There's a woolly mammoth in the room. It's impossible to overlook. Everyone wants to talk about it, needs to talk about it, is obsessed with talking about it. Our mutual complaints against it can take up the bulk of conversations we once might have had about art, or philosophy, or butterflies. It demands our attention and we are helpless in the face of it. Whatever could this metaphorical mammoth be, dear reader? A hint: The two-word phrase I'm thinking of rhymes with mold and heather.
I had planned to write my column about the sheer doggedness of the cold weather despite the fact that I wrote a similar column last April, as devoted readers may remember (hi Dad!). In that column, I mentioned that I was growing a spite-beard that I wouldn't shave off until it hit 70 degrees. Growing the beard was a symbolic form of empowerment, an intentional act. How things have changed: Today, February 20, I am sporting a bushy chin halo akin to the beard I shaved off last spring, but I cannot remember when I started growing it. There was never a moment when I thought, "Grow a beard, dingbat, so your cheeks won't freeze." It seems to have just happened, as if my face sprouted it of its own accord as a defense mechanism.
I had prepared a litany of invective and histrionics about the cold and its occupying army of frozen snowbanks. I was ready to rip winter a new one. Because it feels personal this year, doesn't it? Like it's bad karma boomeranging on us. Somebody did something really bad and we're all paying the price.
Then our political columnist, Larry Beinhart, filed his column ("United States of Hysteria," page 21), taking Northeast Public Radio's Alan Chartock to task for complaining about the weather. A bit of a pointed takedown, actually, but it's in the context of a larger point Larry makes about the media's fear machine. Besides, Dr. Chartock has undoubtedly suffered worse hectoring than being told to go out and enjoy the snow. And Larry's right. We should all go out and make the best of it. I'm not exactly sure how that's done when it's 8 degrees and there's 20-mile-an-hour winds, but I'm going to try. The dog is game.
So, I invite you to try an experiment with me: Let's talk about anything else besides the weather. Whenever you find yourself about to go off about the hateful climatic conditions and its effects on your temperament, talk about something pleasing. Tell a silly joke instead. Complement your conversational partner on how lovely their sweater is. Make a recommendation about a good book you've read lately. Trade a recipe. Talk about anything else. In that vein, here are some other things we're talking about this month in the pages of Chronogram:
Born Too Soon
Hillary Harvey takes on the subject of sibling rivalry in the Kids & Family section this month. One of things she uncovered surprised me. As the oldest of four siblings, I always assumed that in addition to being the smartest and most handsome, I was also the most adventurous. But according to Frank Sulloway, a psychology professor that Hillary interviewed, this is not usually the case. While firstborns are generally more confident and successful than siblings further down the line, they tend to align themselves with their parents' traditional thinking in order to preserve the natural (and deserved!) favoritism shown them. Firstborns are risk averse, unlike their siblings, who, realizing that their parents don't love thsem as much as their oldest sibling, will never love them as much as their oldest sibling, take chances. Laterborns become stunt people and artists. Firstborns become bankers, lawyers, and middle managers. I never wanted to be born later in the birth sequence until now.
Thought you knew everything about your rightful place in the birth order? Hillary has some other sibling secrets to unpack in "Spawn Vs. Spawn" (page 36).
When I attended SUNY New Paltz in the late `80s, the college was not the academic powerhouse it is today. Having been denied admittance to a couple other SUNY schools, New Paltz was my fallback. At the time, the only list the college was likely to find itself on was the High Times 100, a monthly compendium of items of interest to the stoner set. Fields west of the main part of campus were still known as the Tripping Fields from their Jefferson Airplane concert-era days, and the school had a lingering whiff of bong water about it (at least in my room). So, when I read that SUNY New Paltz ranked first in the country in on-campus drug arrests (While You Were Sleeping, page 20), I was filled with a heady mix of nostalgia and pride. It's heartening to know that my alma mater, despite its hard-won academic bona fides—it is now the most difficult SUNY school to get into—still has one Birkenstock in its druggy past.
As Cold As the Stars
The weather even caught the attention of our astrologer, Eric Francis Coppolino, this month ("Waiting for the Big Thaw," page 98). The good news, he notes, is that the astrological chill that an unusually powerful Mercury retrograde cast over most of February is loosening its grip.
Department of Corrections
In a restaurant profile in our February issue ("Best of the Wurst"), we erroneously described the Gunk Haus as being located in Highland. The restaurant is, in fact, located in the nearby hamlet of Clintondale. Thanks to the numerous residents of Clintondale who wrote in to point this out. Go Clintondale!
In "Spill the Beans," a photo essay on the coffee culture of the Hudson Valley, we got the name of Kingston-based Hudson Coffee Traders wrong. We added a word to their name that should not have been there. I'll let you guess what it was.