We Chicagoans share many similarities with the Eskimos, besides our subarctic climates. The Eskimo language, they say, has sixty-two different words for snow. I would venture to bet we Chicagoans have sixty-two words for snow as well. Very few of them, however, are appropriate for use in polite company.
I’m from Chicago, we don’t keep a thermostat in the house. We especially don’t hang one on the wall. I’m amazed at the vastly different environments we humans will adapt to. The different things we get used to, we put up with. I forget that most people don’t put up with the weather we put up with here. If I didn’t forget, I might have to move away.
I was telling a friend it had been up to sixteen degrees earlier, but now it was getting cold again.
“Sixteen degrees is cold!” She giggled, a warm laugh, I didn’t get upset, she didn’t mean it, just that part of the world, warm smiles is the only kind they have.
“Positive numbers at all are like a warm summer breeze to us now,” I told her, “Meteorologists and mathematicians are working on a new double negative numerical system just to better describe Chicago winters. It’s either snowing or too cold to snow, always, until the three weeks in August when we have to huddle around the air conditioner.”
“How cold is it now?” she asked.
She was confused by my scowl when I snapped back, “How the hell should I know? I don’t keep a thermostat in the house.”
She didn’t understand, I forget how different our worlds can be. She had the same frightened, bewildered look I remember seeing on another friend’s face when I first visited his house and saw a thermostat hanging on the wall.
It looked dirty, hanging there. I had never seen one before, but I knew full well what it was. It seemed to laugh at me, mock me. Nasty and rude. A pressed plastic shape hung by a nail near the front door, a little LED display showed a number. The temperature, right there out in the open in liquid crystal for the whole world to see.
I ripped it off the wall when I saw it, I couldn’t contain myself and I had never seen such a thing, but it looked ugly, unnaturally so. Filthy and obscene, and insulting and menacing. My host was shocked to see me rip his appliance from the wall and stomp the pieces into splinters under an angry foot.
“What the hell are you doing? The hell is wrong with you?”
It took a while to explain, it took time for him to understand why I would be so offended by the sight of a thermostat on the wall. If you haven’t suffered the cynical climes of the arctic and tropic midwest, Mother Nature in all her duplicitous and polar wonder, I doubt you will easily understand.
We don’t hate weather, we don’t hate nature. We know what a thermostat is, we understand them and recognize their necessity, but we would never hang one on the wall.
In the same regard, I don’t especially hate insects, or have any opinion of them one way or the other as long as they mind their own business, but if I came into my kitchen and saw a cockroach on the wall, I would treat it much the same as the now crumpled and twisted remains of my acquaintances broken thermostat.
I tried to explain, but the gaze that met me continually, stupefied and squinting, I feared no one but the penguins would ever understand.
“Imagine it this way,” I offered at last to my friend, “If someone offered you a painting would you hang in on your wall?”
“If it were a friend, of course!” He scoffed at the question, “If I liked the painting, even better! Of course I would!”
“What if it were a crude drawing, somewhat amateur? A rough crude crayon sketch of an old woman, and a caption that identified her as Mother Nature?”
My friend wrinkled his brow tight, a pucker of wonder of what I must be rambling on about.
“If it were a friend, and the picture wasn’t too offensive or anything,” he watched me close as he answered, and weighed his words one at a time, “Sure, why not? Who’s it going to hurt?”
“Even if he made Mother Nature intentionally, especially ugly and old?”
“Well…” his voice trailed off, a few gears within his imagination had sparked to life, mental gears began to grind.
“Okay, what if…” I posed the question now to my misunderstanding friend, “What if he drew an especially ugly picture of old Mother Nature, sneering right at you and offering her middle finger, wrinkled and naked and lifting a leg, tinkling on the roof of your house underneath her; would you hang that picture on your wall?”
“No!” Again he scoffed, his lips flapped with contempt, “Of course not, I wouldn’t allow such a picture in my home never mind ever hanging it, putting it up for display!”
“Okay, good,” I smiled, “Now you know exactly why people from the Midwest don’t hang a thermostat on the wall.”
©Robert Emmett McWhorter