SO yesterday the meteorologist said: 8-12 inches bitches. Except that he didn't really say "bitches." He just inferred it when he cackled after every news update.
Anyways, the whole town panicked and filled their gas tanks, bought bottled water, dug out mittens and scarves OhWaitThisIsNorthDakotaWeDidThatTwoMonthsAgo.YesAugust, updated their living wills, etc.
We got likeA snowflake and it totally melted on impact.
It did rain a lot though. Like, had I left a bucket outside (which would require foresight and frankly, I don't have any... why would I be here for a THIRD winter if I did?) but had I left a bucket outside, I could have saved myself the 50 cents it costs to take a shower in the morning. I'da just taken the bucket, dumped it on my head and called it good.
There's a lot you can do with 50 cents, so don't knock it.
Aside from the obvious gum balls or handful of Mike N' Ike's circa 1985, you can also use 50 cent to start your rapping career. Pretty soon you have a criminal record, eight gun shot wounds and sing about fat kids loving cake. All that from 50 cents.
So suck one, haters.
But anyways, in some cities, bathing in rain is probably dirtier than no shower at all, but that's only because they have acid and smog and pollution. North Dakotans aren't necessarily any Earth friendlier than other states, but we Northerners just have a lot of fresh air. The only contaminate here is the breeze from our bowels. And methane. But then experts said methane could power the world one day. So that means the rain totally isn't dirty. And therefore clean. AND energy-efficient. We deserve a medal or a clock or something. Upon receiving it, we'd have to freshen up a little, the governor would probably appreciate it, but that's no problem because we'd have our shower buckets at the ready.
But now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure my landlord pays my water bill anyways. So showering costs me nothing. Amazing. All the money I spent on beer PG movies when I could have just played rubber ducks in the shower every Saturday night... landlord really should have mentioned something about that in my contract. I blame the meteorologists. Where were they with the bucket-idea in the first place? Now I'll have to move. But not before shaving my legs.
Thoughts of tall buildings, parking meters and sidewalks filled my head as I watched country boys lift 50-pound rolls of soppy sod from a factory-line belt to a pallet with broken limbs.
See, yesterday, I drove a tractor.
* Impatient for articles like "a, an" and "the" North Dakotas skip them entirely. "I fixed fence" "I drive truck (for a living)" "She's taking interstate." Ok fine. But I just live here, I'm not from here. So for me, "a, an" and "the" all stay. I am from the Midwest, however, so I'll still end my sentences with prepositional phrases when I want to.
But back to the story...
I drove a tractor... it was red with a radio and a heater and windshield wipers (I had no idea farmers were so happenin' p.s.).... and didn't run over any small children. Just the adolescent ones. But they're annoying and smelly and belong before video games anyway.
The assignment: harvest sod The task: hum the melody to Kenny Chesney's "She thinks my tractor's sexy" while Cowboy steers and compacts the sod seedlings beneath us.
Attached to the tractor was what probably has a perfectly appropriate and agricultural term. Since I'd prefer to deny that I participated in such a country act, we'll stick to a vocabulary I've nearly mastered: the words of the culinary world.
Cowboy took me for a ride in a big red tractor. Behind him, the tractor pulled a 500-pound rolling pin.
The goal: smoosh grass and ground together so another tractor can chop it like Christmas cookies the shape of granola bars. After the sod is cut and sent through the factory-like line, it shapes itself into a jelly roll. Then, another country boy packs the sod on a pallet, against each other left and right and top to bottom. A third country boy then secures the two dozen Hostess ho-hos with a roll of saran wrap so sticky it puts marshmallows out of work.
The morning began with Cowboy behind the tractor's wheel and me riding shotgun. But I soon grew tired of a game I like to call, arm-rest-in-butt-crack, so Cowboy offered a switch.
I don't know if that's a good idea, I said.
Why not? he inquired like Dennis the Menace or one of The Little Rascals. What could POSSIBLY go wrong with this scenario??
Soon he was showing me how to brake with two pedals and switch to third gear. Seriously, where's the cruise control? I asked.
It doesn't have one. Now stop and let me out, I want to stretch my back, he said.
Hells to the naw, I said, remembering the story of my dad's first driving test and how the instructor knew he was a farm boy because he could drive in straight lines. Had I been tested under similar circumstances, I would fail, EVEN TODAY.
I'm not ready yet, I said.
