphics – decided we DON’T NEED WORDS anymore. We don’t need subtlety or shades of difference. Instead – to dovetail with the world of mobile devices they (can you say commerce?) came up with little facial expressions, little squiggle marks. Single handedly they brought back the smiley face – just when you thought that little yellow circle with the two black dots for eyes and the black curve for a mouth had left forever. Even the Oxford Dictionary took note. In 2015, that august body named the emoji the word of the year.

What would Thomas Wolfe or Charles Dickens think of an emoji? What would they think of texting?

Me? I’m trying to bring back the arch and awkward expression, “I never heard such,” as in, “Why, those girls are wearing their skirts above their knees! I never heard such.” Or, similarly, “I never heard tell.”

Robert Siegel, what do you think of all this?

“It’s the end of your show. You’re getting out unscathed (I think, I hope).  I wish you well. I thank you for your articulate sentences, your clarity, your precision, your exactitude, your intelligence, your words.”

Words: they’re a beautiful thing.