I come to you today to issue an apology, not only from me but from all the people of Chicago and surrounding suburbs, including people in Gurnee and Gray’s Lake and even the Buffalo Grovesters, who didn’t know they needed to apologize.
But we do.
Because the whole polar vortex thing was not our finest hour and, in fact, it exposed us for the frightened little weenies we are.
Every winter, people in our area read from the same script whenever it snows or sleets or drops below freezing in Washington, D.C. or Atlanta or Memphis or any other town that’s south of 95th Street. We watch the video of the cars skidding or the closed stores and we bray like asses.
"What a bunch of wimps, whining about a little bit of snow or ice or sleet or hail. You’d never last a minute in a Chicago winter. Hah. Hah. Hah."
And what did we do last week when the polar vortex paid us a visit? We closed our stores and skidded our cars and posted memes about Chiberia and pointed out that it was colder here than in Antarctica. Except, of course, that it’s summer in Antarctica and temperatures above zero are what they call a heat wave.
Then, almost all of us enjoyed a day off like federal workers on a furlough (too soon?), pretending to work from home while we spent the day online. In other words, it was like pretty much any other workday for 75 million Millennials.
Yes, the polar vortex was absolutely cold and dangerous and a miserable thing, but Chicagoans need to take a lesson in stoicism from some of our northern neighbors. You know what they were talking about in Cotton, Minnesota? No, you don’t, because it isn’t a major media center and the entire population is three lumberjacks and a reindeer. Ditto for Norris Camp, Minnesota, although they just got their second reindeer.
When the temperature dropped last week to 56 below in Cotton and 48 below in Norris Camp, and even Cedar Rapids hit 30 below, the locals dealt with it. In Chicago, we were all beating our chests and sobbing—at the same time—about 21 below. Who’s the wimp now?
In Grand Forks, North Dakota, the local paper dismissed the whole month of January as cold, but not as cold as in other years. That’s what tough people do. They scoff at the also-rans and the nice tries. Come back when you’re a real man, Jack Frost. Clearly, I want someone from Grand Forks with me when the going gets tough.
Our alternating braggadocio and whimpering is a basic human condition, of course. We all need to be better than, smarter than, holier than, hardier than…even more-put-upon-than. It’s the same need that drives consumerism and elitism and racism and the insufferable smugness of political purists. We don’t just want to be special. We want to be more special than everyone else, even when we're not.
The fact is that winters aren’t nearly as bad now as they were when I was a kid, and not only because my grade school was swallowed by Mastodons. Back in the '60s, people worked in factories and had to show up at the plant if they were going to make anything. Now, we all sit at computers in coffee shops and communal workspaces, or we work from home when the mood strikes us. Weather simply isn’t the same issue it was in the old days.
Even better, we have the gig economy today. When Ma Nature dumped 23 inches of snow on the city during one day in 1967, we had no choice but to grab the sled and dig through the streets to buy some milk and bread at Jewel. Then we dug out the car and called dibs on the parking space until the thaw in June. Today, Instacart delivers our groceries and we leave our cars buried in the snow while we order rides from Lyft. Except for a handful of drivers, delivery people and the folks who keep the electricity flowing, we can all stay home and not be missed. In a few years, we won’t need any people at all.
Before then, I’m hoping my fellow Chicagoans will awaken from their weather benders and regret all the things we said last night(s). We were wimpy, whiny, little babies who sat at home and made screen shots of weather.com pages and craved the sympathy we deny to other cities when they get a few days that are colder than the norm.
I, for one, am so, so sorry, and embarrassed, and contrite and I want to send an especially sincere apology to the people who soldiered on, without complaint, through much worse conditions in Grand Forks and Cedar Rapids and Cotton and Norris Camp.
And your reindeer.
If those reindeer could read, they'd be signing up to subscribe to dadwrites and absorbing all our wisdom every week. Be sure to obtain a gift subscription for Prancer and Vixen, or for yourself, by clicking here. If nothing else, you'll have something to read if you're stuck inside during bad weather.
Every so often you get a brilliant idea. You wake up in the middle of the night and say, "GADZOOKS, THIS IS GENIUS!!" And maybe you grab a note pad by your bed and write down your $billion$ idea and then, when you wake up the next morning, you look at the note and try to figure out what you meant when you wrote, “put it online and phzilkygiiisz.”
I know how you feel. My penmanship, which is somewhere between doctor and dachshund, gets even worse in the middle of the night. If I could have read the notes about all my great ideas the next morning, I’d be so rich right now that I’d have someone sitting by the bed all night, just waiting to take dictation.
Until then, I’ll just have to content myself with the recognition that some of those billion-dollar ideas might not have panned out quite as well as hoped. For every idea that hits it big—Pet Rocks, Hula Hoops, carpal tunnel syndrome—another 500 turn out to be expensive flops. I know, because I invested in most of them.
