Posts Tagged ‘weather’

Burning up in the summer heat

June 9, 2011

When I drove past the thermometer in front of a local chiropractor’s office around 6 this morning, it was already 88 degrees.

Of course, these are the same people who claim they can cure my chronic lower back pain by yanking on my head, and induce weight loss by randomly rearranging my vertebrae. So I doubt the temperature was quite that high.

But there’s no doubt that the summer heat has arrived in full force. Our local forecast here in upstate South Carolina calls for a high of 94 today, and a series of 90-plus highs stretching through the end of the five-day forecast. Longer term, meteorologists predict a warm, dry July before we all die of global warming when the temps top out around 160° in August.

 “Spring has sprung and fall has fell,” we used to say rather ungrammatically when we were children. “Summer’s here and it’s hot as hell.”

I grew up in the largely un-air-conditioned Miami of the 1950s and 1960s. How we survived the summer heat of the tropics is beyond me. As a child, I remember friends trading baseball cards in the shade of a ficus tree and squirting each other with hoses for most of the hours our mothers had shooed us outside to play. Sweating profusely was another popular pastime.

I’ll still sometimes reference those sticky times as a badge of honor when discussing how hot a particular day has become.

“Yeah, it’s a scorcher,” I’ll acknowledge to fellow workers who return from a 60-second trip to roll down their car windows drenched in perspiration. “Not as bad as south Florida, of course. You could bake a cake in my father’s Monterey. Sitting in that Mercury was like sitting on Mercury.”

What I may neglect to mention is that a steady sea breeze and a general ignorance that air-conditioning even existed also contributed to how we were able to survive. But I’ll take any chance I can get to lend credence to the concept that I’m quite a man — leathery and melanoma-ridden, perhaps, but extremely masculine.

It wasn’t until after I left the tropics and went off to college that I became interested in using the outdoors for something other than suffering. When the jogging craze kicked into high gear in the early ’70’s, I was living in the slightly cooler climes of Tallahassee. North Florida at least had seasons, and you’d encounter an occasional one that wasn’t sweltering.

I ran mostly during the academic school year, which generally went from September to May and therefore wasn’t unbearable. When it did occasionally tend toward the brutally hot, I’d run anyway. (There was the matter of disgruntled advisors who were constantly chasing me, demanding to know when I’d take care of that Math 102 requirement).

I moved to South Carolina in 1980. At least a hundred miles inland from the Atlantic, the “Midlands” as they’re called are actually even worse than Florida (in so many ways). But I kept up the jogging for the next 30 or so years — with occasional breaks for sleep, work and having a son — and proudly became known in my suburban neighborhood as “that crazy guy who runs in the midday sun.”

Within the last few months, however, fearing my identity might soon change to “that crazy guy who used to run and now lies dead by the side of the road, a victim of heat stroke,” I’ve changed my exercise routine. Now I walk, and not just to transport myself to the bathroom. I walk vigorously, round and round in circles, trying to burn as many calories as jogging used to evaporate.

You don’t get quite as hot and sweaty as you do from running, so now I try to take care of my daily workout while I’m at work. I’ll slam down a couple of Hot Pockets at my desk, then use my 30-minute lunch break to pike vigorously around the office park. This way, when I get home at the end of a long day, I’ve already taken care of my exercise and can proceed to more leisurely pursuits, like standing next to the air conditioner.

The problem with exercising like this near work is that coworkers see you and laugh at you. The first few times I made the circuit to the warehouses in back, past the fake lake, dodging the geese poo and the turtles with Alzheimer’s who wandered away from their pond, then back to my office building, I ended up just as thoroughly drenched as if I’d walked into the lake. The heat radiated off the asphalt like a brick pizza oven, and I was the pepperoni. I was withered and greasy and smelled like curdled cheese by the time I returned to my desk.

I’ve thought of taking measures to make myself more comfortable outside. I could wear a big, wide-brimmed hat. I could remove my shirt. I could fill my pants pockets with chipped ice. None of this seems practical, however, for getting through the afternoon without the lady at the next cubicle hosing me down with Axe body spray.

I think now I’ll just take the rest of the summer off from any physical activity more exerting than respiration. Simply walking across the parking lot to my car when the workday ends at 3 p.m. is enough to exhaust me with the thermometer consistently above 90.

That dribble of sweat I’m leaving in my trail must weigh at least several pounds.

Have you heard? It's hot outside.

