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Summer’s Hot Mess

www.melindawentzel.comNever once have I fantasized about the dead of winter—until the summer became intolerable, that is. Time and again, I found myself yearning for the brutal cold of the Arctic, a frostbitten appendage or, at the very least, vicariously catapulting myself forward to the misery of January in Pennsylvania, snow shovel in hand. Usually such asinine ideas struck me first thing in the morning, when I left my beloved ceiling fan behind and stepped from an air conditioned haven into the soupy atmosphere that described much of June, July and August. To my mind, visiting the great outdoors this summer was like taking an extended vacation to the tropics, minus the margaritas or anything remotely fun.

That said, the suffocating heat that plagued the Northeast for what seemed like an eternity made me seriously consider relocating to the far reaches of Saskatchewan. The fact that I’d be a world away from the current political circus made the idea of moving to Canada even more appealing than avoiding the inevitability of heatstroke.

I could come back to the States when the climate and the country, collectively, returned to its senses. In all likelihood.

Aside from pipe dreams that involved vacating the region, on more than one occasion in the past 100 or more days I actually entertained the notion of crawling inside my freezer, where I could comfortably nestle within the confines of the ice cube bin or perhaps curl up next to the frozen Delmonicos—anything to avoid sweating like a beast 24/7. As I recall, just standing outside doing absolutely nothing (except trying to draw breath) was unbearable, let alone attempting to mow the lawn or lug the trash to the curb. Forget the scorching sun on my skin as I walked around the block with my dogs—their meaty tongues limp, their pitiful feet dragging in protest. Even standing beneath shade trees, venting to the neighbors about the godawful weather, was insufferable. Perhaps even more unnerving was my inability to tell whether I was feeling a wave of heat rising from the asphalt or just another hot flash.

Menopause is GREAT, and so is this summer—said no middle-aged woman in the northern hemisphere.

And the PURE AGONY that crawling inside a hot car at midday brought me—I can’t begin to describe that fresh hell, except to say that baking to my core inside a kiln might have been a more pleasurable experience. Nor can I adequately express how uncomfortable it was to wilt in a church pew or crowded stadium, surrounded by people desperately fanning themselves and doing everything in their power to avoid touching anyone else—because, of course, touching someone else would lead to spontaneous combustion. Probably.

In all honesty, I can’t remember a summer so horrendous. We had bona fide heat waves that lasted for a few weeks when I was a kid. And they were downright brutal—especially without any air conditioning ANYWHERE. It’s true. But month after month of feeling as if I were a mile from the sun—day into night, night into day? Not so much. No stretch of weather back then made me wish I could spend all afternoon making snow angels in the tundra. My brother and I wiled away the hours at the creek or poolside, riding bikes or in the bed of a pickup truck, the sun on our faces and wind in our hair. Or better still, we planted ourselves in front of a raspy box fan, perfectly entranced by its ability to distort our voices into something decidedly alien.

Back then, summer was fun—not something to be endured or wished away. With any luck, next summer will be like those of my youth—one to remember with a smile.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably still roasting. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Endless Summer, Rantings & Ravings

And the Snow Gods Laughed…

Enough already with the snow days. I’ve certainly had my fill of time home with the heathens—especially since the inclement weather, of late, has been anything but conducive to building snowmen and frolicking about in the great outdoors. Ice, somehow, just doesn’t carry the same appeal as the white, fluffy stuff. Neither does freezing rain. Nor bone-chilling temperatures.

That being said, I think school cancellations fall under the Law of Diminishing Returns—the more I experience, the less enamored with them I become. Further, they embody the spirit of my slightly twisted adage, “Too much of a good thing (like parent-child togetherness) can be horrible when it involves entertainment-starved youth and a dearth of all-things-entertaining.” Indeed, it’s likely I need a refresher course on keeping boredom at bay for the six-and-under set. (Note to self: Read 1,001 Things You and Your Kids Can Create with Pipe Cleaners and Modeling Clay! And after that, peruse the finer points of Embrace Cabin Fever, or Die!).

In all honesty, the first few days off from school with my children were wonderful—a welcome reprieve from our harried morning schedule. There were little or no discussions surrounding the topic of dawdling. No ogre-ish threats were made involving the consequences of missing the bus. No battles over the wearing of undershirts took center stage “…because I hate undershirts, Mom!” No one even checked to see if teeth or hair had been brushed, or that pajamas had been removed and subsequently replaced with suitable attire. Nor did anyone care. School was closed for the day and the gift of time—a sacred offering from the snow gods—had been bestowed upon us all. Liberated for one calendar day. I guess it’s much like I felt as a youngster—free to squeeze as much goodness out of a 24-hour period as was humanly possible.

