Indoor Temperance

thermometer behind the frozen windowI’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

Half Mast

cartooncandleSo now we must add the Los Angeles airport and the mall in New Jersey to the list. Thoughts and prayers to anyone who was involved or has family involved. Yet another senseless tragedy we aren’t really prepared to deal with but have become accustomed to their almost regular occurrence.

I was on Facebook reading the comments. One friend was trying to get a clearer picture of what happened, and another person on the thread was talking about how he generally doesn’t try to dig deeper for the truth for a few days, when the sensational reporting subsides.

That seems a terrible tragedy in itself. We have become so complacent about these terrible events that we are able to formulate and recognize a regular protocol for how we individually process the information. Does this bother anyone else?

I’ve read the constitution, I’ve heard the arguments on both sides. I don’t have an answer and I won’t pretend I do. But it seems to be something we at least have to talk about. I don’t want to take away anyone’s rights, and I don’t want to enable anyone to come after your guns; but I also don’t think this is something we should accept as just another regular part of our lives.

How long is it going to be before we can discuss these things, how much more does it take to spark a dialogue. We are not too far off from our flag being flown permanently half-mast.

I hear the argument that says that any sort of regulation would only punish the law-abiding gun owners. The criminals will always find a way to get a weapon, we will only make it harder for citizens who only wish to protect their homes and families. I understand the point and to some extent I can see the point; But why is this same mentality not applied to anything else? Millions are spent every year on this out-dated notion of the War on Drugs, even though by the logic of this argument, criminals will always find a way to get their drugs, we know we can’t stop them all, so why do we try?

candleSome will argue that any law requiring background checks or any stipulation of what and how much we can own is a violation of the second amendment. I see where they are coming from but I do not agree. The right to bear arms is listed in the Constitution but there is nothing stating that no qualifications could not be employed. By that argument isn’t also a violation of our rights to deny gun ownership to felons, the mentally ill, and minors.

I don’t know the answer, as I said. But we need to have an adult discussion about this. This is a terrible thing to get used to, to accept as a part of our lives from now on. We don’t hear of shootings on a regular basis happening in Australia or Europe or even Canada.

And I know guns aren’t the only issue. Too many in this country are suffering and struggling with mental illness. The cultural and social divide becomes an ever-widening chasm. People react with drastic actions when the legal options offer no path to freedom and no satisfaction.

This is not something we should grow accustomed to, this is not a natural part of our lives that we might as well accept because there no way of avoiding them. We cannot afford to be complacent, and we shouldn’t sweep the conversation under the rug and say now is not the time to discuss these things. When then? What will it take for us to look at this problem and try to find a solution?

I don’t think we can afford to put it off any longer, and if the patterns continue, it will be less than a month, maybe less than a week, before we hear about the next event. Another terrible senseless action taking more innocents from us, and then another impetus to look at this phenomenon in a somber and sober light.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter