Quick, think of a clichéd piece of writing advice. Did you think of something other than, “Write what you know!” From the first day of kindergarten to the last day of graduate school, I don’t think I ever took a class where I was required to write something creative where the teacher didn’t instruct us students to “Write what you know!” I have apparently taken this mandate to heart, because pretty much everything I’ve written for this blog has hewed to this rule in letter and spirit. Maybe one day I’ll break it and write what I don’t know – I could write about what it’s like not to be popular and not to have cool clothes and friends – but that day isn’t today. Because as sick as you are of reading about this particular topic, it is for the moment what I “know” better than anything else. I speak, of course, of whipping one’s self into peak physical condition. Kidding. What I really know right now is spring.
This past weekend in New York was – to use a word that is as unimaginative as it is appropriate and fitting – beautiful. Saturday and Sunday were both sunny and cloudless, with temperatures reaching into the low 50s. I am embarrassed and troubled by the extent to which this amazing weather raised my spirits. An example: Melissa and I, along with 10 friends, are signed up to run the New York Ragnar Relay in May. I have no business running this relay, and I’m still not convinced that I’ll make it. Because I need something to point to as proof that I had every intention of actually running the race when I inevitably pull out at the last minute, I’ve been dutifully training for the last few months. My training has consisted of following a program that mixes running and walking, with the walking tapering off as time goes on. Saturday’s training called for uninterrupted running for a period of time that was over twice as long as last week’s, and I was really dreading it. Just to be safe I put some packets of ketchup in my mouth that I could bite into to make Melissa think that I was bleeding internally and should stop running immediately.
Although the run wasn’t particularly easy, it wasn’t particularly difficult, either, a fact I attribute entirely to the weather. Lyla, Melissa and I trotted happily through Central Park, picking our way between runners and bikers and rollerbladers, collectively remembering what life outside of winter is like. About halfway through the run I shed my jacket, drawing tremendous contentment from the simple fact of being able to wear shorts and a t-shirt outside without being cold.
After running we came inside and did some cleaning and then prepared to go outside again for the evening. As I got dressed I very nearly opted for flip-flops and a swimsuit, but yielded to my native caution and went with shorts and a mesh tank top. I didn’t actually, but that’s what my mind told me to wear, because, according to my mind, “If you want to be conservative, you could call this spring, but there are a lot of people – reasonable people – who would call this summer.” And that’s how it goes with me when it comes to spring and summer, always a full three months ahead. I believe you should start wearing white around Valentine’s Day, and I can frequently be heard complaining about the dog days of Easter. I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember.
Christian has rather uncharitably described the home in which we grew up as the “Himmler home.” This joke strikes me as inapt; I’ve always thought our home had more in common with modern-day North Korea than Nazi Germany. I’m kidding, with the exception of the rules governing the topic of wearing shorts. Because I was always three months ahead of the weather, I wanted to start wearing shorts around Presidents Day. In order to prevent us from asking every morning whether we could wear shorts that day, my parents instituted a hard-and-fast temperature threshold that had to be met in order to wear shorts.
Given how completely this temperature determined my happiness as a child, it’s strange to me that I now can’t recall exactly what it was. I think it was 70 degrees, but I’m not certain. This was clearly a stupid rule, because decisions on what to wear to school had to be made in the morning, and in Utah it doesn’t reach 70 degrees at 7 AM until August. After several years of lobbying and hunger strikes, I believe the rule was changed to 65 degrees before, say, 9 AM, and 70 degrees any time after that.
For whatever reason, we didn’t have one of those outside thermometers stuck to a window, so our only way of determining the temperature was to call the toll-free time and temperature number. You’d dial the number with trembling fingers and suffer through the naming of the sponsor (usually Barnes Bank) and the reciting of the time – I don’t need to hear the time! I have a watch! – at which point the impersonal, robotic voice would tell you whether you’d be have a fun, happy, carefree day or not. For the first few months of spring, this phone call usually resulted in crushing defeat. “The time is three thirty two PM. The temperature is thirty six degrees. Winter is never going away. Aslan is dead.”
It was during these months that I was forced to resort to all manner of trickery. Sometimes I’d wear sweat pants to school, which could then be pushed up above the knee, resulting in a shorts-like feeling, if not a shorts-like appearance. Once I realized how silly this looked I simply started taking a pair of shorts in my backpack, making a quick change in the bathroom before and after school. This was risky business, though, as it was easy to forget to make the change once school was over. Further, I never knew when my Mom would be wandering the halls of my school to help a sibling with their VIP Day or to fulfill a class mother assignment.
Finally, chances were good that I could run into Christian, who in those days was not a signatory to the “Don’t Tattle” treaty that was an article of faith among the three older brothers (our oldest sister, Andrea, was unpredictable, but for reason’s far more noble than Christian’s). Because I’m writing another post on this issue, I don’t want to go into too much detail; suffice it to say that getting caught in the act of wearing shorts in sub-70 degree weather by Christian would either result in his telling my parents or my having to shell out a handsome bribe to a loathsome mercenary.
I don’t remember in what month we’d stop checking the temperature and just automatically wear shorts; maybe May? Now that I’m 32 I don’t have to call time and temperature to wear shorts, but I find myself jumping the gun on spring and summer in the exact same way I when I was a kid. Which is why I rode my scooter to work today in thigh-high shorts and a half-way buttoned up Hawaiian shirt. It felt amazing for the part of it that I was able to feel.