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Campus sits west of the Chicago river, at the circle interchange of the Kennedy and Eisenhower expressways.  In the 60s UIC wedged its way into and consumed Chicago’s Little Italy, grew tentacles into the near west and south sides.  At one time called Circle Campus after the knot of concrete ramps where the two arteries bisect, it was built similarly of concrete in a style called Brutalism, emulating Soviet public housing, “riot proof,” with double-layer covered walkways akin to parking garages, an open-air amphitheater and massive concrete wheelchair ramps to 2nd floor entries reiterating the circle motif.  A miniature replica of an Eastern Bloc city, and likewise now with crumbling concrete, permanent scaffolding erected to protect students and faculty milling on (and off) grass lined footpaths under trees that replaced the severe web of covered walkways in the 90s.  The circular quad in front of 24-story University Hall underwent a decade-long project (that should’ve taken about a year) to add grassy knolls, flowered borders, and (perhaps a reminder of Brutalism) tile-lined fountains that rarely run because they’re broken.  But I walk campus without envy for Northwestern, University of Chicago, DePaul, or Loyola.  They have tradition, bigger trees, a vine-covered brick building probably called “Old Main.”  We have Brutalism.  It’s where part of me –  a native Californian – lives, has lived for almost 20 years.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about pain, death, misery and failure. I tend to think about these things in January, and I doubt I’m alone. This year, as with last year, I find myself underemployed, with a Jack Torrance-grade case of cabin fever. It’s a cyclical phenomenon, as I am sure other freelancers – and anyone in retail – can confirm. Also (fun fact!) corporations tend to fire people at the tail end of the old or start of the new year, so I imagine that right now there are many other lonely, bored, depressed shut-ins among us. Obviously we’ll never meet since we never leave our increasingly smelly apartments, but I have a pretty good feeling you’re probably trawling the internet right now looking for an antidote to your misery or Googling the phrase “painless ways to die.” I dedicate this post to you.

Now that we’ve gotten the awkwardness of the first suicide joke out of the way (one of many more, I hope!) I’d like to offer you some comfort. I will partly do this simply by being me, which tends to make other people feel better about themselves. For example, right now I’m suffering from a unique confluence of agonies, as I’m both looking for a day job and submitting my freshly completed novel to literary agencies, thus putting myself on the receiving end of a two-front assault of disappointment and rejection. I should have probably staggered the attempts. Oh well.

Another thing I can do to help you: offer you amusement. Here’s a fun game you can play to help pass the time. Close your eyes, relax, and take a moment to scroll through your memories. Good. Now: try to pinpoint the exact moment in your life when you went so irreparably wrong and screwed everything up forever. It could be a job or a lover you turned down out of arrogance and to your everlasting regret. It could be an offhand remark you made that alienated the last of your friends. Maybe you regret mooning the German finance minister that summer in Dusseldorf. It doesn’t matter. Without ever having met you, I can’t tell you exactly where you went terribly wrong.

I have my own contenders. I’ve narrowed it down to about five non-consecutive occasions that I’m not about to go into here. (I’m a job-seeker for god’s sake. I admit no weakness. Future employers who may be reading this: I am a paragon of robotic perfection. I’ve never done anything wrong, and I did not just accidentally burst a hot-water bottle on top of several important licensing agreements.) Anyway, let’s just say that self-recrimination can be a fun and free way to pass an afternoon.

Another fun thing you can do is ponder the shocking, visceral spectacle of the First World War. You can do this through the prism of Downton Abbey if you’d like, since it’s always good to remain current and feel like you’re a part of cultural phenomena. (It’s also fun to marvel at the different ways the show’s writers arrange for Cousin Matthew to be on leave in every single episode.) There are few things more comforting to me than the tragic, troubling sweep of human history. I mean, the Great War was so calamitous, so poorly managed and so disastrously run that my own small mistakes become much easier to stomach by comparison. Take, for example, the ill-conceived attack by Britain’s 1st Rifle Brigade and 1st Somerset Light Infantry on December 19th, 1915. This daring daylight charge was to have two prongs: first, an artillery barrage was supposed to destroy the German barbed-wire entanglements; second, an overland rush by the foot soldiers, who theoretically would be able to walk right over the downed wire and into enemy camps. Just in case the artillery barrage failed, though, the soldiers were supplied with straw mattresses, which they were to lay over any remaining wire. Inevitably, the barrage failed completely and the soldiers, staggering under their 60-pound gear kits and ridiculous straw mattresses, caused open-mouth Germans to stare in disbelief when they saw them approach. Well, stopped them for about five seconds. Then the Germans shook it off and commenced total slaughter.