The real story behind Groundhog’s Day

February 2, 2011

Today, we honor the humble groundhog. With fewer and fewer businesses celebrating it as a paid holiday, most of us trudged off to work this morning barely aware there was any cause for commemoration. It’s not until later today, when we scan the news headlines and see poor Punxsutawney Phil being thrust skyward by some doofus Pennsylvanian in top hat and tails, that we realize we forgot to buy our loved ones an appropriate gift.

And once again, the groundhog goes unappreciated.

Most of us know the story of how the First Groundhog was born in a manger on a February morn thousands of years ago. Most of us remember learning how he was granted supernatural prognostication powers not equaled until Al Roker predicted he’d be blown off a balcony if he stepped outside during a hurricane. Most of us know he’s a plain, homely rodent — not dissimilar in appearance to The Weather Channel’s Stephanie Abrams — forgotten for 364 days a year.

But on this one special day, in the middle of winter, he steps front and center to claim the spotlight. Routed from his burrow, he looks at the frozen ground around him, trying to figure what season it is. If he sees his shadow, he notices he’s put on a few pounds over the holidays and will have to do some serious springtime dieting to be ready for swimsuit season. If he doesn’t see his shadow, it’s probably because, as a relative of the mole, he’s practically blind. Local news crews then interpret the event to mean we’ll either have six more weeks of winter, or that a savior has been born who is Christ the Lord.

What, though, do we really know about the groundhog? Allow me to tell you a little bit of his story.

The groundhog (Latin name Marmota monax, though most refer to each other with a guttural grunt) is also known as a woodchuck or a land-beaver. He’s part of a family of large ground squirrels that also includes the yellow-bellied marmot and the hoary (or slutty) marmot. He is strictly a North American creature, which is why primitive Europeans and Asians use things like satellite imagery and sophisticated radar instead of chubby groundlings to “predict” the weather.

The groundhog roams the continent from Alaska to Alabama, though scientists have yet to figure out how he journeys so widely. Some speculate that their elaborate system of burrows includes high-speed rail. Others figure that since they all look pretty much alike, they only offer the illusion of being well-travelled.

The animals are well-adapted for digging, with short but powerful limbs and curved, thick claws. Their spine is curved and their tail is relatively short. They are covered with two coats of fur: a dense grey undercoat and a longer coat of banded hairs that give the groundhog’s coif its distinctive “frosted” appearance. Again, not unlike Stephanie Abrams.

Groundhogs usually live only two to three years in the wild, or considerably less if nearby wolves, coyotes, foxes, bobcats and bears have any say in the matter. They themselves are mostly herbivorous, feasting on wild grasses, berries and nuts, with the occasional grub or snail thrown in for a protein boost.

With excellent burrowing skills that largely offset deficiencies in just about every other aptitude, the groundhog will literally hog the ground, taking over huge swathes of the subterranean world to sleep, rear its young and hibernate. It is the most solitary of marmots, though several individuals may occupy the same burrow as long as the others keep it down and promise to pay their portion of the utility bill.

Perhaps the only talent that rivals their ability to move huge amounts of dirt is their ability to enter into a true hibernation for up to six months at a time. From October until as late as April, they inter themselves deep beneath the frost line, allowing them to maintain a temperature well above freezing during the winter. Their metabolism slows dramatically as they live off body fat accumulated during the previous autumn. Only once during this long six-month night do they have to emerge to go to the bathroom and, unfortunately, it’s usually in the first few days of February.

Groundhogs are accomplished swimmers and will often climb trees to escape predators, survey their surroundings, or just hang out. When threatened, their primary defense is to “go underground,” crashing with an old college roommate, not using credit cards or email accounts, and going completely off the grid. If they find themselves under an imminent threat, they may offer a tenacious defense using their two large incisors and front claws. Or they may simply allow themselves to be eaten, exacting a post-mortem revenge on their enemy that you do not want to smell.

Most groundhogs breed in their second year of life, though a precocious few get it on before their first birthday. A mated pair will stay together in the same den throughout the 31-day gestation period, but as the birth of the young approaches, the male remembers an urgent meeting with his accountant and vacates the den. One litter is produced annually, numbering from two to six blind, hairless and helpless babies. Within six weeks, however, they’re ready to move out and live on their own (teenagers, take note).

Their interaction with humans is mostly involuntary, as the desperately wiggling Phil will happily demonstrate on national TV this morning. If raised in captivity, they can be socialized with relative ease, especially if you have a few fingers to spare. Doug Schwartz, employed as the groundhog trainer at the Staten Island Zoo (and New Yorkers wonder why their state is facing a $10 billion deficit), says the animal “is known for their aggression … they’re natural impulse is to kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out. You have to work to produce the sweet and cuddly.”

