Caller I.D. is a pretty cool feature. It is helpful to know who is calling so you can:
1) Quickly answer the phone. Or,
Spend time practicing being delighted for a caller you cannot stand. Or,
3) Pretend not to be home at all. (Most convincing if you have a landline.)
I’m hoping that the next advance in phone technology will be TOPIC I.D. It’d be handy to know in things in advance like: “Annoying cousin is in town and planning to drop by.”
Or, “Co-worker is ill and wants to know if you’ll fill in for them.”
And especially: “Kid is calling from college and needs money. Again.”
Most of the time when my father-in-law would call, I would already know what the topic would be. “What’s it doing over at your place?” he’d say. He was referring, of course, to the weather. There is no single topic that is of greater common interest to all people. The fact that my father-in-law only lived a mile away did not matter in the least. “We got about three inches of snow over here,” he might say. “I would tell him, “We only have two.” He would sound triumphant.
For men, snow is pretty much like anything else when it comes to measurement—substantially exaggerated. If nearly six inches of snow falls, a woman will estimate that around five inches of snow has fallen. A man will round it off to a foot.
When I was a kid, whenever snow would fall in my hometown, you could always count on hearing from Old Man Haggard. That was his actual name—Old Man. He was named after his grandpa. Old Man Haggard would loudly announce to any kid within ear-shot that none of us knew what real snow—and hardship—was like.
“When I was your age,” he would bellow, “My twin sister (Old Lady Haggard) and I had to walk 14 miles through three feet of snow to get to school!” Impressive.
But then we found out that he’d actually only lived four houses down from the school. Maybe he walked the long way.
Plus, Haggard grew up in Palm Springs. (Climate change must have really been going gangbusters back when he was a kid. Either that, or the three feet of snow was measured length-wise.)
To kids, snow has always represented unabashed, ivory-colored nirvana. This is true for two reasons. First, snow is really a magnificent toy. It is Mother Nature’s Silly Putty, only better. If it were an actual product, the advertisements would proclaim:
“Hey kids! Looking for fun? Get SNOW! SNOW is great for sledding, sliding, skiing, snowboarding and more! You can shape it into balls! You can build forts with it! You can even shape it, put clothes on it—and make it look like a man or woman! Plus, as long as it’s new and white, you can even eat it! SNOW! It’s fun, fluffy—and free!”
The second—and most important—reason that snow is so welcome to kids is that only snow (with the exception of a teachers’ strike) has the awesome magical power to create instant vacation days. So while parents nervously pace when snow begins to fall overnight, even kids who did not like church begin to pray. The next morning, with trembling fingers, kids reach for the radio and wait for the wondrous announcement: “No school today!”
Then, the joyful noise of children’s cheering wakes every man, woman, dog, cat, parakeet, hamster and termite in the house.
I vividly remember a January night many years ago. I was in the 9th grade—filled with dread over a big test coming in the morning. I had not studied adequately for it. By ‘adequately’ I mean not at all. I was doomed.
Then, while resignedly going to bed, I noticed a few flakes fluttering down outside the window. They weren’t corn flakes either. (Incidentally, it is a fact that no two corn flakes are alike.) A couple of hours later, I popped awake to look out the window again. By then it was really coming down. (Note: in Australia, it really comes up.)
By morning, a miracle had taken place. School was cancelled for the day—and since it was a Friday, that meant I had been given a three-day reprieve! Three days to study for that test! Three days to score an A! Yes, I had been granted a miracle!
The next three days were spent playing in the snow—never cracking a book.
Come Monday, I flunked the test.
A miracle, like a mind, is a terrible thing to waste.