Back when I was a kid living in, you guessed it, Chicago* winter was full of the awesome. That is, until January hit, you’d successfully squeezed out every magic drop of Christmas present goodness – hell, you’d even made “my monkey butler Mr. Snappy” out of the boxes your presents came in – and you suddenly remembered why you loathe winter. Because it’s ass piled on ass, snowing ass, and your boogers freeze when you step out the front door.
The moment school’s back in session after Christmas Break (no, we weren’t so weirdly PC back then) it began. Every day, you’d call some random number listed by the phone called “time and temperature” and they’d tell you the forecast.See kids? We DID manage to live without an iPhone app that alerts you about all the weather-related things that might affect you – like somewhere on another continent, a brush fire has broken out and OMG DO SOMETHING even though it’s glaringly obvious to anyone with half a brain that there’s no way you’re going to travel to some country you can’t pronounce with a bucket of water – the TSA has banned water along with breathing, smiling, and hope.
Most of the time, some grainy-sounding, vaguely female voice would inform you what you already knew - it was ass cold. It would be ass cold at noon and ass cold when you went to bed.
One of those rare moments, though, you’d hear from the equally grainy voice that WEATHER was going to happen and it was PROBABLY going to be BAD! As adults, we groan and think about how this is going to make our toes physically freeze and fall off our body into wee toe Popsicles while we commute to and from work. As kids, though, this was the beginning.
The beginning of the feverish prayers for a snow day. For me, it’d go something like, “Dear God, I think this is how I pray or something. Can you please make it snow tomorrow so the schools are closed? And, can you make the person on the radio with the boring voice swear? Thanks, Jesus Christ, Amen.” As though God had better things to do than to make it snow so some random Midwestern child could avoid school.
Then, the questioning began. Because I wasn’t raised by helicopter parents, my own parents always looked semi-shocked when I walked into a room, like, “Wait, who IS this chi…Oh right, we had another kid.” But when a possible SNOW DAY was MAYBE GONNA happen, my parents couldn’t help but pay attention to me. Mostly because I badgered them at least every three minutes to “call the school” to see if it had been cancelled yet. Didn’t matter if there wasn’t a single flake of snow falling or if the front yard had suddenly turned into a tropical paradise, I’d pester them just the same. My shrill cries eventually gave way to this conversation:
Young AB: “Mooooooooooom, can you call the school now?”
My Mother: “Rebecca**, I called ten minutes ago. Nothing has changed since then.”
Young AB: “How ’bout now?”
My Mother (doing her best to ignore me)
Young AB (determined to NOT allow my mother to forget my existence for a single moment): “MOOOOOOOOOOOOOM! PLEASE CALL THE SCHOOL! I MIGHT NOT HAVE SCHOOL TOMORROW!”
My Mother: “Not-so-subtle method of getting me to call, huh?”
Young AB: (smiles proudly)
Eventually my mother broke down and gave me the number so that I could call and listen to the tinny voice tell me that school was, for now, still on. And the next day, I’d wake up, hopeful that I’d get to spend the day drinking cocoa and relaxing by the fire on a bearskin rug while my (box) monkey butler, Mr. Snappy fed me grapes. Didn’t matter that I both loathed cocoa and we didn’t own a fireplace OR bearskin rug and that Mr. Snappy had gone through too many incarnations of box creations to even resemble cardboard.
I’d scramble to the phone and punch in the coveted numbers only to hear a bored-sounding lady (I think it was the school secretary, but I can’t be certain) say the same thing. Which was, essentially, “School’s in session. SUCKER.” Okay, the SUCKER was implied, but you get the drift. School was on. No fireside chat with Mr. Snappy.
I’d forget all about the ass cold and focus on more interesting pursuits like counting the piles of ice-encrusted poos in the backyard and determine if our dogs did, in fact, shit in patterns. (answer: no) Then, one morning out of the fucking blue, I’d wake up to find my mother staring forlornly at the phone. Groggily, I’d ask her what was wrong.
Choking back a sob, she’d reply, “You have a *weeps* snow day today!”
Suddenly I’d be wider awake than I’d ever before been and scrambling through the house to find pieces of my winter gear. I’d shove my legs into my snow pants, not caring that the pants had somehow eaten one of my beloved cute kitten socks, knowing I’d regret it later when my boot had filled with slush. I’d scuttle out the door, all “I can’t move my arms!” as the gang of neighborhood kids began to run out of their front doors.
*click* I’d hear as my mother locked the door behind her, still crying over the implications of a snow day.
I haven’t had a snow day since Jesus copied my math homework.
That is, until Monday. All week the week before, I’d heard various reports of a cold wave hitting Chicago on Monday – all with varying degrees of hysteria – and I promptly laughed. With varying degrees of sarcasm. Cold? In Chicago? In JANUARY? Why, I NEVER!
Until Monday. When it was -50 degrees BELOW zero. Because “death by commuting” seems an awfully pathetic way to go, I decided that I probably wasn’t going into the office. Neither was my coworker Lauren. Or Adam. Or Chris. Or Ryan. Or, quite frankly, MD, my boss.