Other unwilling contributions to humanity include medical research, where they’re dosed with a strain of Woodchuck Hepatitis B virus that mutates into liver cancer, and, surprisingly, in archeology. At the Ufferman Site in Ohio, they’ve excavated numerous artifacts from the loose soil, including significant numbers of ancient human bones, pottery and tools, while human archeologists sit around on lawn chairs admiring their effort.

And then there’s the whole Groundhog Day routine that we’ve come to know and tolerate. With what’s being called a monster snowstorm bearing down on the Midwest and Northeast for the next few days, we’ll watch as not only Punxsutawney Phil but also Wiarton Willie, Balzac Billie, Buckeye Chuck, Shubenacadie Sam and Dunkirk Dave are yanked from their lairs. They might look for their shadows but the blizzard of the century will keep them from seeing beyond the snoots on their face, and they’ll declare that winter is not yet over. Duh.

Punxsutawney Phil

South Florida Stephanie

Fake News: Superheroes aid in Southern clean-up

January 13, 2011

This week’s Southern snowstorm allowed us all to make our typical comments about the area’s chronic lack of preparedness for winter weather.

“I know I’ll be careful, I’m just worried about the other drivers.”

“Those snow boots and ice scraper are around here somewhere.”

“I wonder if it’d be safe to use this sharp-edged piece of tin as a makeshift sled.”

“Two inches? Let’s cancel school for the rest of the year.”

City officials may not be as confident as Northern mayors, who jet off to a Bermuda vacation, convinced their snow-removal procedures will work just fine even if they don’t personally man one of the salt trucks. But Southern cities are starting to use some creativity in how they approach the post-storm cleanup.

Mayors from Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh banded together in a common solution yesterday, turning to recently discovered real-life superheroes for help in the effort to clear their cities’ streets.

Reports earlier this month that a small group of everyday citizens in suburban Seattle have taken to wearing spandex suits and fighting crime caught the attention of Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx.

“There’s, like, ten of these guys. I heard about them on CNN,” Foxx told local reporters. “By day, they’re former military guys or mixed martial arts fighters. By night, they’re costumed crusaders, roaming the city and watching for car break-ins.”

Foxx referred to reports that a would-be Justice League, including characters like the Green Reaper, Captain Ozone, Thunder 88 and Phoenix Jones, were patrolling the streets of Lynnwood, Wash. Jones, for example, constructed a bullet-proof suit and a utility belt that includes a Taser and tear gas to enhance his efforts. Driven around by his girlfriend in her Kia, Jones had been working the beat for about nine months when he got the call from Foxx.

“He asked if I had ‘super hot breath’ or any other powers that might help melt the ice,” Jones said. “Not even Superman had that. What would be the point?”

Jones said he had talked with Mayor Foxx about his limitations, but the mayor insisted, even offering to pay the airfare to bring Jones and other members of the so-called Rain City Superhero Movement (RCSM) south.

“He first tried to contact us by shining a spotlight in the sky, but of course none of us could see that from 3,000 miles away,” Jones said. “Finally, he just called my cell.”

Foxx organized the effort that brought Jones and “Knight Owl” to Charlotte, “Thorn” and “Buster Doe” to Atlanta, and “Gemini” and “Penelope” to Raleigh.

“I figured, between the six of them, that at least one would have heat vision or super strength, or at least a sidekick that knew how to drive a plow,” Foxx said. “Turns out their powers are limited to stuff like kick-boxing and close-quarters combat. Still, they were definitely able to help us.”

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker was using Gemini and Penelope to help get cars started for city workers while Atlanta’s Kasim Reed put Thorn and Doe on a crew clearing restaurant parking lots.

“I wasn’t sure how much we’d be able to help but, hey, a free trip is a free trip,” Doe said during a break at the Buckhead Waffle House he was working. “I just wish I brought my backup costume because it doesn’t have a cape. That damn thing keeps getting tangled up in the wind.”

Doe said he hoped city officials would let the heroes stay a few days after their work here was completed.

“The Hampton Inn where I’m staying has a nice pool,” Doe said. “I’d love to do a little chillaxing there after we’re done.”

Charlotte Mayor Foxx thanked the RCSM for their average-human efforts, and noted that their can-do spirit was infectious.

“I’m heading out right now to clear some sidewalks outside the homeless shelter,” Foxx said. “I’m hoping I can make my lawnmower act like a snow-blower. That should work, right?”

