Winter officially arrives tomorrow at 5:08 p.m.
Some of us are more obsessed about this than others. I grew up in California, where ice was something found in umbrella drinks or under a pair of skis on the weekend. Snow was illegal, and the Ice Age studied, not experienced. Real winter was like Disneyland -- you visited it.
After living in Washington for 18 months, winter remains an alien concept. It wasn't until last year, in fact, that I bought my first overcoat -- ever. It was hanging in a Georgetown seconds shop -- a gray 1950s Harris tweed with flecks of ruby and dull turquoise. The salesman said it looked great, but forgot to add that I could rent out the extra space for parties.
I also own a musty old sealskin cap that used to be my grandfather's (he lived in Minnesota). It folds down over the ears. During my childhood, the only use for it was kicking it around the garage on a bad day: a rainy day. I used to think it was a nerdy cap. Now it keeps my ears from falling off. Besides, as every mother will tell you, hats keep 90 percent of your body heat from shooting out the top of your head.
Those two items of clothing constitute my main line of defense against chattering teeth and chapped face, bronchitis, pneumonia and hypothermia (in the same way a No. 12 sunscreen protects the most pale "snowbird" on Venice Beach). I feel a Linus-like affection for them, but on some nights, I'd trade my security blankets for an electric blanket.
Most memorable was Inauguration Day last January when the wind chill factor dropped to where the mercury doesn't budge -- the kind of day that cancels parades, bursts pipes, gives your entire body a Ha agen-Dazs headache and ruins your posture.
When the weather turns really vicious, I rely on the following winter white lies to help make the season bearable:
*I'll get a lot done because I have to stay inside. I'll read the classics. I'll write the Great American novel. I'll fix that dripping faucet in the bathroom. Never mind I can't find the energy to shave.
*There's nothing like snuggling into an overstuffed chair, feet up, lights down, with flickering light from the fireplace dancing on the ceiling. Wait a minute . . . I don't have a fireplace.
*Washington is just a small southern town. New Yorkers say this a lot, as if they're talking about Tampa.
*The cold can't harm me: Viking blood flows through my veins. Norwegian ancestry never mattered much around the swimming pool, but it comes in handy when my skin's turning blue.
*It's romantic to stay in cozy rooms and wear 63 pounds of clothing for three straight months. Right?
*As in the movies, I will someday experience the thrill of a spontaneous snowball fight with an adorably spunky lover.
*Since night falls around 2:30 p.m., I can eat lunch and dinner at the same time and thus save on my food bill.
*Winter is macho -- an even better gut check than lying naked on an ant hill in the Mojave.
*The best thing about an approaching snow storm is that it provides the opportunity to implement survivalist techniques while raiding the local Safeway.
Novelist Graham Greene once said, "I'd rather live in the Gulag, than in California." He must know something I don't. To me, Washington at its wintery worst might as well be the Gulag -- despite Weather Bureau statistics that claim snow falls here only a scant 17 inches annually; it melts quickly; the city doesn't even come close to ranking in the top 10 of coldest U.S. cities.
But the past decade has witnessed two of the city's three most savage snowstorms in this century. Looks like I got here just in time.
Last winter a friend and native Washingtonian told me, "The main difference between the East and West coasts is that out here people know they're going to die." With fingers crossed in these things called gloves, I'm hoping I'll make it through my second winter and into spring -- March 20 at 5:03 p.m., to be exact.
I'll then be able to write home about how this Washington transplant is the hardy variety and brag about how winter was a piece of cake -- despite the icing.
It'll be a lie.