Whatever stupid things I’ve done, I have not yet caused the death of a million men. See? Perspective.

Sometimes, though, on particularly bad days, I have to reach even farther back. In my very darkest moments, nothing from the 20th century will do. I have to go all the way back to the 14th, a hundred-year period of unremitting famine, misery, disease, plague, war, and death. That century opened with two or three frigid winters in a row, and unseasonable cold marked its first decade or so. (The cold didn’t let up until 1700; historians call it “The Little Ice Age.”) Naturally, this led to a shorter growing season, which in turn meant certain starvation for a populace already too big to support itself. In 1315, it rained incessantly, crops failed again, and full-on famine resulted, leading to malnourishment and thus disease. People were reported to have murdered their own children for food, and a famine-ravaged village in Poland even resorted to taking down and eating corpses in gibbets. Famine would occur again in 1316 and 1317. What else you got? Papal schisms? Check. Violence? Yes. Social unrest? Ooh! Peasant revolts? Keep talking. A hundred-year war?! The Black Death!? Yes, please!

But in my world, the true urtext for this longest, darkest season of the soul is (naturally) Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. Sometimes I don’t even have to read the book all the way through to achieve catharsis; sometimes all I need are the dark, foreboding scenes before winter even strikes, when Pa sees the unusually thick walls of the muskrat nests and muses, “I’ve never seen them that thick.” I can just imagine the cold, dark horror that awaits them in the long months to come, and it’s enough.

In The Wilder Life, Wendy McClure writes evocatively of Rose Wilder Lane, Laura’s less-then-beloved daughter. Apparently, she was kind of a little shit and nobody really liked her. She grew up angry, bitter and discontented – she hated her parents’ poverty – and lived a frustrated life as an artist who never really achieved fame. She won some awards for her short stories but it was her mother’s legacy, not hers, that lived on. Modern fans visiting the Laura houses-turned-museums bypass the glass display case of Rose memorabilia with barely a murmur of interest: “Most of us had no use for someone like Rose, whose Bitter and Complicated life was at least as imperfect as our own,” McClure writes. People would rather hear about a family beset by blizzards and locusts than a girl whose mild and trivial problems mirror their own. The trouble is, it’s always the trivial problems that get you down. Grand-scope misery is a relief compared to that. Why anyone would prefer tales of survival, resilience, and redemption over narratives of folly, misery, and failure, I don’t know. Secretly, I don’t think they do. If you read about the real-life Ingalls family in any depth, you’ll quickly learn they were massive fuck-ups just like the rest of us. At one point they were all reduced to working as servants in a hotel, and when they couldn’t pay their rent, the whole family had to flee in the night. Also: the reason they left their homestead in Indian Territory in Little House on the Prairie (I refer here to book two in the series)? They fucked up. Pa took a gamble squatting on Indian land and was busted by the government in the end. I think that’s the real reason people love the Ingalls family, they just won’t admit it.

I’ve decided the only sensible thing to do is go to Belgium.

Not just for war tourism, but out of a general curiosity. Much has been written about the legendary ugliness of the Belgian people, and I’m curious to see how this bears out in real life. “To this day,” writes W.G. Sebald, “one sees in Belgium a distinctive ugliness dating from the time when the Congo colony was exploited without restraint and manifested in the macabre atmosphere of certain salons and the strikingly stunted growth of the population, such as one rarely comes across elsewhere… I well recall that on my first visit to Brussels in December 1964 I encountered more hunchbacks and lunatics than normally in a whole year.”

This may be the place for me.

Just to clarify, I’m not moving there. I’m staying in New York for the time being (at least until poverty forces me to move in with my in-laws in Buffalo, or move back home to Canada where people live like kings). No, I’m just going for a weeklong sojourn. Who knows, maybe I’ll like it so much I’ll make regular visits; maybe I’ll find so much comfort in its war memorials that I’ll just keep going back, shuttling from NYC to Brussels until the money runs out, between my real life and my imagined life, forever rowing from one dark shore to another.