Phoenix Jones: Perhaps not super, but willing to help however he can

Revisited: South endures rare snowstorm

January 9, 2011

A rare snowstorm is marching across the South, causing power outages and slick roadways that led to a number of traffic accidents. At least six people were killed, most from heart attacks caused by the shock that it’s possible for frozen precipitation to fall from the sky during the wintertime.

Schools and businesses closed throughout the region in reaction to snow totals that neared four inches in some locations, and most Southerners decided to stay home rather than face the treacherous conditions outside. Some exercised even more care to avoid possible injury.

Residents at the home of Charlotte native Guy Pepper declined even to leave their beds lest they slip and fall.

“When my clock radio came on this morning, the first thing they talked about was the inch and a half of snow we had outside,” said Pepper. “We’re not used to that kind of thing around here and I wanted to be extra careful. I just stayed in bed all day.”

Neighbor Sue Walton said she considered visiting the bathroom about 15 feet away from her bed, but decided against it rather than take the risk.

“It’s not that I don’t trust myself to walk across the carpet,” she said. “It’s the other people out there that I worry about. My husband, he walks like a crazy man in these conditions, and I don’t want him losing control and crashing into me.”

The family at a home down the street was a little more adventurous in dealing with the storm, acknowledging that they did “take a chance” by venturing out of bed and into the hallway, eventually making it to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee.

“If you just take it nice and slow, it’s not that bad,” said Edwin Drew. “What you have to watch for are the slick patches that seem to come up just as you’re gaining some confidence. It took me almost an hour to carefully walk down the hall, but I made it.”

Only a few blocks away, resident Robyn Blackburn actually went so far as to open her front door and grab the newspaper that was just outside.

“I lived in the north for about a year so I’m pretty familiar with these conditions,” Blackburn said. “I keep a set of chains at my bedside. I use them mainly for other purposes, but they can double as snow chains in a pinch. I wrapped them around my feet and lower legs and they gave me the traction I needed to make it to the door.”

Another Southerner who braved the wintry conditions was Ken Shelley, who went out to his driveway to check on the condition of his vehicle.

“I’m not insane enough to try to drive the thing, but I thought at least I could sweep some snow off the roof,” said Shelley.

The South Charlotte man used what he called a “four-wheel drive equivalent” to walk about ten feet down the slope of a small incline.

“It’s probably more like six-wheel drive,” he said. “I get down on my hands and knees and crawl like a baby over the icy pavement. I have contact with two hands, two knees and two feet, so I feel I’m pretty likely to survive the trip without a skid.”

Revisited: Hot enough for you? It is for me

May 23, 2010
The heat is on
The heat is on
The heat is on
Oh, it’s on the street
The heat is…
On
– Either Glenn Frey or Don Henley, I forget which, and seriously doubt there’s really all that much difference anyway

Today’s forecast in my area of the country calls for a high temperature around 85 degrees. Tomorrow is projected to be 88, with the following day topping out in the low 90s. For me, it’s too damn hot already, and it’s only the end of May.

I’m not a big fan of warm weather, probably because I was born and raised in Florida. When I was a child growing up in Miami, we’d have very little variety between wonderful weather and fabulous weather (except for the occasional cataclysmic hurricane) and it got to be very boring. To this day, I remember the excitement one morning during my 17 years there when we awoke to find a clog of ice in the garden hose and a thin frost on the lawn. It was as close to a snow day as we’d ever get.

While people in northern climes were yearning for retirement to the Sunshine State, we had to endure a boring sameness throughout our environment. With no real autumn, we never knew what it meant to see the leaves changing. My grandmother had to mail me an oak leaf from Pennsylvania so I would get some basic idea. We had no mountains and no hills, just an unending flatness. Stairs were exciting. When Dick and Jane cavorted in the fictional snow of our first-grade readers, we thought they were dead and in heaven, frolicking among the clouds.

All heat and no cold made Christmas especially problematic. How would Santa ever be able to come visit us? Sleighs don’t lend themselves well to travel on the high-speed Florida Turnpike. Reindeer will end up run off the road and flailing in the canals, a tasty holiday treat for the alligators. Santa’s going to get a god-awful chafe wearing that wool suit in our heat. How will his swollen legs fit in our chimney, even if we had a chimney or knew what one was? My parents reassured us that he’d make a special trip to south Florida in a helicopter and that he’d wear seersucker golf pants for his trip down through our air conditioning ducts and into our living room. Not quite the picture painted in TV’s Christmas specials.

When I moved to Tallahassee in the northern corner of the state to attend college, it didn’t get much better. I did finally see my very first snow flurry but still had to endure my entire freshman year on the top floor of an un-air-conditioned dorm. Fortunately, we were all so cool that it didn’t matter. My only outdoor camping experience to this day came during a worse-than-normal heat wave when we hauled our mattress out on the grass to sleep. The washer women who handled our bed linens loved us for that one.