There is something much worse than a bad idea that flops, however. Far more expensive and irritating are all the bad ideas that succeed. We are plagued daily by timesavers and solutions that cause much more trouble than they’re worth. They might have seemed like good ideas at the time, but they come from a box labeled Pandora. My own Hall of Shame includes:
The list goes on and on, but all this whining is tiring me out. Time for me to go take a nap and dream about some great new ideas to improve our lives. If we’re really lucky, I’ll forget all about them before I wake up.
Of course, the best idea of all is to subscribe to dadwrites.com and learn all the things we'll be mumbling about on the subway in the coming week. Just click here, or maybe here, or even here, and all your problems are solved.
Lots of strange thoughts pop into my head while I’m listening carefully to the menu options that have changed. Submitted this week for your consideration…
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When I posted last week about the depression that afflicts people around this time of year, some readers wondered if it was a cry for help on my part. Was I writing about the triple whammy of yearend, darkness, and holiday letdown because I am depressed by these things?
I'm a guy who loves cycling and dining al fresco and that day in June when the women on Michigan Avenue bring out their summer wear, so you’d think I’d be despondent now that winter is about to start. Don’t make any wagers on that assumption, however, because you could not be more wrong.
Continuing my unbroken record of strangeness, I am more likely to be depressed during the middle of the year than at its end. Like my Druid ancestors, I find reasons to celebrate and mourn the celestial cycle. And this is the week to celebrate Alban Arthan, the shortest day of the year.
The December solstice is a day of celebration for all Druids, not because winter is about to begin, but because the sun is at its southernmost average azimuth (NB: S&S) and the daylight will increase from here. The weather will still be crappy, but I’ll get to see more of it.
Chicago weather is ridiculously out of sync from our astronomical seasons, and almost never in a good way. Yeah, we get two 70-degree days every January, but it’s a head fake that’s followed by 100 days of penguin weather. Spring will arrive officially in March, but the thermometer won't get the memo until just after Memorial Day. Spring in Chicago is a myth, like the Easter Bunny and internet privacy protection.
When they say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, they mean we’ll still be wearing wool coats until June. And if you’re still wearing your winter coat, it’s winter, no matter what Tom Skilling tells you. “Spring” weather in Chicago is cloudy, rainy, windy and very, very cold. When the days are longer than the nights, I want to be outside, except I’ll be at risk of frostbite in Chicago until May.
Finally, summer arrives, but the June solstice is a day of mourning for me. The sun has reached its highest average azimuth (NB2: S&S.), so the daylight will do nothing but ebb away until December. Meanwhile, summer in Chicago is likely to begin with temperatures still in the 60s. (On June 22 of this year, for example, summer began with a high of 64 degrees in Chicago. Woo-hoo!!!) When astronomical summer begins, half the day>night days are gone, I’ve dined outdoors two times, and I’ve taken about half a bike ride.
The beginning of summer brings a sense of urgency to make patio dinner reservations and carpe all the diems. I start juggling my calendar to free up nights for dinners and days for bike rides, making and canceling plans as rain or wind intervenes in my neatly ordered world. By the start of August, half the summer is gone, the equinox is in sight, and the pressure builds. How much outdoor time can I cram into the next six weeks?
True fact: I sent Jill and the girls an email in August, warning them to expect crankiness and stress as I go through my summer-is-almost-over-the-sun-is-dying panic.
When the autumnal equinox arrives in September, it’s a minor day of mourning and a major relief. The nights will be longer than the days for the next three months, but the weather will continue to be summery for several weeks. I still have time for some bike rides and, even better, I can dine outside at sunset in October AND enjoy the early-bird special at the same meal. Twofer.
Finally, the days get shorter and the sky gets cloudier and the weather gets even rottener and I enter an acceptance phase. Just wait it out a bit longer, a few more weeks, and then a few more, and, at last, it’s Alban Arthan all over again.
The seasons turn. The sun begins its journey home. Let's party like it's 99.
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Spoiler Alert: If you’re under the age of 16 or you somehow made it through high school without reading Young Goodman Brown, you’re about to learn the surprise ending of the story. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
So, you know the scene in Young Goodman Brown, when the young, good man discovers all the elders and leaders and saints of the town are really devil worshipers? Yeah, Facebook is kinda like that.
I have hundreds of "friends" on Facebook and, I am so proud to say, I actually have met at least 28 ¾ of them. (Long story.) They look human, many hold down full-time jobs, pretty much none of them has a criminal record, and I have actually seen a few of them have a civil conversation with someone who is, um, not their kind.
But, late at night, under the cover of darkness and a taped-over webcam, they commune with evil and, like that young, good man of lore, I am caught by surprise, stripped of the innocence that I never thought to be a burden until now.
OMFG, did you just post a photo of our president looking like a simian? (We’re into our third term with this meme and the POTUS has changed, but this joke never gets old enough to die.) WTF, how are you still posting that story about the Jews who created AIDS to distract everyone from their plan to destroy the World Trade Center and get trick-or-treaters hooked on LSD tattoos? OMG, did you just demand the death penalty for (FITB)?
