This IS My Day Gig!
by Hardin Butcher
LONG ISLAND New York—(Weekly Hubris)—4/11/11—Ahhh, spring. What could possibly be more universally welcomed than the return of warm weather, baseball, and the faint, glimmering hope of another sunny summer?
And what a winter we’ve just wrapped up here on Long Island! It seems like every week there was at least one new reason to break out the snow shovel and the windshield scraper (my duties as house-husband include such seasonal tasks; I’m also on spider patrol when the local arachnid population heads indoors, en masse, in November). The school district where my wife teaches had a record number of snow days this past winter. We barely saw the ground from Boxing Day to early March. (And, when we did, there was nary a spider upon it.)
To nearly every red-blooded man, woman, and child in the northeast U.S. of A, spring has come to embody renewal, the hope of fair weather and the bucolic bliss it brings; a winking guarantee from Up There that the cold, shivering days are on the shelf for the time being. We even take it upon ourselves to manipulate the nature of time itself, setting our clocks back earlier and earlier every year, in anticipation of more light in our sky, more time outside, more hours in the waking day. Give us light, warmth, spring and summer!
In fact, some folks might even argue that not liking spring and summer are among the most low-down, dirty, un-American things a person can do . . . or not do . . . and that harboring such ideas might be cause for the revocation of citizenship, the public humiliation of those with the gall to think such hideous thoughts, the administering of a good old-fashioned tar-and-feathering.
So, go ahead. Deport me.
I hate summer, and eye spring with only slightly less disdain. The sweating, the heat, the baseball; all of it makes me upset, not to mention rashy.
When I was a kid, I spent most of my time sweating. In Tennessee, I learned how to perspire at the knees of a master, my grandfather. When we moved to Alabama for my dad to get his masters degree, I earned a cum laude degree in crotch rot and pit stains. When, eight years later, we moved to south Mississippi for him to start a doctorate, I learned what humidity was really like.
To make matters worse, every Christmas we would get cards from relatives in Pennsylvania, Maine, New Jersey, and New York. Inevitably, they would be filled with pictures of my cousins in sweaters, sipping hot cocoa, on the ski slopes, clouds of their exhaled breath visible as though the very air were mocking me. I would gaze wishfully at them, then go outside to play with whatever Santa had brought me, more often than not wearing shorts and shirt sleeves.
My dislike of southern winters came to a head in the second grade. I was living in Huntsville Alabama, as close in that state as you can get to being in the north of anything. My teacher, a tender, loving blend of rattlesnake, tyrannical task master and the most despised old aunt imaginable, assigned us an art project at the beginning of December: draw a winter landscape.
My classmates, every single one of them, set about creating stunning worlds full of snowmen, mittens, sleigh rides and snow-flocked pine trees, the sort of scenes usually reserved for Currier and Ives tins and Bing Crosby movies.
I drew a picture of my friends and me walking through our Huntsville neighborhood to school, the browned grass of a typical Alabama winter crunching under our feet (a hard frost is difficult to depict in Crayola), our own breath barely visible, all of us decked out in light jackets. Frosty and Rudolph were nowhere to be found in my stunning vision of Southern realism, and the nearest sleigh ride was the on my parents’ record player, conducted by Arthur Fiedler. It was a veritable pre-pubescent existential masterpiece of longing and loathing.
I got a C-minus on my drawing, and a scolding from my teacher (“You KNOW what I WANTED you to draw!” she hissed at me, as though I had ruined her family portrait or painted her cat in the style of Jackson Pollack). Clearly, despite her venomous child-destroying ways, the woman was a sentimental Impressionist at heart.
There was, however, a brief and glorious time in my oh-too-early life, when—instead of hopping around the South like a crazed, sweating family of academic gypsies—we moved to . . . Colorado. We didn’t stay long, less than six months; but it was long enough to change my life forever.
Mere months after having suffered yet another sweltering summer in the deep South, I was high in the Rockies, careering down a freshly powdered slope on a toboggan sled, tongue lolling out of my mouth like a dog with its head out the back window of a car. Some of that glorious snow had gone down the collar of my down jacket (and all the layers underneath), and was sliding ever-so-surely down my back, headed for you-know-where, and fast.
I was in heaven. I was cool.
The fact that I had to surrender to the authorities and start kindergarten didn’t phase me in the slightest. My walks to school, even in October, involved gleefully trekking through snow the likes of which I had only experienced on trips to visit those lucky northern cousins of mine. Had my second-grade art project been assigned two years earlier, I would not only have been able to create the winter wonderland Miss Scorpion Breath so desperately wanted from everyone in Huntsville, but it would’ve also satisfied my own artistic need to keep it real.
Of course, we left Colorado shortly after Christmas. The second half of kindergarten found me back in Tennessee, morosely trudging up the hill to school in the enormously disappointing January rain. My entire life from then until the tenth grade, when we moved to Ohio, was filled with an almost melancholy wistfulness for the cool, crisp, rarefied air of Colorado. That, and sweat.
Fast-forward to my current version of adulthood, when nearly every Long Islander at the grocery store stares at me, aghast, as I stroll through the aisles in the middle of winter, wearing flip-flops and a T-shirt (sleeveless fleece vest entirely optional). I brush it off, telling myself that their abhorrence of the cold is a lot like my abhorrence of the heat.
Besides, they’re the ones who will end up living in Florida, South Carolina, Arizona, or some other warm place. And I bet you anything that, when spring rolls around, they’ll start complaining about the heat.