Now, of course, I’m a mature adult, living far enough north to at least experience some seasonal changes, and I still say I hate the heat – I hate it, I hate it, I hate it! It’s stupid and it’s gross. You get all sweaty and stinky and, worst of all, extremely irritable.

Fortunately, just about all of the interior world is air-conditioned these days, so I do have the option of adopting a hermit-like existence for the next four months. Right now, for example, I have a wonderful view of this balmy late spring day by looking out the floor-to-ceiling window from my icy perch inside a frigid cafe, complete with working fireplace. It looks beautiful out there – the trees are green and swaying in the breeze, the clouds are wispy, the sun is bright – but I know it’s really a hellish inferno.

The cold comfort of conditioned air serves me well in most spots, though not in my workplace. My business operates in a converted warehouse that wasn’t really designed for a cubicle-farm office. I’ve had my desk positioned in several different locations throughout this large room, yet no matter where I sit I’m always too warm. When I arrive in the morning, the two women from the night shift who sit on either side of me are huddled in their sweaters, portable heaters glowing at their feet. I turn on a small fan aimed at my legs under the desk and a large one that I aim just over my head. (I’d have it blowing right on me if I could figure out how to proofread financial documents while they’re flying through a whirlwind.) The loud roar of the two announces that a man has arrived, and he’s not comfortable.

My coworkers are about 75% female, and I think this is part of the dilemma. We once called a repairman to the office to fix what seemed to be chronic AC problems. He fiddled away with the thermostat for some time before scanning the room and reporting that he had discovered our problem. “Most of your people are women,” he told my boss. “They give off more heat than men.” This seemed to me to be one of the lamest excuses for not doing your job I had ever heard, though it’s something the U.S. Senate might want to keep in mind as they consider the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. (Those judicial robes make the Snuggie look well-ventilated.)

In the years since, I’ve occasionally battled with the women in my office on this subject. One argument I thought should be convincing was that we should keep it cooler because, while they can always put more clothes on, I can’t be taking more clothes off. Well, I can, but I’m sure it would mean a rather unpleasant visit with the human resources guy. One lady showed up on a July morning last year wearing a sleeveless sundress to work, and immediately began complaining how cold the air-conditioning was. “Have you considered wearing something that covered the upper half of your torso?” I countered.

Maybe I’m noticing the heat more in recent years because I’m getting older. My wife tells me that men don’t get hot flashes associated “the change,” and she knows about such things (I’m just saying she’s a very knowledgeable person, not implying anything more.) I’ve thought about buying one of those “cooler collars” I’ve seen in the SkyMall catalog, though I suspect that would work about as well as would lugging around an icepack in my pants. Or I could contract one of those tropical diseases that give you the chills.

Maybe I’ll suggest another training trip for myself to India. Their heat makes ours feel bush league by comparison. And there’s a good chance I could come down with Dengue Fever.

Revisited: A fairwell to winter

March 21, 2010

A rare March snowstorm marched across the South this time last year, causing power outages and slick roadways that led to a number of traffic accidents. At least six people were killed, most from heart attacks caused by the shock that it’s possible for frozen precipitation to fall from the sky during the wintertime.

Schools and businesses closed throughout the region in reaction to snow totals that neared four inches in some locations, and most Southerners decided to stay home rather than face the treacherous conditions outside. Some exercised even more care to avoid possible injury.

Residents at the home of Charlotte native Guy Pepper declined even to leave their beds lest they slip and fall. “When my clock radio came on this morning, the first thing they talked about was the inch and a half of snow we had outside,” said Pepper. “We’re not used to that kind of thing around here and I wanted to be extra careful. I just slept in bed all day.”

Neighbor Sue Walton said she considered visiting the bathroom about 15 feet away from her bed, but decided against it rather than take the risk. “It’s not that I don’t trust myself to walk across the carpet,” she said. “It’s the other people out there that I worry about. My husband, he walks like a crazy man in these conditions, and I don’t want him losing control and crashing into me.”

The family at a home down the street was a little more adventurous in dealing with the storm, acknowledging that they did “take a chance” by venturing out of bed and into the hallway, eventually making it to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee.

“If you just take it nice and slow, it’s not that bad,” said Edwin Drew. “What you have to watch for are the slick patches that seem to come up just as you’re gaining some confidence. It took me almost an hour to carefully walk down the hall, but I made it.”

