Chilling revelations

Something that bugs the bejammers out of me is people complaining about our winters.

You know their rap: They’re sooo long. They’re sooo cold. They’re sooo snowy.

Oh yeah?

Listen, as far as I’m concerned, if you’re under 50, you don’t even know what a real Adirondack winter is. The truth is, like the rest of us, today’s winters are half the men their fathers were.

Sure, we still get some snow and some cold days, but we don’t get weeks in a row of them. But back in the Old, Cold Days? Lemme tell ya, bubeleh, them were winters what were winters!

As for snow? Just look at pictures from the ’50s and ’60s of the main roads. And when you do, I’ll tell you what you’ll see — snowbanks halfway up the telephone poles.

A personal recollection about dealing with The White Stuff? I can’t count how many times I had to set my alarm at least twice a night to go out and shovel my driveway. Then I had to get up extra-early to again clear the driveway so I could get to the road. And even if it had stopped snowing, I still had to shovel out what’d been pushed in by the snowplow.

And of course there was The Cold. As I said, we get some of it now, but when was the last time you saw two solid weeks of sub-zero temps? And when I say two weeks, that’s exactly what I mean — 14 days and nights when the thermometer never, ever, even for one nanosecond reached zero. One day it’d be minus 10, and minus 15 at night; the next day it might be minus 15 during the day and minus 20 at night. If we were lucky, the third day might be a balmy minus 5 during the day and an equally balmy minus 10 at night. When the cold snap finally ended and the mercury soared to 10 or 12 above, we all acted like Speedo weather was right around the corner.

But ultimately, none of that was a big deal. What would’ve seemed an Antarctic death trip to downstate denizens was just a fact of life to us — as it had to be.

A simple how-to

There’s no secret to being comfortable in extreme cold, since it depends on only two things.

One is a simple though mysterious process of adjustment. Generally, by early December the cold doesn’t bother me anymore. One day, as if by magic, I take out the dogs for their morning head call, and even if I’m lightly dressed, I’m comfortable. The old-timers used to say it was because your blood thickens, a theory as intriguing as it is unscientific. No matter — the cold bothers me more in November, when I’m wearing heavier clothes, than it does in February.

The second way to stay warm is obvious: Wear the right clothes. Or as the Scandinavians say, “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.” And the right clothing, in my not-so-humble opinion, is lots of layers and lots of wool.

I learned how to dress for the cold from The Masters, Themselves — the Paul Smith’s foresters. No matter how cold those winters were, the foresters were out in them. And not just for a leisurely stroll — they had three-hour outdoor labs at least three afternoons a week. And no matter how cold it was, I never heard any of them complain about it.

So in a nutshell, here’s The Dope’s Guide to Sub-Zero Comfort: long johns, wool pants, two or three long-sleeve undershirts and a sweater. Or I might change it up — one T-shirt, two wool shirts, a vest and a jacket, and so on.

Of course, you’ll also need appropriate boots, hat and gloves.

And now my secret for perfect comfort. Your neck loses a lot of heat, so be sure to keep it covered. Turtlenecks are good, but I prefer a bandana, which is tied around my scrawny neck 24-7. And if it’s really cold, I’ll add a wool scarf.

Essentially, layers of wool are the sine qua non of my winter wardrobe.

Sadly, wool’s gone out of favor with most people. I’m not sure why, but the reason I hear most is it itches. It does, at first, but wear it often enough, and you get used to it. And let’s face it, we’re the most adaptable species and can adjust to almost anything. Why, there are things people today do with ease that would’ve been considered impossible 70 years ago. Among them are digesting McDonald’s swill, texting while driving and finding “Seinfeld” funny.

They of little faith

But no matter how easy it is to stay warm in frigid temperatures, lots of people (mostly men) refuse to do it. Instead, they whine as if they’re victims and winter was out to get them, personally. A perfect example was witnessed by my pal Pat Bentley.

A bunch of years ago, Pat, a native Tupper Laker and Brother Number One of The Demars Boulevard Demimonde, was in Poughkeepsie or Hudson or Saugerties — one of those downstate Babylons. Wanting to hoist a jar or two and shoot the breeze with the local talent, he stopped in a neighborhood bar. It was a brisk mid-January evening, and every guy who came in the bar had the shivers and a litany of complaints about how cold it was. Even after being in the bar for a while, they still complained.

Finally, Pat could stand it no more.

“Nothing personal,” he said, “but you guys don’t even know what cold IS.”

Everyone stopped carping and looked at him.

“Oh?” said the guy on the stool to his right. “And I suppose you do?”

“As a matter of fact, I do,” said Pat.

He let that sink in and went on.

“I come from Tupper Lake, which is one of the coldest places in the U.S. — all year round,” he said.

Then he proceeded with the usual freezalogue we lay on flatlanders. Of course, no one was impressed with his creds, and the looks on their faces showed it.

“OK, I’ll tell you what,” said Pat. “I’ll bet any of you 20 bucks it’s 10 degrees colder there than here.”

“And how you gonna find out?” said the guy on the stool his left.

Keep in mind, this was in the stone age of cellphones, back when they were only phones, not computers.

“Simple,” said Pat. “The area code is 518, and the local exchange is 359. Just call any number you want, and ask them.”

They all agreed.

“But first,” said Pat, “it’s put up or shut up.”

He pulled out his wallet and pointed at the bar. In no time there were a bunch of double sawbucks in front of him. After he matched them, one guy took out his cell, put it on speaker and dialed a number. On the other end an elderly woman in the Junction picked up.

The man introduced himself and said where he was calling from. Then he said, “There’s a guy here from Tupper Lake named Pat Benson. Maybe you know him?”

“Are you calling from a bar?” she asked.

“Yes,” said the guy.

“In that case,” she said, “I know him.”

Everyone got a chuckle out of that — especially Pat.

“Pat wants to know the temperature there,” said the guy.

“All right,” said the lady, “hold on.”

A minute later, she came back on the phone.

“It’s thirty-eight degrees,” she said.

All the guys burst into raucous laughter.

“Why’s everyone laughing?” she asked.

“Well,” said the guy, “Pat’s been telling us how cold your winters are. Then he bet each of us 20 bucks Tupper’d be at least 10 degrees colder than us. But right now it’s 16 degrees here.”

There was a long pause on the other end. Then the lady spoke.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I misunderstood,” she said. “You meant the temperature outside.”


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