The kids, trapped at my house until further notice also had a snow day. I’d hoped to miraculously find an adult-sized snowsuit in my coat closet so we could romp around in the snow together, but alas, there was nothing. Besides, it was so cold that the Weather Channel finally stopped reporting on the fish*** and started saying things like, “drink a gallon of water before going out doors,” and throwing around hypothermia like it was a hip new band.
So we stayed in. For two straight days while the world shut down. In fact, our snow day(s) could easily go on record as the laziest snow day(s) in the history of snow day(s) ever.
Also? The best.
*Motto: 4/5 governors impeached!
**My parents are the only human beings who call me “Rebecca,” which means that whenever I hear it, I’m instantly on guard, as though I’m in terrible trouble.***Won’t someone think of the fish? ————– Am I the only person who remembers snow days as lasting approximately 89 hours and filled with the most fun stuff in the history of ever?
Before you click away, horrified that I’m about to launch into a detailed description of a dream I had about my cats going snowboarding, don’t worry, Pranksters. I know the painful retelling of dreams is second only to memes as “most annoying thing on the Internet*.”
In the Paleolithic era, when my inbred cousins were dinosaurs, I was a small child. Let’s call me “Young Aunt Becky,” because that makes the assumed familiarity sound a lot more white trash. My parents were hippies, hopelessly stuck in an era of Wall Street Boy Wonders snorting piles of coke of three thousand dollar an hour hookers, and mullet-ed Trans Am owners trying to get chicks in bikinis to lay on their car hoods while Whitesnake blasted in the background. Needless to say, they were entirely lost in this brave new world.
(pointless sidebar: weren’t we all?)
We we were a civilized bunch, if it killed my mother, we’d attend the ballet, the symphony, and the opera. While my friends visited Salmonella-infested water parks during their “family days,” my parents dragged us to look at the dusty rocks that had once resided in the pancreas of Catherine the Great. You tell me who won on “family fun days.”
And you can forget listening to Bret “I Have VD” Michaels croon about roses and thorns – that shit was beneath us. While the rest of the world fawned over Axl Roses’s mullet, we listened to public radio. All day. Every day. Most of the time, I tuned it out.
That was, of course, until the day I heard one of the commentators on NPR lose their fucking shit. See, for those of you not forced to listen to tragedies about billions of babies dying in a country I couldn’t locate on a map, public radio does their own ads. So instead of hearing Billy Mays screaming in the middle of a coke binge about my “whites getting even brighter!” It would just be one of the droning voices reading ad copy into the microphone.
And, I learned that day, it was live.
I couldn’t have been more than eight the first time I heard someone say the word “pube” on the airways. In fact, the word was so innocuous that I didn’t even recognize it for the comedy genius it is. There is no finer word in the English language than “pube,” my Pranksters. I continued going about whatever business it is that eight year olds have before I realized what was going on. My lizard brain recognized that something was gloriously rotten in the state of Denmark when I heard laughter – actual, real, laughter – emerging from the stereo. I dropped whatever I was doing and began to listen.Did NPR REALLY just say a naughty word?
Between giggles and guffaws, the commentator choked out a few words I did happen to recognize: “shit,” “it sounds so sexual *bwahahaha* just *gasps for air*” before someone interrupted and continued in the sober, drab, dull-as-dry-toast commentary I’d grown accustomed to.
That was my first experience with the miracles of naughty words on NPR. And it left me with the singular desire to have more, MORE! debauchery, more nasty, more gross, more AWESOME words on public radio. For years, I suffered through other people listening to public radio in my presence – some would cluck their disapproval when some far-away land experienced a life-shattering earthquake, while I, having spent my young life listening to these tragedies, played an eternal loop of Britney Spears in my head. Accused once of “not caring” about the “social injustice in the world,” I merely laughed – this coming from a slacktavist who worked at a garage door company. I was in nursing school at the time.
Still, I listened diligently. And still, I heard nothing. No “pubes,” no “shit,” no maniacal laughter when someone fucked the shit up on NPR. Not a single naughty word on NPR was to be had; instead, I had to listen to people who spoke through a mouthful of grogginess in a sleep-inducing lull. And nothing. I’d nearly given up my dream of listing for naughty words on NPR.
That was, until Thursday, when I was finally able to cross an item off my ever-implausible bucket list.
I stepped into a cab Thursday morning, dodging the icicles hanging precariously from the tall building, glinting sinisterly in the early morning sun. I announced my intended address to the cabbie and away we went. I stared out the window, trying to rattle my brain into coherency as we drove, halfway listening to NPR while trying to connect still-asleep synapses.
And there it was.
Completely detached and speaking through a mouthful of marbles, an NPR announcer made my dream come true without even realizing it. Barely listening, my ears perked up when she said in a dull monotone, “Poo.”
While it’s not the “motherfucker,” I’d been praying for since I was 8, it was a damn good substitute. Like most people, I find the word poo hilarious, in part because my hippie parents insisted we refer to bodily functions as they were named. We did not shit. We did not piss. We “urinated.” We “defecated.”