You'll be fine, Cowboy said. Like operating a machine with tires larger than the average adult female is big deal, he seemed to shrug. A 69-year-old with special needs usually handles this, Cowboy said. If he can do it, so can you.
You don't understand, I said. When it comes to seeds, dirt and growing seasons, I'M developmentally disabled, I cried.
Seriously. Stop the tractor, he said. My back hurts.
I DON'T KNOW HOW, I wailed.
All you gotta do is ClutchBrakesNeutralOffclutchNeutralParkingbrake and... PRESTO! he said. Understand?
Sure. Whatever. Get out. You're going to feel bad when I run this thing right over your face.
What was that?
Nothing. Carry on, I said. Already switching the radio station and belting Carrie Underwood's "Cowboy Casanova."
"He's a good time, Cowboy Casanova
Leaning up against the record machine
He looks like a cool drink of water
but he's candy-coated misery"
Soon, country boys from the middle of all sorts of nowheres pointed their fingers and clutched their bellies. A city girl drives tractor. Puh. But I didn't mind. I just gave them the one-finger wave and carried on.
Don't worry. It doesn't look like this anymore. But it did when I left for Denver six days ago. Yikes, was that a scary drive.
Prior to my life in North Dakota, the first snow was always a happy occasion. First snow meant it was time to think about winter break, cardigan sweaters and white lights that twinkled. Children wrote wish lists for Santa and adults baked with gingerbread and cookie cutters. Finally, you could break out Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas is you" and people's faces would turn from "the eff, Katie?" to "the hell, Katie?"
Three years ago, four to five inches of snow meant you had school, because crews could plow, push and melt that before the 8 a.m. bell.
Here, its an event of disastrous proportions: like, leave work early or you WILL NOT make it home. FOUR TO FIVE INCHES.
My snow anger melted, however, when I saw the green trees and their snow-covered branches. I don't care how Grinch-y you are, those saplings sure are purdy.
I'm going through the Big D and don't mean Dallas. That's because I mean Denver.
To get there, I must travel through Jamestown, where a dozen tree branches fell from heavy snow and caused power outages throughout the region; Valley City, where the buses are running two hours late; and Fargo, where streets have actual traffic and I'm not sure I remember how to drive like that, especially in winter.
"Sometimes you have to give up a little style to stay warm," Cowboy said to me, hammer in hand and tool belt around his waist.
I shook my head.
"I don't believe in that," I said, remembering the days of hiking two-foot snow drifts in two-inch heels.
"What about ear muffs?" I said, rummaging the closets of Cowboy's grandmother, preparing for an evening of garage wiring and light installing.
I'd offered to help install lights and wires yesterday in a senior citizen's two-stall garage. I assist because it gives me an excuse not to do laundry. And so I can show off the blisters on my middle fingers.
The garage was built for Cowboy's grandmother this summer to shelter her freezer and a teal-blue mini-van. But she can't. Not until the place has power. Naturally, Cowboy, an electrician by trade, waited until the evening of the area's first hard freeze to install it. He'll tell you his excuse is the flood and the sandbagging and losing his house and all. Hogwash. I blame Fantasy Football.
But I digress...
"I might have a stocking cap you can wear..." he offered.
My face contorted with the thought of static-y helmet hair. "Maybe I'll just do without."
Sure. I could've worn winter wear of my own. I'd arrived sporting black mittens and a green pea coat Grandma D deemed "Sooo cute. Does he tell you how you look in that? So cute!"
So while the coat of evergreen is probably replaceable, no garage-wiring project is worth the risk of its demise.
"Here," Cowboy said, wrapping me in a men's size XL letter jacket with hood made of sweatshirt material. "You can cover your ears with this."
I pulled the hoodie over my deliberately-messy ponytail and checked myself in the mirror. This isn't too bad, I thought. I've looked worse.
"Wait," he said, tying the hoodie's shoestrings in a bow. "Protect your ears."
"Nooooo!" I cried as if he'd dropped an antique tea cup my Irish ancestors brought with on the boat to America. "That's ugly."
"We gotta prepare you for the weather up here," he said, leading me outside and promising to protect me from woodchucks, badgers and feral cats.
"Listen," I said, pointing my finger and pausing for effect. "This is winter No. 3. I don't need you. I've prepared myself."
"Ok, but these temperatures can kill you," he said, daring to question the abominable Katie the Lady.
"I survived last year. I can do it again," I said, pumping my fist and showing off the sculpt of my guns.
"Right," he said, rolling his eyes. "You'll be the hottest dead chick in town."
