Before Christmas, I drove up to Chicagoland to visit friends and family. I was fortunate on the ride up; no snow fell until I stopped for the night at a hotel outside Indianapolis. The next morning, everything was blanketed in snow. It was beautiful and I pity anyone who’s never seen or touched or smelled snow. I envy anyone who’s never had to scrape that snow off his car.
The car parked next to mine was from a dealership back home. Turns out I wasn’t the only person stupid enough to make that long a drive into bitterly cold climes instead of staying in sunny Florida. If anything, she was even more foolish than I: she was headed for Milwaukee.
One day I had lunch with “Person A,” who felt it necessary to share his views on politics. In short: Democrats bad except for Edwards, Republicans bad except for Huckabee, Bush is the Anti-Christ, and the rich are getting richer and the “little guys” like him are getting poorer. (This particular “little guy” owns two homes, at least three cars, and is putting his first two kids though college.) The cake-taker was when he said that he’d watched a documentary on Lincoln recently. His opinion, after watching the whole entire documentary, was that Lincoln was “a pretty good President, even though he freed the slaves.” That’s almost an exact quote—he did actually say “even though” though most people would’ve said “because,” but he did not actually say “slaves.”
The next day I had lunch with “Person B,” a 93-year-old gentleman who was in excellent health, was dating a woman 2/3rds his age, and drove a cherry-red sports car. He is my new idol. Additionally, he’d been a professor of economics at the University of Chicago. We talked about the state of economics education in high school and college, the rift between Trotskyites and Stalinists, inflation and black markets in Italy during and after World War II. (When I write “We talked,” it’s to make myself look smarter; my participation would be more accurately described as “asking questions” and “listening attentively.”)
I’m a little depressed that Person A’s vote counts as much as Person B’s.
I visited the cemeteries where many of my ancestors are buried, and after paying respects, was led to ponder my wishes for the disposition of my own remains. I have decided that I would like my remains to be launched into the Sun along with some radioactive material, on the off-chance that… never mind.
I visited my aunt, uncle and seven-year-old cousin. My cousin refused to eat the salad her mom made for dinner because it had red bell peppers in it. Goading, pleading, and threatening didn’t seem to work. She simply sat there and wouldn’t eat. Since there were no world-renowned child psychologists around, I figured I might help.
I knew that simply saying “It’s good for you!” or “It’s actually quite yummy!” wouldn’t work. She’d heard those before, no doubt. So I talked about foods I didn’t like when I was younger. I told her that I used to despise broccoli, but not because it tasted bad; it didn’t. It tasted like water, like nothing. Why waste the time, space, or effort on broccoli? But then I learned to like it a little better because I’d eat it more slowly, and give the flavor some more time to come out.
She simply sat there and wouldn’t eat.
I asked her what she didn’t like about the bell peppers and she said she didn’t know. So I ate one and talked to her about the very slight sweetness, the very slight spiciness, and the crunchy wateriness of the pepper. Or maybe I said watery crunchiness, I don’t remember. I told her, it’s really not that bad, and if you give it time, you might like it.
She simply sat there and wouldn’t eat.
So finally, I took a dollar bill out of my wallet and said I’d give it to her if she ate one slice of bell pepper. Bam, done and done.
I worried that I might’ve undone seven years’ of my aunt and uncle’s parenting with that little gesture. But about ten minutes later, she got a dollar out of her piggy bank and gave it to me for visiting her. That was fair: we’d both corrupted each other’s upbringing equally.
On the way home, traffic came to a dead halt on the interstate in northern Indiana. A semi had gone into a ditch, and it was being towed out. I wasn’t in any rush, and I knew that it’d be a long while before I’d see snow again. So I put the ‘Rolla in park, found a decent station on the radio, and looked at the landscape. There weren’t many trees. Snow blanketed the plains, and there was thick fog that allowed maybe a half-mile of visibility. Maybe a mile. It was beautiful… until I realized that it reminded me of The Mist.
I suddenly remembered seeing, on the drive up, a deer carcass on the side of the road. Actually, the back half of a deer carcass. It almost looked like something huge had simply bitten the front half of it off.
The semi was not getting out of the ditch fast enough. And why block off both lanes? Why not open one lane for us to pass through? Heck, why not just leave the semi there and worry about it later that day? I leaned up against the window, trying to see down the emergency lane, but it was blocked. I stared into the dense fog and was increasingly unnerved. It was simple, blank whiteness, and God only knew what was in there.