 

Snowfall: walking home.
We try for long days here, fight
the squeezing moon,

sharp-edged. We step
in wheel/foot furrows, dwell
in slick ponytails, clean white

collars. Contrast: fix extremes.
Hard to tell what is
and isn’t. Rimed branches,

coated grassblades glow
glass and I don’t. Watch:
the occasional raccoon, a father

with garbage bag and can
on the curb. No; I imagine
he’s a father. Me? Reluctant

mother without a baby. I’m a chooser.
Picture signs and breaking picket lines.
Shh. I want to be chosen

tonight. Come true, everything.
Starlight cellbright. I know;
that’s too much. But they both

seem so small and large. Listen:
Forgive it. Walk like your body is
precious, even if it’s just delicate

fear. Wrap yourself in awe.
Remember singing treble
First Noel: twelve years old,

long black skirt crisp white shirt,
hair a fire hazard. Tight
harmonies and bells.

Lines of teenage girls blowing out
candles, notes glittering white-
outs. Melt before you know
you’ve fallen. Walk home.

It’s getting colder in Christchurch.

The autumn leaves are turning to russet gold and the twilight skies are streaky pink like sliced salmon, but once the sun disappears behind the Southern Alps, a chill, fresh and frozen from the Antarctic,fingers its way into the broken city.

If you discount the dodgy crosswind twin-prop landings, the post-lunch deep-sea swims, the near-misses out on the autoroute, the closest I ever came to dying was in deep midwinter at Sugarloaf Mountain in Kingfield, Maine. Every winter my family traveled there for a week-long ski vacation, and in my eleventh year we rented the holy grail of all condos: the slopeside villa.

This week, I find myself cooking out of habit, then eating nothing or just picking around the perimeter of each nicely plated meal before packing the remains in plastic tubs. I have no appetite but am fixing delicious things, increasingly complex productions that fill my dollhouse-size apartment with perfect smells. In an effort to rationalize this situation, I shift from stewing over heartbreak to focus on science. While earning a nutrition degree, I learned we crave fatty things for their esters – compounds that carry smell and impart taste. From smell and taste, we derive pleasure and comfort, and from fats we derive fuel. The stuff that keeps our mechanical bodies going also plumps our hearts like pillows, in the figurative as well as literal sense. Fats are comforting and clogging. I also learned we crave sugar when there is a lack of sweetness in daily life. All I can stomach right now are Pink Lady apples and endless cups of honeyed hot milk. This indulgence and dependence is risky – artificial sweetness is inevitably succeeded by a bigger crash

 

“Oh my God,” I yelled, peering out the window. “Daddy’s had a heart attack. Wait here.”

I ran down the freshly paved path to the far end of my property where Ricky was lying face up, arms splayed, snow shovel at his side.

“What are you doing out here in pajamas?” he asked. “You’re going to get sick?”

“What the hell are you doing lying on the ground? I thought you had a heart attack.”

Soaked through his wool hat and down jacket, he looked like he’d been to a sweat lodge, not shoveling.

“I got tired. I’m taking a rest,” he added, laughing.

“Not funny.”

Marching back up the path I said to myself that’s it, next year we’re hiring a professional plowing service.

We live on a mountain precipice 500 feet above sea level. There are times when Nyack gets rain and we, high above it, get snow. Our property is a plowing nightmare. You need to walk roughly 40 feet along a stone path to get from our front door to the edge of the driveway. The driveway slopes westward, and precipitously downward. Last year we finally had it graded because it was nearly impossible to get cars out after a storm.

Our first winter here, a mortgage broker from the city came to our house (ah the good old days) to do a re-finance. It had snowed the day before. He walked up the path gingerly, wearing his pinstripe suit and laced-up brown leather shoes. “Welcome to the country,” we said. He thought it looked so charming — until he tried to get his car out of the driveway. After spinning his wheels, he and Ricky spent an hour digging him out.

“Let’s hire a professional plow company next year,” I’d said. “Don’t be ridiculous.” Ricky answered. “We’re rugged individualists. That’s why we live on this mountain.”

Winters two through four were pretty much the same. Not a terrible amount of snow, which made the job of plowing manageable

But 2010 was the year of the snow storm. By mid-February, I’d lost track of the inch/foot total.

