The thing to know is, we are still snowed in. The first flakes came down around lunchtime on Friday; the last, late on Saturday night. It’s Tuesday now, and we’re still snowed in. My kids can’t even remember what it’s like to interact with other humans.
This is offered not as a measure of the severity of the storm—although it was, in fact, quite severe, dumping some 30 inches in my neighborhood, and more than 37 a few miles northwest of here—but rather as a measure of my own ineptitude. Through the front windows of my house today, I can watch my neighbors driving to and from their homes, not in snowcats or on snowmobiles but in their regular day-to-day vehicles. The problem, here, is me.
Here are some hard-won nuggets of blizzard wisdom. (Blizzdom. Go to hell.) Winter’s not over yet, after all, and maybe they’ll come in useful to those of you on the “outside,” if you ever really existed to begin with. Let’s go through them in chronological order.
When the temperature is 72 degrees on Christmas Eve and the world sure as hell seems like the sort of place that will never have frozen water in it again, do not blithely traipse past the rack of deeply discounted snow shovels at your local big-box store. Nature is much bigger and stronger than you are, my friend. It can see you, and it despises your arrogance. Don’t antagonize it. Buy a snow shovel. Buy two! If the whole winter passes without a need for a snow shovel, bury one in the soft spring mud, as an offering. And replace it next November.
Do grab your grocery staples from the supermarket, plus hot cocoa mix, plus the ingredients to make a handful of big meals before the storm. This is one thing I did right, particularly the cooking part: You can only get so miserable and stir-crazy when you’re drowning in easily reheatable leftover comfort food. Do you know how to make a lasagna? Make one the size of a barge. Once it has set, cut it into hunks and sock these in the fridge.
This pulls kind of a neat psychological trick. Once you have a refrigerator full of lasagna, you cease to be The Guy Who Can’t Escape His Home, and become The Guy Guarding His Lasagna. You don’t want to leave; you want to prevent anyone else from entering. You’re like Gollum, only rounder around the middle.
Do get some salt and/or cat litter or whatever stuff helps snow and ice melt more quickly, and use them, before the snow arrives. Spreading this stuff on your walk/driveway/parking spot is a lot easier and less time-consuming than shoveling. It’s a good investment!
Do not panic-buy everything in the supermarket like an idiot. Last Wednesday evening—God, it seems so long ago, remember going places?—I saw a guy at the big grocery store pushing a cart piled high with boxes of Luna bars and bottled water. He must have had at least 200 Luna Bars, and 96 bottles of water. Here is the thing: Even if the storm is severe enough that you’re still snowed in after you’ve eaten through the tolerable human food and have to break into the Luna bars and bottled water, the thing to do is not to break into the Luna bars and bottled water, but to bury a frying pan in your own skull. A storm severe enough to get you to the Luna-bars-and-bottled-water stage of survivalism is severe enough to end human civilization. What are you living for?
This sort of silliness was everywhere on Wednesday and Thursday. My local supermarket, on any normal day, has like nine trillion rolls of paper towels on the shelves—on Wednesday evening, it had none. Who are these people stocking up on extra rolls of paper towels in advance of a blizzard? And why? Are they stuffing balled-up paper towels between the layers of their clothing, for insulation? Are they soaking up the snow with paper towels? Are they ... oh God ... are they eating the paper towels?
This is dumb. At their very most useful paper towels never really rise to the level of need; you certainly do not need a family-sized raft of paper towels to endure a blizzard. How much shit are you planning on spilling during your isolation? Uh-oh, snow’s coming, better plan on spraying grape soda all over the place all the time for a week. C’mon.
Likewise do not fill your bathtub(s) with water, “just in case,” unless you live in the real-deal sticks. Get real, Bear Grylls. How the hell broke do you think civilization is about to get?
What will happen is, you will not have need for that water, but you also will not feel comfortable letting it run down the drain until after the storm is over and you’re all dug out, because once you have planned for the worst-case scenario, the more unlikely that worst-case scenario becomes, the more humiliated you will be if it arrives after you have abandoned your planning. So, all you will have done is made it impossible for yourself to take a nice warming shower, or a soothing bath between bouts of shoveling. Great job, dummy. At least you have some gross bathwater to drink*!
Definitely do not send your home’s only snow shovel out of town seven hours before what all credible meteorological forecast models are calling one of the most severe snowstorms in your region’s history, I mean what kind of a goddamn idiot would even think of doing something like that. Listen. You live and you learn! Next time I will not get this one wrong. Let me explain.
My wife is a nurse—an “essential employee” within her healthcare organization. Generally speaking, nurses do not get the option of missing work because of giant snowstorms; the more severe and hazardous the circumstance, the greater the need for nurses. One way or another, come hell or three feet of snow, nurses must be at work: Lives quite literally depend upon them doing so.