Back then the joy didn’t wait for the official announcement to be made. Indeed, it arrived in earnest the night before a possible school cancellation. Like scores of goofy kids, my brother and I planted ourselves at a windowsill, anxiously scanned the starry skies for the suggestion of a snow flurry and clung to the hope that we would, in fact, receive the monstrosity of precipitation that had been forecast—as if we could will it to happen.

More recently, however, I’ve become obsessed with the Weather Channel and with local news stations that promise up-to-the-minute reports of closings. At an ungodly hour I stumble out of bed and glue my sorry face to the television screen, bathed in the blue-white glow that fills the entire bedroom. I do this because I lack both the initiative and the wisdom to fetch my glasses first. I then inch my snoot from left to right and back again, eye-to-eye with that stupid scroll thingy at the bottom of the screen—living in fear that I’ll somehow miss the L’s entirely. Translation: If that were to happen, I’d spend literally MINUTES in pure agony, oblivious as to whether or not I could skip the dreaded rousing-of-the-bleary-eyed-beasts-out-of-bed routine. A chore I loathe to the pithy core of my being.

But enough is enough. My charges have missed far too many days of school during this pitiful portrayal of winter. Besides, I think my kids would rather be there than home with me anyway. Perhaps it’s because I’m a pathetic parent and find it a supreme challenge to keep them content and actively engaged for any length of time (i.e. not at each other’s throats or leaping with glee upon my last nerve). Maybe it’s simply because they’re too young to fully appreciate the grand and glorious wonderment that a snow day possesses. They’re still completely smitten with the world of academia and, in fact, mourn the days when they cannot be with their teachers and friends, for whom they hold more adoration than for the sun and moon put together.

They’d never dream of actually wishing for a snow day. Ah, but that time will soon come and I’ll find them perched at a windowsill anxiously awaiting that which the weatherman hath promised.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Rantings & Ravings, The Natives are Decidedly Restless

Snow Blows

“I remember well that January day back in 1987…”

The forecast was for a light dusting. At the most, three inches of the fluffy white stuff would fall. Like any sensible Northeasterner who had been transplanted to our nation’s capital, I listened intently as the monotone little man inside my radio told how this winter event, innocuous as it first appeared, would likely affect the metro area.

Even as a relatively inexperienced driver fresh out of college, I knew what to expect—or at least I thought I did. Having been raised in the rural hills of North Central Pennsylvania, I had spent the better part of an eon watching my parents navigate treacherous roadways and had logged bazillions of hours at the helm myself—spinning and skidding all over that infamous learning curve (i.e. it wasn’t pretty, but I managed). Who knew the D.C. area would be my proving ground less than a decade later.

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Barely a flake was in sight as I made my usual trek to work that morning; however, the crazies were out in earnest (i.e. those adversely affected by the so-called Snow Craze). Just about everyone I encountered had that characteristic white-knuckle-death-grip-hunched-over-the-steering-wheel look I knew so well. Faces were ashen and strained as if bracing for the worst. Same story, different chapter in the elevator. Anxiety hung in the air, thick and unyielding. Urbanites clad in high heels and snappy suits were in a virtual panic over the forecast, clutching their beloved briefcases and cappuccinos as if they promised protection from impending doom. Paranoia had officially arrived, never mind the actual storm.

“How LUDICROUS,” I thought. “Snow is falling, not the fucking sky.”

Upon reaching my floor and department, I went about my normal morning routine which included organizing my memo-littered cubicle, gazing out the wall of windows at the tiny speck-like people below, skimming through the USA Today and downing an ice-cold Pepsi—my less-than-nutritious, caffeine vice. Who knew it would serve as my entire caloric intake for the day?

Not long after I had settled in, a voice bellowed from our office intercom, “DUE TO INCLEMENT WEATHER, ALL EMPLOYEES ARE HEREBY ADVISED TO LEAVE THE COMPLEX IMMEDIATELY. ALL FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OFFICES HAVE BEEN DISMISSED. DELAYS MAY BE EXPECTED.” It was as if someone had announced a two-for-one wrap special in the deli. People delirious with panic bolted for the doors, still clutching those precious briefcases and clicking those three-inch heels. Naturally, I joined the mass exodus—sans Stilettos.

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Humongous flakes, the ones my kids revel in catching on their tongues and eyelashes, were falling hard and heavy now at the rate of several inches an hour. By the time I hiked to my car, everything was completely shrouded in white. Roads were beyond slick and fast approaching perilous. Just getting onto the highway was an adventure in and of itself. Droves of frenzied people, no doubt anxious to leave the city, careened through the streets as if tuned to Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds. Never before had I witnessed such pandemonium—not even during a blizzard back home. All because of a simple, little four-letter word—snow.

