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Cold Comfort
Steve Rushin
December 24, 2001
A childhood snow day can produce all the chills and thrills of a sports jamboree
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December 24, 2001

Cold Comfort

A childhood snow day can produce all the chills and thrills of a sports jamboree

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The alarm clock beeps like a truck in reverse, and your heart begins to hammer the drum riff from Wipeout, and your backpack hangs in rebuke from the bedpost, filled as it is with undone homework. Dread sets in until you see-through a crack in the curtains—a world outside covered in snow, as thick and muffling as fiberglass insulation.

So you bound downstairs to hear a radio anchor read the alphabetical list of school closings. The tension, as he nears the N's, is almost unbearable: " Maple Grove, Maple Plain, Maplewood"—it reminds you of a roller coaster ratcheting up a hill. Then it crests-he gets to N—and you hear "Nativity of Mary, closed." Instantly it's Mardi Gras and V-E Day and the Lindbergh parade all in one, and the flakes falling outside look like ticker tape.

You are a death-row inmate reprieved by the governor, and you'll relish every minute of this stolen Tuesday. You'll take your hockey skates in to be sharpened, the blades throwing off sparks like a welder's torch, and then carve up the neighbors' flooded backyard, your wrist shots made wicked by the boomerang curve of your Sher-Wood stick. You'll clear the ice every 10 minutes by skating with a shovel in ever-tightening ovals—because your fondest desire, at age 11, is someday to drive a Zamboni.

When you take off your skates, after hours of impersonating Mike Bossy, you'll feel a full foot shorter. Then you'll go inside and have hot cocoa warmed on the same stove-top burner on which you curved the Sher-Wood.

Your best friend will walk past your window dressed in his snowmobile suit, and you'll pop outside and pack a snowball and rear back with a windup like Juan Marichal's and peg him in the conk from 60 feet away. Then you'll duck behind a tree that looks—like every other tree on the block—as if it has been dipped in white chocolate. You will vow to build a fort, an impregnable igloo stocked with snowballs, from which you will conduct guerrilla raids on every other fort in the neighborhood, and by day's end you will rule your block like a raja.

After lunch your backyard will become Lambeau Field or Soldier Field or Rich Stadium in a whiteout. When your quarterback throws, with his unmittened hand, a bomb that you'll catch near the sideline, you'll high-step in moon boots into the end zone and then Nestea-plunge onto your back, and while lying there a moment to catch your breath, you will make a snow angel in celebration.

You will be so cold that you'll pull your parka hood with the fake-fur fringe up over your genuine replica Vikings helmet. (Come Sunday, while you're watching, from in front of the fireplace, some football game in Miami or Tampa or Los Angeles, you'll look at all those players and fans in their short sleeves and suntans and simply feel sorry for them.)

Back in the house, while your wet woolen socks are somersaulting in the dryer, Larry Bird will play Dr. J on the Nerf hoop that hangs from the back of your bedroom door. You will, of course, be both players. Dr. J will win this game of one-on-one because Bird's jumper too often hits the ceiling, whereas Dr. J can dunk at will. Still, it will go down to the final buzzer, which is the buzzer on the dryer that signals that your socks are ready. By now it will be mid-afternoon, and you'll be desperate to make the most of what little daylight remains.

So you'll fire a hair-dryer into your moon boots and—with newly toasted tootsies—you'll pull your sled, with the twin red runners and the steering bar, to the top of the tallest hill in town. You will stand atop that mountain of white, like a plastic groom on a wedding cake, and imagine that you're looking down the bobsled chute at Innsbruck. As you bomb headfirst downhill, your every nerve ending alive with feeling, you'll be certain of at least one thing in life: that the 30 minutes you spent ascending this hill was a pittance to pay for the breathtaking 20 seconds of descent.

When you finally heed your mother's call and head inside, at six o'clock, it will have long been pitch-dark. Your cheeks will glow red like the Christmas lights strung above your garage, and you'll remove your stocking cap to find that every hair on your head is standing on end. Your mom will say that it's static electricity. But you'll know better.