by Harry Parmenter
Am I the only one done with this cold weather? I didn’t think so. Two months of SCV winter and we’ve barely been above 60 degrees in 60 days! Where. Is. The SUN?! The HEAT! SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA!
I know, I know, climate change, that’s it, and of course the rain, we need the rain. Life without drought is what it’s all about. The sprinklers are off, we’re saving water, a wet winter brings a green spring, the bloom will be on the rose.
But these cold temperatures—50s, 40s, 30s, down goes the mercury! Ice in the hemisphere! Clouds of breath in the air! Not why I moved here!
I grew up back east in New England, New York and Pennsylvania. I shoveled snow from the time I was a toddler to the time I could drink a hot toddy afterward. Powdery snow, wet snow, REALLY wet sludge snow. Finding the concrete driveway with the edge of the cold metal spade, thrusting forward, torso squared, legs lifting the pile and heaving it over my shoulder; arms, midsection and pelvis powering one labored fling after another, hundreds, thousands of them, and I’m talking about in one day.
Hours of backbreaking work, and when you finished off the endless driveway chore sometimes you’d turn around and find a fresh layer of powder blanketing the pavement as snow continued to fall. At night, my mother read me a bedtime story about an older, bearded man named Sisyphus.
I survived 1976 Syracuse, where winter spanned October through April. Tromped through New Hampshire woods over frozen ponds in search of the elusive beaver dam. Traversed the slippery ravines and wipeout inclines of Pittsburgh to and from high school, sleet, hail and snowstorm my constant seasonal companion. It’s a good thing we wore uniforms; fashion was not an option after an unexpected, and frequent, face-plant on the way to school. On any given day, your name really was Mud.
Peaking the pyramids of character-building were my Boston college years, navigating every square mile of The Bean on foot, its perilous sidewalks, alleys and byways punctuated by intermittent escape underground to the subway, temporary albeit unheated respite from nature’s ill will. Ignoring the throng of compressed humanity and the graffiti warnings of “pickpockets are ON,” it offered a few minutes of transport without the piercing freeze. Ultimately, however, there was no escape from the wind deity.
Each morning I’d bolt out of my apartment in a daze, bundled and bumptious, plowing through any dawdling humanoid on my way across the Back Bay cobblestones, buoyed by the prospect of any indoor destination, any overcrowded classroom, even Trigonometry. By the time I made it there, flushed cheeks blending into my red scarf, fingers welcoming hot water music before the tools of learning—let alone a pencil—could be embraced, I was frostbit, frigid, and, without fail, wide awake. I never needed caffeine.
Sated by a day of higher learning, with the infrequent prospect of even higher learning back home, back I’d go into the sub-zero wind chill whipping off the Charles River. Darkness fell with cap, gloves, sweater, shirts and down jacket providing a Colgate invisible shield of ultimately useless protection. Reaching my abode, I’d blast the furnace and pass out with a chicken pot pie boiling over, just like my schizophrenic constitution.
Between semesters in 1977, I visited Los Angeles, stayed with my sister and temped for awhile (first assignment: six weeks at The Salvation Army, typing for General Sherman—true story). I discovered Venice, where the spectre of Jim Morrison hung over the place with the morning fog; The Strip, where it was all happening from The Roxy to The Whisky a Go Go, to Pat Collins, The Hip Hypnotist. Down on Santa Monica Boulevard was The Troubadour, home of Tom Waits, and The Starwood, a fabled rock ‘n’ roll emporium run by its unsavory and soon to be brutally murdered proprietor, Eddie Nash (see “Wonderland Avenue,” fellow macabre history buffs).
I quickly learned there were two seasons in Los Angeles, warm and hot. Armed with that knowledge and a bachelor’s degree, I fled Boston after graduation, even managing to squeeze out my final credits with the school’s nascent “Hollywood” program. I recall visiting the set of “Happy Days,” and later being mistaken for Ralph Malph on an airplane. All I could think was, why isn’t EVERYONE moving to L.A.? It took half an hour from Pasadena to LAX day or night. Eventually everyone DID move here (cf. Sigalert, 2019).
So, 40 years ago, I moved here and now, yes, it’s true: I am soft. I couldn’t survive getting out of a cab in Boston let alone walking the dog. When it drops below 60 degrees I shrivel up and cower under the covers, dreading the light of sunrise. A jacket! A coat! No short sleeved shirts! Deliver me from this unholy freeze, Dear Lord, preferably in shorts, flip flops and a tank top.
This cold snap isn’t going away anytime soon, according to the long term forecasts. 50s, 40s, 30s, down goes the mercury! Down goes Frazier! Periods of rain, clouds and the one who will never be my friend, THE WIND. No sudden heat wave coming down the pike, no reason to drink iced tea; Arizona is calling my name and not just because of spring training!
In the meantime I shall remember the many ice-induced pratfalls of pain I endured as a lad, the shovel, the scrape, the savage whiplash off the Charles. I will turn the thermostat up over 70 and curl up with a good book. I’m thinking Steinbeck’s “The Winter of Our Discontent.”