Writerly Rant #9
Captain Obvious & the Weather
I live in New England, a land that beckons tourists during the autumn to visit tiny hamlets and towns and gaze at beautiful landscapes bathed in the reds, yellows, and oranges of magnificent foliage. Peak foliage season is also the harbinger of another time-honored climatic condition in the Northeast – cold weather. When the calendar changes from October to November, something not so amazing happens. It gets colder. And coming off the streets into shops, homes and offices, people always seem to utter the same phrase: “Damn, it’s cold outside.”
Why do people feel so compelled to point out what everyone already knows?
Seriously, we all know that it’s hot in August and cold in the winter here, yet everybody seems obliged to run around like novice weathermen. If it were twenty degrees Fahrenheit in August, that’s a good excuse to talk about the insane weather. It’s also an excuse to reread the Book of Revelation, because the end is probably near.
I have been contemplating this since the temperatures plunged from a tepid sixty degrees to a high of thirty-two with a wind chill of twenty-three in the span of a day. Every person I ran into commented either on how windy it was or made some reference to how cold it is now. I looked around, waiting to see if Captain Obvious and his sidekick Duh! were lurking in the background and causing people to utter such nonsensical observations. They weren’t, or at least I didn’t see them.
Now, I don’t expect the idle chit chat in the elevator ride up to my Midtown Manhattan office to develop into a discussion on the pros and cons of string theory or an existential conclusion as to the meaning of life. But do we have nothing else to talk about as a society?
The short answer is, yes, we do, but we feel we can’t.
Almost any modern topic of substance is taboo in public these days. Anything to do with politics, religion, race, and economics is bound to offend somebody. In a dual-team town like New York City, even sports conversations can turn ugly. Talking about the New York Football Giants runs the danger of raising the ire of an eavesdropping Jets fan. It’s that bad.
So what else is there to talk about? You ask someone you just met about their family and they think you’re a stalker. If you make a funny comment about another person, you’re a bully. You ask someone where they shop and they immediately think you’re a weirdo. You ask for a cigarette to strike up a conversation and you get a lecture on how bad it is for you. And you’d better restrict any attempts to engage another person to your own gender if you’re a male, because otherwise you could be accused of sexual harassment.
What we are left with, by default, is the one thing we can all gripe about that nobody can construe as offensive: the weather. And you get those comments over, and over, and over … at least until we all learn that there are other things to talk about. Yeah, that will only happen when Hell freezes over. Or maybe that’s what it’s doing because it’s really cold outside, isn’t it?
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Mikael Carlson is the author of the political fiction novel, The iCandidate. He is an eighteen-year veteran of the armed forces, served as a U.S. Army Paratrooper, and earned a Master of Arts in American History. Mikael currently lives in Connecticut.