Only a few blocks away, resident Robyn Blackburn actually went so far as to open her front door and grab the newspaper that was just outside. “I lived in the north for about a year so I’m pretty familiar with these conditions,” Blackburn said. “I keep a set of chains at my bedside. I use them mainly for other purposes, but they can double as snow chains in a pinch. I wrapped them around my feet and lower legs and they gave me the traction I needed to make it to the door.”

Another Southerner who braved the wintry conditions was Ken Shelley, who went out to his driveway to check on the condition of his vehicle.

“I’m not insane enough to try to drive the thing, but I thought at least I could sweep some snow off the roof,” said Shelley. The South Charlotte man used what he called a “four-wheel drive equivalent” to navigate his way about ten feet down the slope of a small incline. “It’s probably more like six-wheel drive,” he said. “I get down on my hands and knees and crawl like a baby over the icy pavement. I have contact with two hands, two knees and two feet, so I feel I’m pretty likely to survive the trip without a skid.”

Hot enough for you? It is for me

June 1, 2009
The heat is on
The heat is on
The heat is on
Oh, it’s on the street
The heat is…
On
— Either Glenn Frey or Don Henley, I forget which, and seriously doubt there’s really all that much difference anyway

 

Today’s forecast in my area of the country calls for a high temperature around 85 degrees. Tomorrow is projected to be 88, with the following day topping out in the low 90s. For me, it’s too damn hot already, and it’s only the first of June.

I’m not a big fan of warm weather, probably because I was born and raised in Florida. When I was a child growing up in Miami, we’d have very little variety between wonderful weather and fabulous weather (except for the occasional cataclysmic hurricane) and it got to be very boring. To this day, I remember the excitement one morning during my 17 years there when we awoke to find a clog of ice in the garden hose and a thin frost on the lawn. It was as close to a snow day as we’d ever get.

While people in northern climes were yearning for retirement to the Sunshine State, we had to endure a boring sameness throughout our environment. With no real autumn, we never knew what it meant to see the leaves changing. My grandmother had to mail me an oak leaf from Pennsylvania so I would get some basic idea. We had no mountains and no hills, just an unending flatness. Stairs were exciting. When Dick and Jane cavorted in the fictional snow of our first-grade readers, we thought they were dead and in heaven, frolicking among the clouds.

All heat and no cold made Christmas especially problematic. How would Santa ever be able to come visit us? Sleighs don’t lend themselves well to travel on the high-speed Florida Turnpike. Reindeer will end up run off the road and flailing in the canals, a tasty holiday treat for the alligators. Santa’s going to get a god-awful chafe wearing that wool suit in our heat. How will his swollen legs fit in our chimney, even if we had a chimney or knew what one was? My parents reassured us that he’d make a special trip to south Florida in a helicopter and that he’d wear seersucker golf pants for his trip down through our air conditioning ducts and into our living room. Not quite the picture painted in TV’s Christmas specials.

When I moved to Tallahassee in the northern corner of the state to attend college, it didn’t get much better. I did finally see my very first snow flurry but still had to endure my entire freshman year on the top floor of an un-air-conditioned dorm. Fortunately, we were all so cool that it didn’t matter. My only outdoor camping experience to this day came during a worse-than-normal heat wave when we hauled our mattress out on the grass to sleep. The washer women who handled our bed linens loved us for that one.

Now, of course, I’m a mature adult, living far enough north to at least experience some seasonal changes, and I still say I hate the heat – I hate it, I hate it, I hate it! It’s stupid and it’s gross. You get all sweaty and stinky and, worst of all, extremely irritable.

Fortunately, just about all of the interior world is air-conditioned these days, so I do have the option of adopting a hermit-like existence for the next four months. Right now, for example, I have a wonderful view of this balmy late spring day by looking out the floor-to-ceiling window from my icy perch inside a frigid cafe, complete with working fireplace. It looks beautiful out there – the trees are green and swaying in the breeze, the clouds are wispy, the sun is bright – but I know it’s really a hellish inferno.

The cold comfort of conditioned air serves me well in most spots, though not in my workplace. My business operates in a converted warehouse that wasn’t really designed for a cubicle-farm office. I’ve had my desk positioned in several different locations throughout this large room, yet no matter where I sit I’m always too warm. When I arrive in the morning, the two women from the night shift who sit on either side of me are huddled in their sweaters, portable heaters glowing at their feet. I turn on a small fan aimed at my legs under the desk and a large one that I aim just over my head. (I’d have it blowing right on me if I could figure out how to proofread financial documents while they’re flying through a whirlwind.) The loud roar of the two announces that a man has arrived, and he’s not comfortable.

