Souls on ice

By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 11, 2010

Voices carry. They bounce off buildings. They come from just beyond the plane of visibility, behind the churning haze. No one's around, yet there are sounds now and then -- sharp laughter, garbled shouting, detached, coming out of nowhere, coming over roofs. It's a gray-white echo chamber out here. Spooksville. Lunar. Plains-y. A winter episode of "Little House on the Prairie," with the hatches battened down. Dark figures fade in and out of view. (Zombies?)

It's mostly quiet, though, along 14th Street NW. Quiet enough to hear the muffled whine of vacuum cleaners and the wails of cooped-up toddlers coming through rowhouse windows, perhaps hinting at the deranged menagerie indoors: Frantic parent, in the late stages of cabin fever, turns to the Hoover for something to do, for something to drown out the child who has exhausted every toy, every Disney DVD.

There's a sick thrill to desperation, real or imagined. Everyone's ready to bear witness to the blizzard to grandchildren they won't have for another 25 years. Mother Nature has permitted the city to feel edgy, hardscrabble, panicky, overreactive, survivalistic, with the implied assurance that the plows (and spring) are just around the corner. Right?


"Our alcohol consumption has gone up remarkably," says Jody Lee, 42, a stay-at-home mom in Friendship Heights who is slowly bowing to the strain. Her visiting mother had to postpone her flight out until next week. Her 2 1/2 - and 6-year-olds have gone stir-crazy. On Tuesday they broke icicles off the house and put them in the tub during bath time, just for something to do. Post-bedtime, Lee has graduated from wine to her husband's Scotch.

The drink will see us through. At Whole Foods, wine bottles trundle down the cashier belts before the store closes early. Neighbors rotate through each other's houses for a change of scenery. The masses discover On Demand cable, then tire of it just as quickly. Gross, crusted Super Bowl leftovers are consumed, followed by bread heels and wrinkly grapes, and everyone starts to feel hardy, resourceful. It's "Man vs. Wild," if "wild" equals that dusty can of tuna at the back of the cupboard.

People in Fairfax call 911 after discovering their special parking spot has been taken by someone who didn't have to do any digging. HVAC units disappear under snow, then shut off automatically. Cell circuits jam. Trash piles up. Carports sag. End times.

* * *

Washington persists in little ways. There's the dude walking to the gym, his shorts flapping in the stinging gusts, his bare sculpted calves caked with frost. There are the noble neighborhood shovelers, obnoxiously high on altruism, paving a path for dogs that must be walked at appointed times. Neither rain nor sleet nor snow will keep a Washingtonian from his 10:30 a.m. chain-brewed caramel macchiato.

The weather was promptly politicized. It's no longer snow that has paralyzed the city but a hail of big-government bureaucracy. Insurmountable drifts become allegories for Senate stalling tactics. The storm buries even the notion of global warming.

"It's going to keep snowing in D.C. until Al Gore cries 'uncle,' " tweets Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).

A region of itemized agendas and rigid customs will bend with the weather, but only for so long. The Wednesday afternoon scene at Griffin Market at 28th and P streets NW: People pick up takeout orders of white bean soup, gruyere cheese and mushroom frittata, lasagna Bolognese, veal ravioli with sage butter and veal jus. One imagines all of silent Georgetown daintily subsisting on olive oil and polenta cakes until the big dig-out.

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