Snow Business

After finally digging out from the 27 inches of snow that fell on the nation's capital-a city founded on a simple democratic principle: "What's a snowplow?"-it's time to look back at the beauty of it all and appreciate what could only be described as a "winter wonderland." Or, maybe "house arrest."

Actually, being housebound for almost five days was a real gift to our family. It gave us an unexpected opportunity to enjoy being together and have the kind of intimate fellowship that families seldom experience. And for good reason. You go nuts with all that intimate fellowship.

It was the worst snow in 50 years. It was so bad that one radio station played the shower scene music from Psycho during weather forecasts ("This just in: More snow." EEK!EEK!EEK!EEK!) And Washington's mayor was not reassuring when he announced his strategy for dealing with the blizzard: "Wait for spring."

The snow made things even harder for the federal government, which was already closed by stalled budget negotiations. Fortunately, because of a generous contribution from the National Rifle Association, the House of Representatives was able to remain open.

To be honest, the blizzard had its good points. We've been waiting years to go sledding, for example, and I'd forgotten how much fun it is to rush down a hill on a soft bed of fresh snow for a few yards before separating from your sled, then sliding the rest of the way down on your stomach, scooping a cubic yard of snow down your neck. Fortunately, you have on lots of extra layers of clothes, which immediately turn the snow into ice water on your bare skin. I'd forgotten how much fun that is. Which is why we only did it once. (We stopped because I was using up too much Chapstick on my chest.)

THERE ARE a lot of fun things to do when you're stuck inside the house. For example, I got to teach my daughters "Crazy 8s," a card game from my childhood that gave me hours and hours of laugh-out-loud fun.

Not interested. Instead they taught me their card games: strange, brutal games like "Scum," "Frog Juice," and "Spit," which entails a frenzy of drawing and discarding in a race to see who can be the first to slap their hands violently down on the table.

Amiable father: Can I play this card here?

Daughters, laughing condescendingly: Sure, Dad. But then...WE GET TO DO THIS! [Slap! Slap! Slap!]

Who taught them these games? Satan?

Being cooped up for a week, I also learned important social lessons from my wife, who helpfully pointed out: "No, I'm not retaining water. I'm wearing EVERY SWEATER I OWN! Now turn up the heat or I'm going to start burning stuff, beginning with the pile of back issues from that silly magazine you work for!"

Speaking of grumpy, our cats also hated being stuck in the house. Naturally, they prefer to be outdoors, where every day offers new experiences, challenges, and adventures, which they totally miss, of course, because all they do is sleep on the porch.

But during the blizzard, Blackie and Whitey sat by the kitchen window staring out at the bird feeder. While dozens of plump little birds flitted back and forth, the cats drooled, quivered, and frequently thumbed through their copy of the Audubon Field Guide to Flying Snacks. (Whitey: "Ooh, yummy. Look that one up." Blackie: "Let's see. Purple Finch. Slightly tangy flavor. Best eaten outside. Serves one."

BUT, IN ALL MODESTY, I'm a good man to have around in a snow emergency. I know just what to do: Start panicking about milk.

"But you don't drink milk. And we've got two gallons in the fridge," said my wife, obviously at the breaking point. I tried to calm her down by reassuring her: "WE'VE GOT TO HAVE MILK! WE'LL DIE IN HERE IF WE DON'T HAVE MILK! AND WE'RE OUT OF THOSE LITTLE BATHROOM CUPS, TOO. WE'LL NEVER MAKE IT!"

Obviously, we were reaching the end of our rope. ("OH NO! WE'RE OUT OF ROPE!!") It's like that when you're snowed in. You're reduced to primal instincts. You revert to the time of prehistoric cavepersons, when people spent their day hunting wooly mammoths and hoarding toilet paper. ("OH NO! WE'RE OUT OF THOSE WOODEN POINTY THINGIES... WHADYA CALL THEM? ARROWS. WE'LL NEVER MAKE IT THROUGH THE WINTER!" "It's spring." "WHATEVER!")

So I bravely struggled to our snow-bound car (or, as we called it, the "large white mound with windows"). I had my shovels, the tire chains, and the tire chain instructions.

STEP ONE: Determine if your car is front-wheel or rear-wheel drive.

STEP TWO: You haven't the faintest idea, do you?

STEP THREE: Take instructions back inside and have spouse explain it.

OK, so I hitched a ride. What's the big deal? Anyway, I get to the store and it's London, 1943. Empty shelves everywhere. People pushing, yelling, getting angry. And just because I removed a few items from their carts.

In one store, all four meat coolers were completely empty except for a dozen packages of...beef tongue. About two pounds each of pinkish, cellophane-wrapped cow muscle. ("Hey kids, guess what we're having tonight? Give up? ...It's TONGUE!") Actually, just the sight of a cow tongue was enough to make me stop eating meat. (It's also enough to make you stop smoking, gambling, cursing, burping out loud, spitting in public, and claiming false deductions on your taxes. I'm telling you, one look at a beef tongue and you know the fear of the Lord.)

At the hardware store, on another foolish trip out of the house, I asked the cashier why the snow removal crystals cost $27.50 for a 10-pound bag. In a fit of honesty, she replied: "It's simple. We're gouging." Doesn't a blizzard just bring out the best in people?

Wait! Ineed more space. Ihaven't even talked about the surprise meal the kids tried to make us. ("Mom, Dad, don't worry about the smoke alarm. We're broiling something for you." )


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