My coworkers are about 75% female, and I think this is part of the dilemma. We once called a repairman to the office to fix what seemed to be chronic AC problems. He fiddled away with the thermostat for some time before scanning the room and reporting that he had discovered our problem. “Most of your people are women,” he told my boss. “They give off more heat than men.” This seemed to me to be one of the lamest excuses for not doing your job I had ever heard, though it’s something the U.S. Senate might want to keep in mind as they consider the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. (Those judicial robes make the Snuggie look well-ventilated.)

In the years since, I’ve occasionally battled with the women in my office on this subject. One argument I thought should be convincing was that we should keep it cooler because, while they can always put more clothes on, I can’t be taking more clothes off. Well, I can, but I’m sure it would mean a rather unpleasant visit with the human resources guy. One lady showed up on a July morning last year wearing a sleeveless sundress to work, and immediately began complaining how cold the air-conditioning was. “Have you considered wearing something that covered the upper half of your torso?” I countered.

Maybe I’m noticing the heat more in recent years because I’m getting older. My wife tells me that men don’t get hot flashes associated “the change,” and she knows about such things (I’m just saying she’s a very knowledgeable person, not implying anything more.) I’ve thought about buying one of those “cooler collars” I’ve seen in the SkyMall catalog, though I suspect that would work about as well as would lugging around an icepack in my pants. Or I could contract one of those tropical diseases that give you the chills.

Maybe I’ll suggest another training trip for myself to India. Their heat makes ours feel bush league by comparison. And there’s a good chance I could come down with Dengue Fever.

Fake News: North Dakota still a disaster area

March 31, 2009

WASHINGTON (March 30) – President Barack Obama said today that his pronouncement last week that North Dakota be declared a disaster area in the wake of widespread flooding in the region will be left open-ended.

Sources close to the president said he decided on the move after coming to the conclusion it would be easier to assume the state is always a disaster area. Future declarations on the subject will come only in those relatively rare cases when the state is not suffering from some awful natural calamity.

“So, he’ll just have to announce periodically that, for a few days at least, North Dakota is not a disaster area,” the source said. “Otherwise, the standing assumption is going to be that it is.”

The state saw a near-record crest on the Red River over the weekend after an early spring thaw had combined with heavy rains to the south to inundate parts of Fargo and surrounding counties. The flooding was complicated by ice dams north of town that contributed to the river’s backup. But as rain gave way to blizzard conditions a few days later, the excess water again froze in place, at least temporarily delaying another catastrophe.

“Look,” the president told a group of reporters as he headed to the Marine One helicopter. “If it’s not a flood, it’s a blizzard; if it’s not a blizzard, it’s a drought; if it’s not a drought; it’s just everyday life in a hellhole. The status quo is ruinous, so I’m not going to waste my time declaring a new state of emergency ever y other week. I’ll let you know if and when the place ever becomes habitable again.”

Pathetic scenes of entire towns gathered to fill sandbags only to see them frozen solid and cracked a few hours later apparently had little effect on the president. Nor did equally depressing images of dark slush-filled streets dotted with stoic people in at least six layers of clothing shuffling about as a fresh snow fell around them. Bare tree limbs, grey skies and the occasional brown patch in an otherwise covered snowfield instead reinforced the belief that you had to be nuts to live there.

Privately, the president wonders why the country needs two Dakotas anyway. Many geologists have long argued that North Dakota is actually a “vestigial Dakota” that long ago lost its use, much like the human tailbone. At the very least, sources said, Obama thinks it’s comparable to your second kidney and could easily be donated to Canada, perhaps in return for some beaver pelts.

As a new storm system swept over the northern Plains, high winds were expected by Wednesday throughout much of the region. The winds will likely combine with heavy icing to topple trees onto power lines, leaving most of the state without electricity.

“See, I told you,” said White House spokesman Joe Perino. “We’re not going to trot the president out again for this one, especially since he’s preparing so hard for his trip to Europe. The disaster-area declaration from last week works just as well for flooding as it does for wind damage.”

Fake News: New Snuggie products coming

March 10, 2009

CHICAGO (March 9) – Manufacturers of the “Snuggie,” the blanket with sleeves that’s currently being heavily advertised on TV, have announced the introduction of several new products that will build on the success of their cozy cover-all.

First to be released will be the “Snuggie for Two,” a pair of the robe-blankets sewn together, allowing not only conjoined twins but also very close relatives, spouses or friends to compound their comfort with shared bodily warmth. Marketing executive Bennie Grundie said the stitching will be loose enough to allow relatively free movement, though “I doubt most people will bother,” he said.

