As I write this, it is about 70 degrees and I am lying like seal, slathered in oil, listening to Billie Holiday in what has become the bitchinest backyard in Los Angeles. The wood chips and the couch had already made it pretty and cozy, but when Melby got me a hot tub for Christmas, this shit got next-level.
To compare January 2015 with the darkest pit of Fucktown I lived through last winter is a farce - the difference could not be more stark. In fact, the familiarity of being the one in the frozen tundra of Minnesota while a close loved one frolics on the beaches of California is still pronounced enough to give me some reserve when conversing with folks back home.
And yet... no complete or genuine summation of how things are progressing for me here in Los Angeles could be given without understanding how very fundamentally, critically different this season - this WINTER - has been compared to every other in my life. Hollywood, auditions, celebrity sitings - these things gut-punch me less these days than the sandals I'm wearing.
I shot a movie overnight, in Hollywood, on the night of The Golden Globes; I had traffic troubles because of the Oscar Nominations last night - and these things are infinitely less jaw-dropping to me than that my much-loved rubber-tree plant is thriving - outside!
I grew up in central Wisconsin. As a kid, in the Winter, my sisters and I would walk a quarter mile down our dead-end driveway to highway 13 and wait for the school bus. If Dad walked with us, he always had icicles clinging to his beard by the time he kissed us goodbye.
When I was in college at the University of Minnesota, the school recommended a buddy to walk with you at night - as much to prevent rape and robbery - as to ensure that if you passed out you wouldn't freeze to death on the sidewalk.
When I lived aboard a houseboat on the Mississippi River in St. Paul, many was the night I was breaking ice from around my hull in below-zero temperatures and longing for water that wouldn't flow again til May...
I'm 36 years old (or whatever you want) and this is the first January I'm not scraping a windshield, blowing into clenched fists for comfort, or endlessly wiping mascara from watering eyes off of frozen cheeks. I'd by lying if I said I wasn't reveling in every second of it.
Which is where an unexpected sensation - not unlike guilt - begins to trickle in.
In part, I think, it is because enduring such winters is among the most pride-filled factors of living in the Midwest. It's among the things we're good at, and for which we are known. …Actually, Midwest is too broad. I mean Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota - The Big Three.
Listen, Missouri, relax. You know and I know that you ain't no -46 below, okay, so shut up. What's that, Iowa? Oh you had to use your plows a bunch once? Was it colder than Mars at the time? DIDN'T THINK SO! Ohio, as always, you can go fuck itself. You too, Indiana - eat shit. Illinois, you only get a pass for a few, specific streets in Chicago where the wind makes you want to die.
As for us, The Big Three, over the course of several months - almost half the year - the cold dominates our conversations, consumes our schedules, defines our wardrobe. In many ways, defines us, in fact, because we are the rare who get to experience it.
And that makes us awesome and y'all a bunch of pussies.
Which is true.
It really is true.
And it makes the escape from winter and indulgence in endless-summer feel like a bit of a demotion in one's kick-assery. I mean who can't thrive in paradise?
But over the past few months I’ve discovered that the ability to endure - Winter or otherwise - is a priceless skill. Enduring has been under-rated in the last 50-ish years in favor of some very well-timed historical revolution. Enduring went too far and, rightly, had to be put to an end. Blacks ought not endure segregation. Women ought not endure the glass ceiling. Everyone stop enduring and revolt, shatter, and change.
But no good idea is universally applicable. Boredom, for example ought be endured occasionally. One should endure boredom, once in awhile, as an alternative to leaping to the first vapid distraction on their phone. A patch of dissatisfaction in a relationship, likewise, could stand a bit more enduring. God knows we could endure folks with whom we disagree a bit more gracefully.
But here, in Los Angeles, I can usually spot the Midwesterners by their ability to endure.
This 'Thing' that I've discussed, is really hard. Constant scrutiny, self-glorification followed by self-consciousness - and as if that weren't enough - auditions just take forever. Every damn thing takes forever here, but sitting on a folding chair holding your headshot and staring at a wall for two hours is an actual eternity. More than once, I've seen people fall apart.
They gesture wildly, huff and puff, ask redundant questions to a flappable intern who cannot give them the answer they're looking for. Some even walk out - and when they do they are usually from a coast...
The one who shrugs, smiles and offers you some raw almonds from a ziplock bag - she's always from the Midwest.
And the traffic? They weren't fucking kidding about the traffic and that is the big, daily thing to endure. Hours in front of tail-lights, closed exits, the occasional big-rig fire… Driving eats up most of a day.
And I'm broke - which was somewhat inevitable - but the coffers are stretched with cobwebs and require some optimism and patience... and debt. And I miss my friends, terribly, more since having seen them briefly at Christmas. I'm planning a wedding as best I can from afar - and please don't ask me about dress or food - BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW!
And so in such times require that I go back to the end of Neitzel Road on a cold February morning in 1984. It is my first year of school - waiting for the bus with my two older sisters. It's below zero and despite being dressed for it, it's the aching kind of cold. The air seems to be witches claws pulling back my scarf and scratching at my face. My teeth chatter, my knees shake - I'm not sure I can take it. I say so.
And my sister Anne replies, 'But you have to.'
There it is.
And so I also have to do this. This Thing, whatever it is.
So, moral of the story, if there is such a thing: Hard times are infinitely easier to endure in 75 degrees in a hot tub.
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