We were woken at 4:40 am by a deafening scraping sound. Ricky flew out of bed and pulls up the shade. “Will you look at that?” he said, observing the McMansion across the street. “He’s got a plow service that comes in the middle of the night.”

At 5:30, more scraping. This time from the guy next to the McMansion, who has his own plow. Back and forth he goes, clearing snow, spitting gravel into the road.

By dawn, bzzzzzzzzz. Our neighbor who loves his power toys was blowing the snow.

“Hasn’t anybody around here heard of a shovel?” my husband grunts, unwilling to admit he has snow-removal envy.

A few weeks ago, I was home alone. Our path and driveway were an icy mess again from the most recent storm. Ricky had done a bit of plowing but I was afraid to go outside, let alone move the car. Looking out the window, I saw two men in sweatshirts carrying shovels over their shoulders. Either I was having a religious experience or this was my lucky day.

I ran out and asked if I could hire them to dig us out.

“Okay,” one said. “Forty dollar.”

I would have given him $50.

When Ricky came home that night he gave me a giant hug.

“Wow, sweatheart, thanks.”

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” I crowed.

Then the big one hit. 24 inches fell over 48 hours. It was paradise to behold. Julia said, “Mommy, it looks like the Nutcracker ballet out there,” and it did.

The next morning, Ricky started plowing the path. It was like watching someone try to empty the ocean with a spoon. I left Julia behind to finish the snowman we were building and trudged through waist-deep snow to the top of our driveway. I flagged down a guy with a plow on his car and offered to pay him.

He pulled into the driveway, and when he tried to maneuver the shovel with the car, his wheels spun. He was stuck. He wasn’t going anywhere, and neither was the snow. For the next hour Ricky and he shoveled out his car – which only made a small dent of snow clearing at the end of the driveway.

That night Ricky soaked in the tub, complaining how much his knee hurt.

The next day I called someone who sent two guys to shovel us out. They did a stellar job.

“So are you ready to get a professional service next year?” I asked Ricky.

“Why don’t we get a heated driveway,” he suggested, a clearly reasonable alternative to my preposterous suggestion.

 

 



 

On Thursday, February 25th, the power went out in my parents’ New Hampshire home. We weren’t alone; more than 350,000 residences and businesses statewide reported outages in the aftermath of a wind storm that ripped through northern New England, bringing gusts of up to 90 mph in places. The resulting damage was reported to be second only to the ice storm of December 2008. I fortunately wasn’t in New Hampshire for that particular storm, but after more than a year it is still a common topic of discussion. It has emerged as a prototype of the kind of awful winter weather that can befall New England. Many people, including my parents, were out of power for nearly a week in the wake of the ice storm. Talking to them and others it becomes clear the incident will continue to live in infamy for years. Apparently, it was so bad that my folks had to draw water from a stream and resort to going to the bathroom in the woods. (Though I suspect my father secretly cherished this.) People’s reflexive attitude towards the ice storm is indicative of the mindset of a New Englander: on the one hand self-pity for living in such a dismal climate, on the other a feeling of pride from toughing it out.

I am back home visiting my parents and have not had to endure a New Hampshire winter for several years. Since escaping the seasonal plight I have come to regard living in a warmer place akin to getting out of an abusive relationship. Now free, I look back and wonder how I allowed myself to be treated in such a brutish manner. But like revisiting a past relationship, there is also an affectionate familiarity to being home for winter. I fell back into my old hibernation habits without missing a beat, holing up and finishing a number of projects I never got around to in sunnier climes. One has to wonder if the Puritan work ethic would have ever come into existence had the pilgrims landed further south.

When the power went out it was approaching midnight and I was lying in bed watching basketball. The lights had been flickering for several hours as huge gusts of wind assailed the area. I wholeheartedly expected some sort of power loss and so when my room went black I didn’t wait for the lights to come back on. I settled in for a slightly earlier than normal bedtime, hoping that morning would see the restoration of electricity.

It didn’t.

My first action upon waking is to check my bedside light. Nothing. After that I get up and groggily stomp into the living room where as usual I receive a warm welcome from my parents’ three dogs. Before this anecdote continues it is necessary to point out that I am not a morning person. I’m not even an early-afternoon person.   For me, the only way to get through the early part of the day is to drink several cups of coffee in relative peace and quiet.