Great multitudes of vehicles were lined up bumper to bumper, snaking westward like a giant convoy of snails. The complex maze of roadways leading into and out of the capital had morphed hideously—into a tangled, slippery mess choked to the extreme with cars and trucks. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to escape the lunacy—not only instantaneously, but simultaneously—which was a recipe for disaster.

Ironically, an hour later I could still eyeball the building where I worked in my rearview mirror. So much for the mad dash to avoid the crowds. And so much for listening to that stupid little man in my radio. Blasted liar. Those measly three inches he estimated wound up being a foot. Worse yet, a second storm pounded the region just two days later, bringing the monstrous total to 20+ inches. It may as well have been 10 feet. No one appeared to know what to do with it or how to drive in it.

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As I inched along Route 50, snow crunched beneath my wheels and silently blanketed my windshield. I felt like a prisoner in my own mobile igloo—barely mobile, I might add. Every half hour or so, I was forced to get out and brush away the growing heaps that my wipers couldn’t reach on a bet. From there I gazed at an endless procession of cars hopelessly immersed within a sea of snow and decided there was but one befitting word to describe the ordeal: PATHETIC. Better yet, four befitting words: UTTERLY AND INCOMPREHENSIBLY PATHETIC.

Periodically everyone was standing outside, smack dab in the middle of the highway (which was more like the suggestion of a highway, really), sweeping piles upon piles of snow from atop their cars and off their windows. I felt like part of an enormous pit crew. We were family in a sense—in it together for the long haul. A unified bunch of derelicts with a common goal—getting home. No gallery was present, however, to cheer us on to the checkered flag; but plenty of those in attendance chipped in by filling the air with colorful language galore. As if cursing at the stormy skies or at each other would improve the situation.

Creative driving was in full force as well. People attempted to circumvent traffic snarls by using ENTRANCE ramps to EXIT the highway. Not surprisingly, most of those particular idiots got buried half-way up or down the ramps, which infuriated all the other drivers who had followed.

Stupid pills had apparently been the drug of choice that day.

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Ridiculous as it might sound, the scene itself was almost circus-like. The only thing missing: A ringmaster. Nervous Nellies and Neds putzed along at a painfully slow rate—and got stuck. Fools raced around like a bunch of deranged squirrels at an acorn festival—and got stuck. Tank commanders, who believed their 4×4 wonder machines could orbit the earth—also, got stuck. Competency, it seemed, was nowhere to be found. Common sense had unfortunately taken a hike as well.

Soon massive piles of snow clogged the roadway and the shoulder vanished completely. Route 50 became a narrow channel through which we were herded westward like cattle bound for the slaughterhouse. No one could enter. And no one could leave. Our only alternative: To continue rolling ahead millimeter by millimeter, hour after hour like the mindless drones that we truly epitomized. Gas stations, shopping plazas and convenience stores lined the route, but sadly, were out of reach. They served merely to taunt us with their warmth and coziness, hot coffee and clean restrooms. Never mind THOSE amenities. I wanted a one-way ticket to the Bahamas.

Or snowshoes, size nine.

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Abandoned cars cropped up left and right—planted like trees in the center of the lane. Cautiously, I made my way around them and peered inside the fogged over windows as if passing the deceased at a wake (saddened and stunned by the loss, but at the same time, thrilled that it wasn’t me). Perhaps those who had vacated were in search of snowshoe bargains nearby or for those tickets to the Bahamas. Both possibilities were entirely viable.

Apparently, people had been running out of gas and couldn’t pull over to fill up. So they just got out and walked away from it all, leaving behind their beloved yuppiemobiles. Damned quitters. I sat behind one such snow-covered vehicle for 15 minutes before deciding that maybe I should check inside it. Nobody home. Naturally, I felt like a blithering idiot as I stared at the empty seat, but quickly reminded myself that I still had plenty of fuel and front-wheel drive. What’s more, I had snow boots. Probably could have sold them for a grand that day. Maybe two.

By now our marathon driving session had stretched to several hours. Tempers had begun to flare, patience had all but disappeared and everyone’s bladder (including mine) had surpassed its natural limit. But what to do? Each of us could certainly employ a few anger management techniques picked up here or there and we could all try being a little more patient or perhaps even search for the hilarity in the whole wretched experience. But there was no arguing with urinary urgency.

I only wished I had skipped my morning Pepsi—just this once.

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Longingly, I gazed at the multitude of gas station restrooms I passed by, even the ones with less-than-desirable facilities. I wouldn’t have cared if mold were growing on the toilet seat and a BEWARE OF DOG sign hung on the doorknob. I needed to go. The dog would just have to fend for itself.