Some healthcare organizations will accommodate this by arranging to put their nurses and other essential employees up in hotels near their facilities during snowstorms and other extreme weather events. This is pretty great as alternatives to a day off go! The trick is, the essential employees must still get from the hotel to the workplace, and not all healthcare facilities have hotels next door to them. My wife’s hotel wasn’t far from work, just a mile and a half or so as the crow flies—a reasonably pleasant walk on a dry, sunny day—but with more than two feet of snow on the ground and genuinely life-threatening conditions above it on Saturday, work might as well have been in a whole other state. She needed to be able to drive there from the hotel, which meant she needed to be able to dig her car out of the snow.
Hey honey, don’t forget to take the snow shovel! This is a wonderful, selfless impulse, and a fucking terrible idea, unless you have a second snow shovel sitting around somewhere, which you don’t, because you scoffed at the rack of discounted snow shovels back when it was 72 degrees on Christmas Eve, and nature was watching.
The thing is, that hotel will be full of essential healthcare workers, plus the staff of the hotel. Also, as is the custom of the sorts of hotels that are chosen to house essential healthcare employees during historic snowstorms—so, like, not the Overlook—it will abut a fairly major road, unlike your house, which probably does not. The healthcare organization will know where it has put all of its essential employees, and will know that the whole entire point of putting them there was to make sure they could get to work during the snowstorm. If one of those essential employees happens not to have brought her own snow shovel, by God, some arrangement will be made, so that the whole enterprise will not have been a ludicrous waste of time. Either your essential-employee spouse will be able to bum a lift off of somebody who did bring the tools to dig their vehicle out of the snow, or somebody, up to and including the State Police, will help your very pretty and charming essential-employee spouse dig her vehicle out of the snow.
Not so for my homebound ass. Nobody particularly gives a frig if I can’t get places—the place to the operation of which I am an essential component is the place I already am. My home. That was the thinking behind this entire “take the shovel!” idea in the first place: If I’m trapped here, I’m trapped in the place I’d be trying to get to if I were anywhere else.
The problem is: Hhhuuunnhhhhhh, it’s fucking miserable here! Also what if we run out of stuff!
Much more importantly: Not having a snow shovel during the storm means that, by definition, you can’t dig yourself out of the snow until after the whole rest of the world has dug-out well enough for your spouse to bring the snow shovel home. That could be a long time. Nothing is more miserable than pinning your optimism to the hope that eventually you will have the luxury of spending hours and hours shoveling a goddamn metric ton of snow.
I mean, look. Eventually all of you will not be snowed in anywhere anymore, and all of this will be a thing you remember, with either a bitter, eye-rolling smile or a nostalgic one. But think of it in rational terms: Sending the snow shovel from a place where its utility cannot be replaced to a place where it can is a misallocation of resources. It is not a good cost-benefit proposition. It is stupid as hell.
She was at work on Friday, gone until Sunday morning at the absolute earliest, by the time I understood the mistake I’d made. I was not looking at myself at the moment of understanding, of course, so I am guesstimating, here, but I am pretty sure this is the face I made:
But, without the warming fire.
It was a low moment! Low moment for your boy.
(She’s home, by the way. Sunday evening, when our street had not been plowed at all and the snow was nearly three feet deep in all directions and you couldn’t even discern where the road was buried under it, I got a text message: “Hey honey! Look out the front window!!!!!” She was in the front yard, having Uber’d to the nearest accessible point and then trekked the rest of the way through hip-deep snow in windy sub-freezing conditions while carrying a pair of suitcases. She missed her kids!
Men like to talk about Dad Strength, but I submit to you that it is as nothing before the awesome force that is Mom Strength. I would still be out there, now, on Tuesday, frozen solid. I am not a Mom, for simple physiological reasons but also because I am unworthy of it.)
If you did not send your snow shovel out of town like a fucking moron, do shovel your walk/driveway/parking spot repeatedly during the snowstorm. I know, I know. I know! You want to sit inside in a cozy sweater and drink hot cocoa and watch the snow falling and feel romantic about the idea of being snowed in. That’s dumb! Get your ass out there and shovel! Over and over again!
This should seem obvious, but only because it is: Six inches of snow is a lot easier to remove than three feet of it. So much easier, in fact, that you can do it six times over much more easily and painlessly than you can remove three feet of snow a single time.
Here’s the thing. If you go out during the storm and shovel away the snow each time it gets six inches deep, each time you finish you will have a completely snow-free, or only lightly dusted, walk or driveway or parking spot. And then, when the snow stops falling, you need only wait for the street to be plowed, and then you can go places. You will not be especially sore. You will have had time to take several soothing baths and many doses of your over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication of choice in between shoveling ventures. You will be ready to go. You will have achieved a harmonious balance with nature.
