The Party's Over
December 23, 2004
It was the guy’s son. In the last article. The riddle? The answer was it’s the cellmate’s son. The guy who came to visit.
Don’t hear that many riddles any more. Somebody said they’re passive aggressive, another of those terms that causes wind to whistle inwardly through the narrow gaps in my teeth; said they were that because you know the answer and the other person doesn’t. So it’s kind of bullying, like it’s understood that you know something they don’t, and you probably figured it out yourself and now if they don’t get it, that makes you smarter than them.
I never looked at it that way. They were always a treat somebody was offering, like a joke or a limerick or some interesting quote. I told that riddle to a friend, a modern man, and he said, “Y’know what? I don’t care.” Now that was refreshing, I thought. An entirely new outlook, from my experience. Somebody told me a good riddle, I always cared. I wanted to get it. So did everybody I knew. So what the heck was wrong with that? Well, this guy didn’t say there was anything wrong with that. He just flat didn’t care. Nothing wrong with that either. And I guess I don’t care that he didn’t care; not about that, anyway.
I suppose if I really didn’t care I wouldn’t have remembered it, but this starts getting into that circular argument thing where readers get hurt from their faces crashing into their keyboards when they nod off too abruptly. So.
So we turn now to the cold. We loaded out of the Fitz theater last Saturday night they needed us gone so they could set up for another show on Sunday and I left at intermission and went to the big ol’ truck yard, minus-950-degree wind chill, yard all locked up, about froze my boney fingers clean off messing with that stubborn-ass combination lock on the chain that holds the big long gates-on-wheels together. Wind ringing a loose chain on a chain-link fence like that makes it twice as cold. The rig was plugged into one of the outlets they have there and it started right up but a big cold diesel like that, I mean it sounded like someone stirring a dumpster full of sledgehammers with a backhoe. I had on a baseball cap that said ALASKA across the front and the wind was cutting so clean it felt just like it. My ears were hardening into pure pink crystal. I left the truck running and drove the car to an outfitter open for Christmas shoppers and bought a warm black miracle-fiber hat that rolled down all around, all the way down to your collar if you wanted, and I felt a lot better. Went back and the truck was sort of warm already, and I slipped out and just hooked the padlock through the chain without locking it. It looked locked.
A roll-down dome hat like that and a man can load a truck in late December up here in the northern territory. You just can’t be too slow about it and we weren’t, once they got all the stuff packed up. Got back to the yard around eleven. The rig will sit there until we go up to Duluth in a couple of weeks, where it’s colder yet. The gate was locked. So I wasn’t the only fingers-frozen fool out there with a truck to load on a Saturday night.
Winter was singing that old Willie Nelson song Don Meredith used to sing on Monday Night Football, when the outcome became all too clear and the truth had to be faced: “Turn Out The Lights; The Party’s Over.” Winter had quit toying with us. Those amazing 44-degree beautiful November days we didn’t talk about are gone. It’s dark early and the big round thermometer on the north wall of the barn, when you hit it with the flashlight, the red needle is wound way over there past ten o’clock, if it was a clock, which it isn’t. The ten there is ten below zero. You can subtract another thirty for the wind.
I notice the televised weatherpersons have eased up on phrases like “frigid Canadian cold front” and “blasts of icy Canadian air” and “a punishing Alberta Clipper.” “Bitter Canadian winds” and so forth. Makes me wonder if they are trying to butter Canadians a bit, trying to not blame our rapidly-diversifying neighbors for something that might not be their fault; or if they worry that the word Canadian itself might be somehow pejorative or even racist, or at least overly nationalistic. Maybe they’ll find a hyphenated phrase for Canadians that implies approval and sympathy, like “multi-cultural upper-regionals,” or “tropically-challenged North Americans.”
They’re not considering that Canadians might enjoy sending frigid blasts of Arctic suffering at us, especially with their name on it. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, and my guess is they’re pretty proud of it. And it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear that in White Horse and Edmonton they complain about being ripped by bitter Alaskan glacial blasts, and in Alaska they probably catch raw Siberian polar winds. Nobody makes their own weather. We’re all victims, all the time.
A friend in central Minnesota went to trade his big-screen television on a newer one. They wouldn’t give him what he thought it was worth so he paid cash and gave the old one to his parents, as an early Christmas gift. They still live on the family farm. Been there nearly all their lives and the husband, Leo, has never felt much of an urge to travel. She’s been to New York and to Alaska and some other places, but if he ever traveled it was as a young man and he doesn’t talk about it. Staying put is the essence of the business anyway, if you raise crops and keep livestock, and even though their herds and flocks their multitudes have dwindled down now to two old lame cats, Leo has still felt no need to hit the trail.
They set the big television in the living room and the picture was a real improvement over what they'd had, but it took up a lot of space and partly covered the main window looking onto the front yard. She was complaining about this to her sister.
“Move it over,” said the sister, “It can go into the corner there.”
“Well, that wouldn’t work either,” she said.
“Well of course it would. You could see it better there anyway.”
“I know. But there’s a problem with that, too. It wouldn’t work.”
“What problem? It’s tailor made for it, that corner.”
“But if we put it in that corner then Leo would have to move to the other end of the couch, and he wouldn’t want to do that. He’s always been at this end. He just wouldn’t go for it. He’s said so.”
This was the last straw for her sister. “He wouldn’t go to New York, wouldn’t go to California. He won’t go down to Texas and he won’t go up to Alaska. He won’t leave Minnesota. He never goes down to the cities; doesn’t even want to go a few miles into town. And now you’re tellin’ me that he won’t even go to the other end of the goddam COUCH?”