I scoop fresh grounds into the machine, pour the water in the back and press power. Nothing. This is because making coffee, like turning on a light, requires electricity.

I go downstairs and look for the box of camping gear I know contains the burner and percolator that will allow me to brew up a pot of coffee. This is already far more energy than I’m used to expending in the morning. I can’t find the box. I pick up the phone to call my mother. Dead. No electricity means no phones as well. But there’s still my cell phone. I dig it out of yesterday’s pants. Dead too. I plug it in for a quick charge before remembering that this also requires power. For those who would think me daft or who have never lived a day in a house without power, it is quite normal when it goes out to still try and activate all those items which require electricity. Our whole lives are so dependent upon certain things working that it’s almost unfathomable to flick a switch or push a button and not have those things work.

I scuttle from closet to closet looking for the camping gear. My parent’s golden retriever follows me around. His propensity to always be by my side is usually cute, but then again I’ve usually had my A.M. fix of legal stimulants. In my haste I almost trip over him. I cock my fist back halfway before catching myself.

“You are about to punch a golden retriever,” I think.

I am a calm, non-violent person and this dog is even more of a lovable lump than most Goldens. He is the Gandhi of Golden Retrievers. I almost punched Gandhi in the face because I haven’t had my morning coffee. I realize the implications of this abstractly but there is still only one order of business on my mind.

I slip on a coat and a pair of boots, grab my car keys and step outside. I’m shocked to see all of the down branches and other things that have been blown around the yard. Driving towards the store I see more devastation: branches are all over the road….huge branches…the kind that take down power lines…the kind that could signal no coffee at nearby establishments.

The local village shop displays zero signs of life. I continue to a nearby gas station with a Dunkin’ Donuts inside. I see no lights, but there are a few cars in the parking lot. A man comes out with a box of doughnuts. I resist the urge to grab him and ask, “Is there coffee?” I’m afraid of how I might react if he says no.

As I reach for the door it opens and a clerk ushers me into the darkened shop. It feels like I’m entering a speakeasy; I look behind me to see if I’ve been followed.

“We’ve got doughnuts and all baked goods as is and anything else in the store, cash only.” she says.

“Coffee.” I say. “Have you got coffee?”

“No.” she says. “Believe me, we want some too.”

Her voice trails off, as if she’s leaving it open for me to somehow come through with a connection. I feel like I’m in high school trying to buy weed.

I get back in the car knowing it’s hopeless to suppose any shop in the area has power or coffee. Back at home I turn on my laptop to see the latest news about power outages. I stare at the “This webpage is not available” message for several long seconds before I put two and two together. But what about my email? What if somebody left a comment on my blog that is going unanswered? How did my fantasy basketball team do? Has anybody “liked” my witty Facebook status from last night or replied to my epigrammatic Twitter post?

I sit at the dining room table, distraught. The dogs lie at my feet, seeming to sense that something is off. They obviously don’t appreciate the dire straits we are facing, but then again, sniffing each other’s crotches and digging up the backyard doesn’t require electricity.

When the lights go out, it feels a little bit like camping. Camping is great. I regularly set off into the woods to live an ascetic life for a few days. The difference is that when I camp, I brace myself for withdrawal from modern conveniences, even readily welcome it for a short spell.

This is not camping. This is me, at home, without coffee, without internet, without TV, ready to punch the King Charles Cavalier Spaniel if he keeps staring at me.

“Calm down.” I instruct myself. “At least it’s light outside. You can get some writing done.“

I sit in my customary chair, notebook open, pen at the ready. The words don’t come. It feels all wrong. There is no steaming cup of coffee by my side. I can’t read online news and make biting remarks to total strangers on comment boards when I reach an impasse. I’m totally lost. There’s only one thing I can do: sleep this day away….sleep until the power is back and life can resume…

I eat some plain bread and crawl into bed. The dogs join me. I rip off about an hour at a time of sleep. Each time I wake up I try my bedside light and each time the unsuccessful effort prompts me to go back to sleep.

At around lunchtime I manage to rouse myself. I eat some more bread and scour the pantry for caffeinated beverages. There is an old, flat bottle of Pepsi in the back. I drink most of what’s left. The caffeine injection rejuvenates me enough to read an issue of Newsweek. An editorial by George Will incites the desire to email the pundit a vitriolic response peppered with big words I find on Thesaurus.com. Then I remember…
Back to bed.