It's a little early, but soon, Creighton University will gear up for its annual Christmas at Creighton ritual. The ritual itself was only important because of the hot chocolate and cold-weather camaraderie. Chances are, students walked to the whirly-gig water fountain with a friend, but ran into people unseen since freshmen year in Gallagher Hall.
Together the students caught up, reminisced and complimented each other's cozy winter wear. Oh yeah, and the t-shirts. Everyone bought a t-shirt. A campus event was nothing without a cleverly designed and ill-fitting short-sleeve crew neck tee.
After the Christmas at Creighton event itself, the campus glowed with white lights in the leaf-less and evergreen trees. Except for the token Bluejay tree. That one twinkled the same color as the blue trim on the V.J. and Angela Skutt Student Center.
The lights stayed on. All day. All night. The lights made it so the 4 a.m. walks home from the Creightonian newsroom didn't feel so cold anymore.
Those are my memories of school.
Walking to an event like Christmas at Creighton with one friend and running into people you hadn't seen or spoken to in three years. Good memories.
But memories that are so unlike those of country people.
Unless someone is no longer living, country people don't go three years without speaking. They barely go three days without speaking. And their friends, they didn't meet each other freshmen year. They didn't sit behind you in that one philosophy class that one semester either.
They sat behind each other in every class of every year until someone moved or graduated high school.
So they know their classmates, classmates' siblings, parents, grandparents and cousins twice removed. And they know that Classmate A's mom is now divorced and dating the dad of Classmate B. And how Classmate C had an affair with the uncle of Classmate D. And how Classmate A's mom and Classmate D's uncle are brother and sister.
The connections are like a North Dakota winter: it feels OK at first but Jesus is it over yet? No... it lasts forever.
Sometimes it's nice to be anonymous.
Rarely do I want to dress appropriately for an outing to the grocery store. Pajama pants do the job just fine.
But should I even consider such a repulsive thought, my boss shows up along with the superintendent of schools, police chief and all five members of the Stutsman County Commission.
I have about the worst of both worlds. I know enough people to be recognized, but I still don't know the mayor well enough to be comfortable conversing with her while wearing the rubber-duck print on the boxers I'd just slept in. And since it's Jamestown, the mayor would likely recognize me and call me by name. Pretty much.
But when I go anywhere with Cowboy, be that on my home-turf of Jamestown of his home-turf of all areas south, he knows everyone. Every. Single. Time. It's like that. Bar, movie, grocery store, farm auction...
"I hate going to Wal-Mart," Cowboy said to a table of five the night he planned a dinner for two. "Even if I only want milk, it takes me an hour and a half because I know everybody."
It takes me a hour and a half too. But that's because I walked by an eyelash curler I had to have.
In a small town, everybody's pretty much a big deal. Everyone's famous. Or infamous. You can't make a mistake one decade and expect people to forget it by the next.
I guess that makes for more honest and loyal neighbors. And maybe makes people dress better too. Just kidding. Dressing up in this town means wearing black jeans instead of blue ones.
So I guess I have to adjust.
I just don't know how I'm going to tell those rubber duckies that they aren't allowed in public anymore...
While shopping for a few items at the Wal-Marts, I jutted through the apparel section, the quickest route from point A (skin care products) to point B (cereal).
I don't want to get into the morality of Wal-Mart. You won't find those opinions here. But I do have one problem with the chain, and that's its speed of service. Why is it that when I walk into the Wal-Marts needing milk and toilet paper, I inevitably leave with ketchup, mustard, Christmas cards and the newest Miley Cyrus DVD? It took me a hour and now I have to wash my bum with newspaper.
Mid-jut, I passed a middle-aged man with gray hair and a beard. The man was rummaging through a stack of Wranglers and speaking like a sailor drinking an ocean of whiskey.
"I can't never find jeans that fit," he said, seeking condolences from the nearest living soul, be that a young lady or a talking Halloween decoration.
Nevertheless, I sympathized. I grew up in department store dressing rooms.
My jeans were always too long in the leg, too narrow in the thigh or too wide in the waist. So I tried every pair. Every pair of Levi's, Bongo and Mudd. Every Saturday. Until I memorized the markings on the wall and knew all the Kohl's associates by name.
"I know how you feel," I said, apologetically and pausing for a smile.
"Yeah," he said. "And they're never tight enough. These kids with their..."
I'm not sure what he said after that. I was too busy running.