I’m not in the slightest bit ashamed to admit that the word “poo” still sends me into gales of laughter. Which is precisely what I did when I heard it in the cab. I laughed until a stream of saline spurted from eyes and rolling down my face. My sides hurt. My back ached. I pulled an intercostal muscle. And I didn’t care. The pain meant nothing.
I had finally realized my dream. NPR said naughty words to the sounds of my thrilled – yet cold – ears. And, my Pranksters, there is nothing sweeter than that.
Somewhere, my parents are feeling an intense pull of pride toward their only daughter……or not.
*I am the second-most annoying thing on the Internet.
Okay, Pranksters, YOUR TURN – what’s the most ridiculous have on your “I must do this before I die” list? (I overarching loathe the term “bucket list”)
Of all the new year cliches, none seem to be more true that the people who fill gyms, yoga classes and fitness centers on January 1st. I’m what you could call “a gym class regular”, not a hero, not a meathead, not even an enthusiast, but a dude who noticed his fitness joint when it opened, got on the ground level membership pricing, and goes enough to justify the amount that comes out of my checking account each month. I’m familiar with the treadmill, the yoga mats that I do push ups and sit ups on, and the bench press area. I know how to sweat and maintain my mediocre build of 43-year-old Campbell Soup Can. I put the stock in stocky.
It’s been three and a half years since I joined my gym and I like it. There are meatheads with gallon jugs of distilled water and a duffel bags full of stuff that I assume are Barry Bonds approved “supplements”, but I haven’t done any journalism to confirm. There are a lot of people who look like me, middle-aged, graying in the usual areas and proud of their one-hour sweat three or four times a week. I’ve even traded hellos, how ’bout them local sports teams conversations and dude, can I spot you on the bench moments with a few others.
When I walked into my local ligament pull this morning, January 1, 2014, I expected swarms of newbies. I mean I read Facebook, the Twitter, and Instagram. Everyone I kinda sorta know is going to change for the good and make 2014 their bitch.
The parking lot was full. I smiled, pulled into one of only two spaces available, scooped up my workout gear and went inside. You could smell the temporary enthusiasm. It was combination of the Target makeup counter and human mothballs from the last time people hit the mills and weights. The girl behind the counter checked me in. She’s my oldest daughter’s age, 18, and sarcasm is her co-pilot.
“Welcome to Jungle, for now.”
I laughed at her line and dodged two women dressed in clothes that cost more than my entire wardrobe then bumped into six different dudes trying to find a locker in the men’s area.
“Hey man, thought you’d skip this week, glad you didn’t. More tales to tell this way, huh?”
The gravely voice belonged to Pete. Pete looks like George Peppard when Peppard played Hannibal Smith on The A-Team. I’ve always assumed Pete loves it when a plan comes together. One day I’ll smoke a victory cigar after we take out some rouge military guys. I didn’t respond, because once you talk to Pete, you’re in for a ride that doesn’t let up for a while. I smacked his arm with my right hand and laughed then found my favorite locker, number 23.
The floor of the fitness center looked like those news clips you see of the Wall Street Stock Exchange. People were everywhere, like ants all up in a picnic. My gaze caught one treadmill open so I made a line for it. It was in front of a TV playing Fox News Channel. This was going to be a painful 25 minute rat race. I noticed the guest on Fox & Friends was an astrologer. I was amused. Someone forgot to tell their producers and hosts that their network didn’t believe in science, fake or otherwise. But the sixty-year-old woman huffing next to me on her treadmill seem totally engaged. I tweeted my thoughts instead of saying them out loud.
After my run, I noticed my usual workout wasn’t possible. Everyone was on everything I needed so I started people watching. I saw the trainer guy crash and burn flirting with two girls who were working out in full make-up and earrings. I noticed a female muscle head throw a minor temper tantrum when one of the newbies left weights on a bar. Every few minutes a regular would notice me, nod their head and mouth “this sucks” or “six weeks” or “kill me” and I’d laugh. I wondered how many would stick it out and become average, run of mill, regulars like me. I saw two guys with major potential for mediocrity. They were polite, about to pass out and apologetic for getting in the way. They were even cuter than the ones who’d be gone in six weeks.
The music being played signified the new school attendee. Top 40 ruled. Strong women with children mouthed the words to “damn, she’s a sexy chick” and “I’m sexy and I know it”. While out of shape dudes couldn’t help themselves to classic Lady GaGa or Pitbull.
By the time the bench press machine was open and I could do my four sets, One Republic’s Counting Stars played. That line, “everything that kills me, makes me feel alive” said it all. That was why I was here on January 1, 2014, trying to feel alive at 43-years-old. After I finished making my chest and elbows feel like they were about to explode, I started counting stars, those people who wouldn’t be around in a month. I hold out some hope my cynicism is dead wrong. But for now, I say 4 out of 45 will be there trying to make themselves look good for their significant other son Valentine’s Day.Lance Burson is writer living outside Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and three daughters. He’s the published author of two books available on amazon for kindle and in paperback from Lulu.com – The Ballad of Helene Troy and Soul To Body. His favorite exercise is full body massage followed by whiskey.