At about four o’clock I wake up. My mouth tastes disgusting. Brushing my teeth doesn’t require power but I couldn’t be bothered. My will to live has been diminished. Soon it will be dark. My parents will be home from work and we’ll be eating dry bread together by candlelight. It’s a lucky thing my father doesn’t keep firearms in the house.

But more worrisome is how long we’ll have to go without power. Judging by the destruction outside, it could be days….maybe a week. Can I possibly sleep away the entire time? I think of family in the area who wouldn’t be affected by the storm. I have distant cousins in upstate New York. If I start driving now, I can have internet by midnight…

The dogs leap off the bed, excited at somebody’s arrival. My dad walks in and sees me lying down.

“What are you doing in bed?  Are you alright?  It smells like farts down here. What, have you been lying in bed all day farting?” he says.

It doesn’t seem worth denying.

“Well get yourself out of your farty bed and help me with the generator.” he says.

“Generator…you have a generator?” I say, barely able to contain my joy.

“Of course we do.” he says. “I learned my lesson after that goddamn ice storm.”

I leap out of bed, dress myself and join my father in the shed. We drag the generator out and fire it up.

“Let there be light.” says my old man. And so there is.

Back inside, I brew a pot of coffee, extra strong. The internet and cable may be out, but I’m at least able to play X-Box. I slip in Grand Theft Auto IV. While perhaps not as satisfying as an anonymous, impertinent email to a member of the right-wing media, there is really something to be said for having sex with a hooker, blasting her with an automatic weapon then running over her corpse with the vehicle of your choice.

I’ve had the nude picture of me hanging in my back hall for years. It’s smaller than the one Willow had in the show, and it isn’t decorated. Even though it’s not obviously me, I never brought it into the living room, or even to my workroom. I wanted it up because I thought it was a great image, I was close to Willow, the photographer, and I didn’t want to insult her by not having any of her work up in my house. But I thought if I started talking about it I’d end up revealing that it was me. And then Willow, whose image it really was, would be pushed out of the frame and the whole thing would degenerate into my telling stories about what it was like being her model. And because that picture was more of a collaboration than any of our others, I didn’t want that to happen.

On a simpler level, I also didn’t want to be talked about as that guy who puts up pictures of himself naked.

Willow found me outside of her circle of artists and gallery people, and she kept me outside it. I was her secret. When she had images of me up she took me to the openings, but asked me not to tell.

“Someone else might want to use you,” she said, “but you’re all mine.”

That was fine with me, because I had no interest in having my Dean, or any of my ex-wives, learn that I was moonlighting as a model. I preferred keeping my freedom of spirit to myself, or at least inside and out of sight.

Willow liked to work at my house, which was a presentable Victorian, with a full complement of room styles. There was never any need to rush, unless it was late afternoon and we were worried about the light. We could always go down to the kitchen for more plastic wrap, catsup, Perrier, or tin foil. We sometimes used my video setup to check the posing. Willow turned the monitor so I could adjust myself.

She wasn’t an equipment freak. She did wonderful things with a Brownie Hawkeye; sometimes she used my old Nikon F instead of her new Canon, if I had a lens she didn’t. For Willow, the negative – and sometimes the print – was only the beginning.

The picture was done in my attic. We liked working there, because of the light, the interesting windows, and the floors. Willow chose the setting, and I chose the pose – head on arm, arm on headboard, all muscles strained. I tried for the most definition, even if it meant some awkwardness in wrist and foot. But my muscle sheaths and tendons cooperated, giving her good contrasts. Upper thigh and buttock were particularly effective, she thought. I tried for a man-in-agony pose, but Willow modulated me into a tense, perhaps worried or dejected one. The muscles worked either way. I still think I should have tipped my head down more, and looked more directly at the camera. But she said that might have made me recognizable.

Willow made a large print and painted a blue acrylic swirl in my lap, and laid a heavy black outline down my side. It went up in a gallery near my house.

I told my haircutter that I was on exhibit down the street, and she said she’d go over after work to check me out. When I stuck my head in the salon the next day all she said was “Nice.”

