The Winter of My Discontent

Why February really is the cruelest month.

The calendar has finally flipped over to March. It’s about damn time.

February is almost assuredly my least favorite month of the year. I’m not a fan of winter in general; it may have something to do with the fact that I was born in August. My delicate body wasn’t meant to cope with such harsh conditions. Of course, armchair psychiatrists might suggest that I have Seasonal Affective Disorder. For my part, I’d like to find the pencil-neck who thought it would be cute to give a mood disorder the acronym “SAD” and punch him in the eye.

'Frozen World,' by Evgeni DinevBy February, winter has long since worn out its welcome. I spend most of December wrapped up in the euphoria of the Christmas season. The good vibes generally stretch into January, and there are distractions like the football playoffs to fill in the blanks. But February? I’ll let comedian Lewis Black speak for me:

The weather is gray, rainy, gray, sleet, gray, rain, gray, sleet, snow, gray; every day it just gets grayer and grayer and grayer! You wake up one day, and you go, “I’m not comin’ into work today!” Your boss goes, “Why not? You sick?” “No! It’s too gray!” Then you wake up and it’s the grayest day you’ve ever seen. And the next day, it’s even grayer! And that’s usually Valentine’s Day, and that’s the day you look at your wrists and go, “Hey, maybe I should slit ’em to see color!”

Amen, brother. Let me paint a scene for you. The alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m. My eyes bolt open and take in nothing but pitch blackness. The news reporter on the radio tells me that it’s 17 degrees. Fahrenheit. It’s one thing to step outside and feel the icy cold down in your bones, but there’s something about having such a low number to quantify that chill that makes it more cruel. Anyway, within five minutes I’ve hoisted myself from the bed, sloughing off the toasty warm down comforter and assaulting my senses and my underwear-clad body with drafty air.

I blindly grope my way to the bathroom, where the hot water from the shower head envelops me for five glorious minutes. Just as I start to get comfortable, I have to reach over and shut the shower off. Now I’m not only cold again, but I’m soaking wet. I spend the next few moments spasmodically swiping at my extremities with a bath towel, shivering all the while like an Eastern European peasant in a bread line.

After getting dressed for work, I bustle out the door to warm up the car. Now I’m struck with the full bitter assault of the weather. I put my key in the ignition and exhale as the engine barely sputters to life. My car is 18 years and 184,000 miles old, and every time I start it up in sub-freezing temperatures I’m certain it will be the last time. Before I go back inside to shovel down some breakfast, I try to lock the car on the off chance that anyone’s looking to steal a bucket of bolts from out front of a townhouse at 6:30 in the morning. Of course, my car is so old and it’s so cold that the power locks don’t even work properly.

Now I’m on my way across the Baltimore Beltway to work. I struggle to peer through the film of rock salt that coats my windshield. I would give it a cleansing squirt of washer fluid, but there’s enough salt still lurking on the asphalt to make it an exercise in futility. The canned heat from the vents bakes my already-dry skin, which itches underneath a few layers of clothing and a wool jacket. I reach up to scratch my forehead and wonder whether I’ll have the complexion of Edward James Olmos by the time spring comes. On the radio, the sports anchor gives a brief and pointless report. Football season has just ended and baseball teams are just beginning their first workouts. Hockey and basketball don’t really make a dent in Baltimore’s sports consciousness. This is the most barren time of year for someone with my rooting interests. Once I get to work, I can look forward to eight hours in a cubicle with little chance of sunlight breaking through the clouds to add some natural light to the antiseptic fluorescent buzz of the office fixtures.

Even if a little unseasonable warmth sneaks into February, it’s all the more disappointing for its fleeting and volatile nature. Here in Maryland this year, we were blessed with clear skies and temperatures pushing 70 degrees on the second-to-last Thursday and Friday in February. I even took the opportunity to cast aside my regular Wii Fit regimen for a couple of days to go jogging around the neighborhood, much to the creaking disapproval of my out-of-practice joints and muscles.

The subsequent three days brought overcast skies and violent winds. By Monday evening, the city was bombarded with five inches of wet snow.


Photo credit: “Frozen World,” by Evgeni Dinev

Article © 2011 by Kevin Brotzman