Eventually, I had to act. I was desperate, and desperate times often call for less-than-intelligent measures. So I threw my car into park, turned off the engine, got out and began trudging through the knee-deep snow toward what appeared to be a church. Of course, my bold move failed to go unnoticed. People angrily honked their horns, yelled out their windows and shook their fists at me, demanding that I get back in and “Drive, stupid!” I decided it would have been pointless to try and explain my dilemma to this very long line of irate folks. So with my face buried deep inside my coat and my teeth beyond the buoyancy stage, I plodded on toward the refuge I hoped would welcome me, ignoring the adamant requests that trailed behind me.

After circling the entire building and testing each and every door to no avail, I mulled over the alternatives. I could circle again and continue to bang on the doors, trusting that someone would eventually hear me. I could wade through the toe-numbing snow to another deserted building and try my luck there. Or I could return to my car—defeated. None of these options promised immediate relief.

Cautiously, I eyed some rather large shrubbery that framed an entranceway at the back of the church and thought, “Hey, what do I have to lose?” No one from the road would be able to see, the houses behind the building were fairly distant and not one solitary soul was in sight. Clearly, the benefits outweighed the costs and the risk of being caught was minimal—unless, of course, the Fairfax County police were busy citing people for yellowing the snow that afternoon. I banked on that being highly unlikely.

So I went about my business, safely tucked between the building’s brick wall and an enormous, shoulder-high hedge that was buried under nearly a foot of snow. Beneath it, however, not one flake had fallen. It was the most perfect makeshift outhouse I had ever seen. Then my glorious plan fell apart at the seams. Apparently my persistent knocking and rattling had paid off. Someone had heard me. And that someone was now less than three feet away. I listened intently as keys jangled together, a metal padlock snapped open and heavy chains slipped through the door handles, cascading to the floor in a thunderous heap.

Shortly thereafter, the door swung open and my heart sank. Surely, I’d die of embarrassment if not hypothermia. I didn’t dare move a muscle and could scarcely breathe. I prayed and prayed that whoever was standing there would simply go away, never having noticed me—or my pants, bunched at my ankles. The seconds that passed before he spoke seemed like an eternity, but I just couldn’t bear to turn around and face him—it was too humiliating.

Finally, I heard a deep voice, “Oh.” And it wasn’t the, “Oh!” of surprise (although I’m sure he was); it was more the “Oh, now I get it.” He may as well have said, “I got here as fast as I could ma’am, but I see you done solved it yerself. I’ll just mosey on back to work, then.” Sight unseen, he could have passed for James Earl Jones with a southern drawl. I wanted to disappear into a snow bank somewhere or crawl under a rock and die.

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At last, “James Earl” did go away. The heavy door clanged shut and I heard him walk down the hallway that I had been longing to enter just moments before. Now was my chance to gather my wits, regain my composure and escape with the mere shreds of dignity that remained.

Despite the mounding snow, the hike back to my car was remarkably short. No doubt, I was eager to put the past behind me. Besides, there was no sense lingering to hear peals of laughter echo throughout the church. I had suffered enough humiliation already.

As I neared my car (which amazingly enough, no one had smashed out of spite), I noticed that the irate folks who demanded I stay had been replaced by other irate folks. Joy. I had no time to be bothered by that, however. The sun had begun to set and soon it would be dark—making a bad situation worse. At this point, I was about six hours into the commute from hell—tired, cold and hungry—just like everyone else that day. My 20-mile jaunt had mutated into something utterly hideous—something virtually unimaginable—an urban Iditarod for the soon-to-be certifiable. “Next time,” I vowed, “I’ll sleep in my sillyass cubicle and eat computer chips before I’ll subject myself to this lunacy!”

For the life of me, I simply couldn’t comprehend the crippling nature of this storm. Never before had I remembered a foot of snow wreaking such havoc. Then it dawned on me; I had yet to see a single solitary snowplow. Not even so much as a cinder or salt truck had appeared since I had begun driving that morning—at least none that I had seen. What in God’s name had they been doing—waiting for a formal invitation?!

Snowplows or not, however, I persevered. So into my car I clambered one last time, hopeful that the plows had somehow managed to find the parking lot of my apartment complex—so I could end this nightmare. After plodding along for another hour or so, I did, in fact, reach my long-awaited destination. Surprisingly enough, those plows had been there and without question, I could have kissed one of the drivers (had I seen one). Instead, I settled for kissing the snow-covered earth beneath my feet—no longer a slave to my vehicle, my home-away-from-home, for what seemed an eternity.

Undeniably, I had learned plenty that day—particularly, about assumptions. Never again would I bank on what that monotone little man inside my radio prattles on about with regard to weather. Nor would I assume that each and every driver on the planet possesses a modicum of common sense or a reasonable degree of competency behind the wheel. Furthermore, I now realize there is at least one more reason not to drink and drive.

Copyright 2007 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Daily Chaos, Rantings & Ravings