Also in the development pipeline are other multiple-person garments – to be called “Wedgies” – that will accommodate three, four and five people, and even more, should the concept prove successful.

“I can even imagine a model that accommodates ten or eleven,” Grundie said. “It would be ideal for the football team playing in cold climates. Can you imagine how scary it would be to see a line of Pittsburgh Steelers all wearing the same ‘Wedgie’ coming at you? You’d be totally swarmed over.”

Grundie said his company is also in discussion with the makers of Huggies, a popular line of diapers, to test the viability of a jointly made product, tentatively called the “Mervyn.”

“People tend to get so comfortable wearing our blanket that they don’t want to be bothered to get up,” he said. “This would allow them to sit virtually motionless for hours or even days on end in homey ecstasy.”

Meanwhile, Wall Street experts were questioning the long-range business plan of the company, noting that the coming of warmer weather would be cutting deeply into sales. Analysts doubt that success of the brand can be sustained when outdoor temperatures approach 80 degrees, though Morgan Stanley’s Larry Powell, looking across a trading floor of empty cubicles, noted “we’ve been wrong on these speculations before.”

Snuggie’s Grundie responded that executives at his company had “never heard of seasonal weather changes” and therefore did not figure such a concept into their business strategy.

“If they’re talking about global warming, that’s yet to be fully proven. Plus it’s at least several decades off,” Grundie said. “That’s the only warming we’ve heard about. We’re so focused on the here-and-now that we can’t be in the business of weather prediction.”

When asked whether the cowl-and-cape sensation could be sustained in summer with the introduction of linen or seersucker models, Grundie noted that natural fibers such as these were “too expensive to fit within our price point.”

“I suppose we could drop the booklight offer,” he considered. “But frankly, that’s the heart of the package, if you’re looking for something actually useful in your purchase.”

Besides, he noted, in-house lab tests are revealing that the synthetic fabric tends to break down within several months, so “everybody’s soon going to have holes in the Snuggies anyway, and that should keep them cool if this whole crazy concept of ‘summer’ really does come about.”

 

South (barely) survives snowstorm

March 3, 2009

A rare March snowstorm marched across the South Monday, causing power outages and slick roadways that led to a number of traffic accidents. At least six people were killed, most from heart attacks caused by the shock that it’s possible for frozen precipitation to fall from the sky during the wintertime.

Schools and businesses closed throughout the region in reaction to snow totals that neared four inches in some locations, and most Southerners decided to stay home rather than face the treacherous conditions outside. Some exercised even more care to avoid possible injury.

Residents at the home of Charlotte native Guy Pepper declined even to leave their beds lest they slip and fall.

“When my clock radio came on this morning, the first thing they talked about was the inch and a half of snow we had outside,” said Pepper. “We’re not used to that kind of thing around here and I wanted to be extra careful. I just slept in bed all day.”

Neighbor Sue Walton said she considered visiting the bathroom about 15 feet away from her bed, but decided against it rather than take the risk.

“It’s not that I don’t trust myself to walk across the carpet,” she said. “It’s the other people out there that I worry about. My husband, he walks like a crazy man in these conditions, and I don’t want him losing control and crashing into me.”

The family at a home down the street was a little more adventurous in dealing with the storm, acknowledging that they did “take a chance” by venturing out of bed and into the hallway, eventually making it to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee.

“If you just take it nice and slow, it’s not that bad,” said Edwin Drew. “What you have to watch for are the slick patches that seem to come up just as you’re gaining some confidence. It took me almost an hour to carefully walk down the hall, but I made it.”

Only a few blocks away, resident Robyn Blackburn actually went so far as to open her front door and grab the newspaper that was just outside.

“I lived in the north for about a year so I’m pretty familiar with these conditions,” Blackburn said. “I keep a set of chains at my bedside. I use them mainly for other purposes, but they can double as snow chains in a pinch. I wrapped them around my feet and lower legs and they gave me the traction I needed to make it to the door.”

Another Southerner who braved the wintry conditions was Ken Shelley, who went out to his driveway to check on the condition of his vehicle.

“I’m not insane enough to try to drive the thing, but I thought at least I could sweep some snow off the roof,” said Shelley.

The South Charlotte man used what he called a “four-wheel drive equivalent” to navigate his way about ten feet down the slope of a small incline.

“It’s probably more like six-wheel drive,” he said. “I get down on my hands and knees and crawl like a baby over the icy pavement. I have contact with two hands, two knees and two feet, so I feel I’m pretty likely to survive the trip without a skid.”