I was hoping for more. She’d been cutting my hair and listening to my secrets for fifteen years – why wasn’t she more interested? I let it drop, but I was disappointed. I think I was looking to push our intimacy further – not sexually, but into another mode of revealing. When we talked in the chair, she had only my words to go on. Meaning and implications fell away with the cut hair; when she swept up, she swept away what we’d talked about. I understood that. But my picture was another matter: physical, immutable, myself, at once presented by me and by Willow. I wanted her to understand, to acknowledge, the complexity of the collaboration that produced the image, and admire it for that.

And admire – hey, I can admit it now – my upper thighs and butt.

One February Willow took me across the Peace Bridge into Canada because she wanted to do me against the piled-up winter ice. She’d been waiting for a day with low, yellowish late afternoon light. Across Lake Erie, Buffalo’s lights would be coming on.

She’d already worked out how to keep me warm and functional: a sleeping bag, an overcoat, and a toboggan. I undressed in the car, laid the sleeping bag and the equipment on a toboggan, put on the overcoat and shoes, and pulled the whole works out onto the ice.

After each shot I got into the sleeping bag to warm up and wait for her to change lenses, move the tripod, or work with the light meter. Then I’d climb out, do the pose she wanted, and get back in. When she changed locations I stayed in the bag and she pulled me on the sled. Fortunately for my extremities the quality of light she wanted didn’t last very long.

Willow hoped to place some of those shots in a magazine. The prints were wonderful: a nude man lying on his side, a city in the background, across the lake. Long shadows. Long lens, so he’s jammed up against the city. Another, wide angle, camera high, man embracing column of jumbled ice. Man under outcrop of ice, egg pose. Man leaping – that one was tricky. Man, back to camera, legs spread, arms outstretched as if to embrace low clouds, city lights in his armpits.

“Come on,” Willow said, “Spread a little more. I want some scrotum in this one.”

I could only laugh, because my scrotum was about the size of a walnut and somewhere near my kidneys.

“If that’s what you wanted,” I told her, “you should have brought one of those hunter’s hand warmers.”


It has been a long winter, and the season isn’t even half-over. I see in the news today that Snuggie has sold over four million units. How many times have I seen the Snuggie commercial? Too many. So many times, in fact, that I actually know what a Snuggie is, not to mention how stupid it looks, or the three lame, universally unflattering colors it comes in.

My kids are each clamoring for a Snuggie. No way in hell, I think to myself. “But it comes with a booklight. Two booklights. The whole situation is two-for-one,” my pragmatic nine-year-old daughter says. I picture the family swathed in Snuggies—teal green, red, royal blue (with one color repeating). All of us looking like mental patients, camped out on the couch, vegetating in front of the television or reading separately with our blue, clip-on book lights.

“Those lights are a $15 value!” my youngest exclaims. I think to myself how many book lights I’ve personally gone through. Fifteen dollar value, ha. I am sure those things are made in China, as is the Snuggie itself, probably. I bet the hem is unfinished. I bet it pills up the first time you wash it.

“You can save money on your heating bill if you have a Snuggie!” a child shouts, trying to seal the deal as I stumble from the room, away from these kids who have been sadly brainwashed into wanting Snuggies.

The problem isn’t the Snuggie itself, of course. The problem is television, and too much of it. The problem is also the weather, which has been awful, cold, rainy, gray. The problem is that I have so much work to do when I’m at home, and tapping away on my laptop while the kids play computer games or watch “Sabrina, the Teen-Age Witch” is just convenient.

I also recently broke my ankle, so skating is out. Dog-walking in on hold for who-knows-how-long. I want to take the kids indoor rock climbing at GoVertical, but I’m not sure I can do it right now. My ankle is packed with metal hardware, and it’s not very flexible. I’m not good for much, lately.

As this miserable season slowly passes, I daydream about living somewhere warm, some state where the cold won’t seep into and stiffen all the screws and plates that are holding my ankle together. Giving in and buying a Snuggie, wrapping myself in palpable polyester defeat and lying on the couch until springtime seems tempting, but also akin to writing a suicide note.

So play on, Snuggie commercial. I have cut up my credit cards. I am wearing a sweater. My house is highly insulated. I am immune to your siren song. I won’t be lulled into buying that cowl-necked, fluffy hospital gown. It would feel too much like impending death.

I probably shouldn’t be writing this right now. It’s only January 15.

But I did make it through the darkest month of the year, so I’m going to risk it.

I’m feeling bold.

I have a theory; I have a plan.