Tuesday, January 20, 2009

And the cold does worse things to some of us than others

I was on the Mall for the swearing in. Because while I am a delicate flower, and loathe the cold more than just about anything, I couldn't bear the idea of not being in the middle of things.

There's no need to go through any of it with you; you saw it first-hand or on TV, and if the latter, had a much more comprehensive view than I did.

So, let's be clear. I am so glad I went. It was exciting. It was incredible to witness, and it felt amazing to be in a crowd so jubilant, so positive. I have no regrets about going.

Also, I got so cold I couldn't wait to leave.

To prepare for the hours in the freezy freezingness, I started with an undershirt. Then a long sleeve shirt, a wool turtleneck, and a fleece jacket. I then wrapped a thick, thick wool scarf around my neck, and then squeezed into my heaviest coat and warmest hat.

I could barely get into the coat, I had so many layers underneath. My arms stuck out a little on the sides.

My weak point was my feet. I had knee-high wool socks and my Dansko clogs - good for all the walking, but no match for hours of standing on the brutally cold ground.

One of the things I learned about myself today is that much like opera, I like outdoor winter events - even momentous, once-in-a-lifetime ones - better in theory than in practice.

At a certain point, I stopped being able to feel my feet. And that point was a good half hour before the swearing in began. And a good couple hours before we got back to my friend's house. And once I reached that point, my feet were almost all I could think of.

My feet, my fucking freezing feet. I bet I have frostbite. How long before there's permanent damage?

I started thinking about that depressing Jack London story, To Build a Fire. The cold creeps up, and you can't get your fire started, and then you fall asleep and die. Your dog even leaves you, if I recall correctly.

So anyway. We walked and walked, stood and stood, and cheered and clapped, and then walked and walked. And after a brief stop at my friend's house to warm up, I headed back into the cold to metro out to Virginia.

As soon as I got home, I stuck my feet as close to the fire as possible. Once I get all bone cold, it takes hours to get unfrozen.

Nick said my feet got so cold because all my blood was rushing to my core to keep it warm. He said my feet were probably extra cold because all your blood leaves your extremities.

He said that when his feet get really cold, he pees a lot.

"You mean," I said, "you just stand there and pee all over them to warm them up?"

This was a strategy that had never occurred to me. Messy, but probably effective. . .

He didn't even respond, just gave me that head cocked, oh no, sweetheart, no, you feeble thing, kind of look.

I wonder if your brain counts as an extremity?


  1. You were there! I'm so excited for you! Hooray Obama! I watched the events on tv at the office, temps in Austin today were in the 60's and sunny.

    Sorry about the cold. The brain is definitely an extremity, depending on how long one's legs are...almost as far from the heart as one's feet.

  2. Tell it, sister! We were also there and our biggest issue was, of course, the feet!! Ouchhhh! However, they were sufficiently warmed with a few glasses of wine at Zaytinya. Our brains were actually rendered useless (thank goodness we planned ahead!!).

  3. How exciting! I hope in time you remember more of the event, less of the feet. And in some cases, brains do count as extremities. But I wouldn't pee on them. :)

  4. Apparently that's one of the things you're *not* to do when you're freezing--peeing yourself to stay warm, that is. Much like drinking sea water in order to slack one's thirst, it actually makes the situation worse. In the pee case, by accelerating the loss of heat due to the quickly cooled pee, and also possibly pee rash.

    The fact that manuals on staying alive under extreme conditions would deliberately mention this shows that your chain-of-thought is the most intuitive consideration.

  5. Speaking of pee, I heard something about a lot of people at the inauguration wearing Depends?

  6. But wouldn't all that clothing squish the blood back into your feet?

  7. Oh, I envy you! But you need a pair of these: http://zapp.me/z7462998
    I've had mine for a few weeks and I can't stop wearing them even though it isn't snowy here any more. They are warm! And they have a flock of penguins on the soles. And a polar bear who looks like he's trying to blend in.

  8. I feel that this narrative needs a dash of drama. Perhaps you could add that you attempted to build a fire while freezing your feet off as Obama spoke, and that an avalanche of security fell upon you like cascading snow. Where you once had a fire, there was now scattered uniformed security officers. A certain fear of imprisonment, dull and oppressive, came over you and you sat down to your fate... your friends having long abandoned you.

  9. Hehehehehehe.

    I think that *some* people's brains count as extremities...

  10. So glad you were there to see it! Wasn't Aretha Franklin amazing! I started crying right in the middle of my office!

    Also, I think your brain counts as an extremity, but something urine-to-keep-warm related: When I went diving, the instructor said that if it gets too cold when we go down to where all the sunlight is filtered, it would be best to pee in the wetsuit to keep warm.

    It was a rented wetsuit.

    I wondered to myself how often the wetsuits are hosed out and if the person who used mine before me had followed the instructor's advice...

  11. HKW - It was incredible to be there, it really was. Although I'd be so happy with 60 degrees. I have warm weather envy.

    Jennifer - Ohh, wine. I was thinking how perfect a nice glass of red wine would be yesterday. Or a pint in a warm pub. Or a flask in the cold crowd.

    Sarah - Hahaha! OK, no peeing.

    cp22 - I will definitely bear that in mind if caught in the cold wilderness and tempted to pee on myself for warmth. Quickly cooled pee would be even worse. Ugh.

    Nicole - I could believe it. Some of those people stood from crack of dawn to have good views on the parade route, and I don't think the parade started till 3.

    Susan - Alas, no. I had pretty much no blood in my feet. Grim.

    A.S. - Those look like exactly what I needed yesterday. Warm warm warm.

    Anonymous - That is exactly what this story needed. Plus maybe I could then follow it up with a post about getting waterboarded in the aftermath or something.

    Jessica - Mine is so far from my everything lately that I'm lucky it's attached at all.

    Jo - Yah, I have heard that about wetsuits. I've only been diving once and the water was warm and I didn't need to pee, BUT I figured, urine is sterile and the water would wash it away anyway, no?

  12. i wore my ugly ass snowboots that i HATE just b/c i knew it was gonna be bad - we walked around for a few hours monday, and my feet were frozen in my regular boots, so i knew i'd have to suck it up. they stayed relatively warm - it was more my thighs and arms that started having involuntary convulsions around 11:00 am! - but the lack of arch support really hit me on the walk home. i was like a little kid, whining after jason, "waaaaait! i can't gooooo that fast!" :)

  13. HA. It definitely counts as an extremity.

    Good on you for going... I was warm on my couch, but at least it was hi-def...

  14. Sad, no-outdoor-skills urban dwellers are we. Very effective insulated overboots are easy to improvise. And the job is absolutely trivial in dry weather if you're just going to stand around for a few hours (as opposed to actively hiking through snow): just fashion an inch-thick sole of folded newspaper, put it on top-center of 10 unfolded sheets of newspaper, set your booted foot on the improvised sole and wrap-tape the newspaper sheets around your boot. For extra insulation (if mobility is not needed), put each of your over-wrapped and booted feet in a paper grocery pag and tape close. You *will* be toasty for hours in 20-degree weather.


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