It gets worse, though. As bad as it is to see the oozing, rotting, grotesque, putrefying moldering masses of my friends’ souls online, I actually have to spend time with them IRL. There we are, at a dinner where they have been given knives, and I search frantically for the list of trigger words I must avoid. I know I can never say Obama or Trump, not if I hope to survive, but can I say black or Christmas or cis or fat or homeless?
On my daredevil days, or when life seems to have no meaning and I just don’t care, I am tempted to ask one of those questions that is sure to bring out the horrendously evil soul that lurks below the surface by day.
Nancy Pelosi’s still pretty hot, don’t you think?
Did Hillary erase her server before or after she killed Vince Foster?
I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but isn't it just a bit suspicious that you never see Charles Koch and George Soros in the same photo?
Is Donald Trump already our greatest president ever, or is Reagan still number one?
I think the meeting facilitators call these “ice breakers.”
Discovering the black hole of decency in so many of my friends has an upside for me. Once, when I was much more naïve, I thought I was as racist and sexist and homophobic and xenophobic and cis-centric and privileged as the next guy. But it turns out the next guy is just a little bit satanic and I am not even on the list of dishonorable mentions. I am feeling much better about myself these days, mostly because I am thinking much less of my Facebook friends.
(If you happen to be one of my Facebook friends and you are reading this, I am not referring to you, of course. It's those other people; you know which ones they are.)
Meanwhile, I have to go back and reread Young Goodman Brown to see how he coped with his new insights into his Good Book friends. As I recall, he returned home disillusioned, feeling betrayed, and he aged very fast.
I know how he feels.
BTW, you could check in on how I feel every week, simply by subscribing to our weird and occasionally intelligent rants. Just click here to subscribe.
Okay, so maybe I missed the boat just a little bit on this one.
When the girls were young, they loved the weeks after Thanksgiving when the Sunday papers were filled with “toy mazagines.”
They scoured the circulars like they were researchers at the Library of Congress, and the item they circled most often was Nintendo. Neither girl was big on Barbie or all that girly stuff like Little Miss Make-up and Junior Nail Salon, which saved me from joining in the fun for all ages and the blackmail-worthy photos that would follow.
What they did want, though, was a Nintendo console. Wanted, wanted, wanted, needed, needed, hadtohaveitbecauseitwasthemostimportantandbestestgameever. And I knew they would play it, because they loved to play Super Mario—or maybe they were just Mario Brothers then—at other kids' homes. You could take Stephanie to her cousins’ house, plop her down in front of the Nintendo and watch her get to level 847 within minutes. She wouldn’t get around to learning to read for another year or two, but learning Nintendo was worth the effort.
Dad, on the other hand, viewed video games as a waste of time and a missed opportunity for learning. Educational games, smart games, games like chess and that thing where you flipped the cards and had to remember where the matches were—those were the games for my girls.
So I decided to let the other kids rot out their minds while I gave my children the gift of a refined intellect, superior analytical skills and only a remote risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
I bought them (imagine a drum rolllllllllllll….) Socrates, the “educational video system” that “stimulates children’s minds” and “helps them become better students.” And all of it was true! Through Socrates, the girls learned some incredible lessons that have stayed with them and influenced their thinking to this day. Lessons like:
Ah, the lessons that last a lifetime.
Also, Socrates provided a lifetime of opportunities for the girls to remind their father that they were, um, disappointed by his choice. They capitalized on that opportunity relentlessly, telling strangers everywhere that they were cheated out of a normal childhood, condemned to solitary confinement with a Socrates console.
"Look, Lin-Manuel Miranda just won his 9,000th Tony Award. He must have had Socrates when he was a kid. Isn’t that right, dad?"
"Yes, Mr. cabdriver, I'm 27 years old and I can sing the entire ABC song because my dad got me Socrates. Aren't you so proud of me, dad?"
"I’m glad your surgery was a success, but getting new kidneys isn’t nearly as great a gift as when my dad bought me Socrates. Hey, dad, remember that year?"
I get it, kids. You’re being just a bit sarcastic, aren’t you?
I can’t say I regret the choice, though, because Socrates has been a running gag and a family story for a long time. Many years of therapy have relieved the girls of some of the post-traumatic disorders they developed without Nintendo. And my daughters are now so much more sensitive to the needs of others, mostly because I destroyed their dreams and hopes when they were tots.
A couple of years ago, the girls bought me a Socrates console they found on e-Bay or Craig’s List or somewhere. We couldn't play with it, of course, because it doesn't have a USB port or an HDMI cable any other connector that would work with a video screen today.
But connectivity isn't the real reason I haven't played with Socrates yet. Truth be told, I’m waiting for them to get me a Nintendo.
(While the kids are out shopping for my Nintendo console, you can give me another great gift by sharing this post with a friend or two and, by all means, subscribing to our occasional rants. Just click here to subscribe, and thanks much for reading.)
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.