By contrast, if you wait until all the snow has fallen before shoveling, you can go out there and shovel the top six inches off the walk/driveway/parking spot and have accomplished essentially nothing at all, either in terms of your ability to go places or in terms of the ease of finishing the job. Going inside for a few hours to take a soothing bath or a dose of ibuprofen will feel like the absolute most ridiculous and arbitrary and time-wasting thing you could do. Of course you will keep shoveling. Of course you will set your face in a grim, dutiful scowl and shovel and shovel and shovel until either the walk/driveway/parking spot is clear or your spine ejects itself from your back with an audible sproinggggggg. Either way you will be in pain and moving around like Boris Karloff for a month, needlessly.
Nonsense, you are saying. I am hale and hearty, possessing endless stamina for shoveling, for I am Fit and not Decrepit. My capacity for shoveling knows no bounds. Maybe that’s true, you smug prick! It’s also an argument for shoveling during the storm, not against it. If you are motivated and disciplined enough to do regular maintenance-work on your physical health, you are motivated enough to drag your ass out into a snowstorm a half-dozen times and keep your walk/driveway/parking spot clear of snow.
Look at it this way: Even if shoveling three feet of snow is no big deal for you, you might get hit by a very small meteor shortly after the snow stops falling and require the services of an ambulance, which will need to be able to get to you where you are crumpled in the snow. I kind of hope so, actually!
Definitely do have something more diverting than television for your offspring, if you have small offspring. Especially if you have multiple small offspring. TV is not gonna do it, my friend. They’ll get crabby and curdled—they’ll sit too close to each other and then complain about it. You’ll split them up and they’ll complain about that.
This doesn’t seem like a concern. I know what you are thinking: It’s snow! It’s the best dang plaything in the world! Send their little asses out to build stuff in it! Sure, when the snow is not deep enough to bury them up to their necks. If you have small children, you cannot send them out into snow that is nearly three feet deep. Our language has a term for that. It is “filicide.”
So. Play board-games with them. Play hide-and-seek with them. Play “I Spy” with them. Wrestle with them on the couch. Give them lots of chores. Commission works of art from them. Let them play video games. Whatever it is, it can’t be purely passive. The more time they spend being passive, the quicker they’ll go stir-crazy and begin annoying each other and you out of an unconscious desire for some active stimulation, and this will make you want to drown yourself in the gross lukewarm “drinking” water in your tub.
I won’t lie to you, my friends. My two sons have played a lifetime’s worth of Xbox and handheld Nintendo this snowed-in long weekend. It has not been my finest parenting moment! It has not been my finest moment along all kinds of different axes. On the other hand we are all alive and have not even tried to murder each other. That’s not nothing!
Definitely do check on the physical integrity of your trusty old snow-shovel. Like, oh, for example, if the blade of your plastic snow shovel should happen to acquire a thin, straight, six-inch crack across its width, right where the blade meets the handle, that is a sign that you need to either replace your snow shovel or, if that’s not possible because you waited too long to check and now all the snow shovels are gone and/or you’re snowed in already, that you need to move only very small amounts of snow at a time with it. Otherwise it will snap, and you will be without a snow shovel, and then your home might just as well be a research outpost at the South Pole.
This can happen! What? Oh, nothing, sometimes I just like to sob really, really hard for no reason at all.
Do be the kind of person who maintains good, friendly relationships with the neighbors, so that if for some reason you need to borrow something, like, say, a snow shovel that is not broken, that will not be unbearably humiliating even to think about. I don’t know how you’d do that, but, uh, do it.
If you go out to shovel snow, or to walk anywhere at all, when the sun comes back out again, do wear sunglasses. This is some real shit, man! The glare coming off all that snow is no joke.
Knowing way goddamn better than this, I walked to the end of the street and back without sunglasses yesterday in the late morning, to retrieve the snow shovel my saintly wife had to abandon during her trek home on Sunday night. By the time I got back home my brain felt like it was boiling inside my head. My eyeballs hurt. My forehead hurt. The inside of my head hurt. The whole thing felt inflamed, distended. It still does.
The worst part is knowing that all of this screaming white light melted me, but not the fucking snow. It did nothing to the snow! Snow is white, and crystalline. It reflects that light. Hence the grey matter now oozing out of my nose.
Also, if you go out in snow deeper than your ankles, do not wear regular running shoes, you fucking idiot, for chrissakes what the hell is wrong with you? Which is to say: Get some snow boots that you can tuck your pants into. Just do it! Do it months ago.
That is to say, do not be me. This lesson will be my contribution to human posterity. I’m gonna go outside and etch it in huge letters on the surface of the four-day-old snow I cannot remove from my driveway. I’ll see you in hell!
Top photo via me.