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A tall cold one

Beating Jack Frost with a tip of the glass

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The winter storm that hit town on Saturday wasn’t just a harbinger of the hubris pie served to the Griz in their clash against the ‘Cats, though the conditions created by the snow-bitten Hellgate winds may well have nurtured an environment ripe for the unlikely.

Consider it also a bang on the door from the season itself: Winter’s here, folks, and the chance for a reprieve of the sort we enjoyed after the last cold snap seems miniscule.

Along with its bitter, valley-trapped air and its days hemmed sharply by night, winter brings with it a general malaise known in armchair-psychologist parlance as Seasonal Affective Disorder. And we do what we can, in the spirit of these enlightened times, to avoid becoming SAD people. Some will go the pharmacological, antidepressant-du-jour route; some will seek the respite of fake sunshine. And some will stare into the hoar-frosted maw of Old Man Winter and laugh out loud.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that such efforts to escape the shut-in blues are not to be respected, or even admired. Winter-sport junkies in particular, defiant hearts pounding under microfleece-and-Gore-Tex shells, evoke a certain humanistic pride with their demonstrations of discipline and indomitable will.

At some level, though, it’s crucial to recognize winter for what it is, and to let winter reveal in us what it should. We are warm-blooded creatures, wrapped in a thin casing ill-equipped to handle the brutal ravages of frozen air and water. All around us, examples abound of organisms that accept their limitations and bow to the chilly onslaught of winter: trees shed leaves and still their sap; birds fly south; bears and other den-bound critters harness their metabolisms and settle in for a long snooze; even trout, though still feeding in the icy depths, ratchet their turbo-charged movements down to granny-gear speed.

So why not take a lesson from the world around us? A full-on bedroom hibernation isn’t a real option for most of us, of course, as we need to generate the income necessary to keep ourselves fed, clothed, and heated. But there’s no law against partial hibernation, and it’s an approach to winter that could pay off significant emotional and psychological dividends.

Let’s start with what I call the Quantum Hangover Theory. Though now well past the age when alcohol molecules bounced off my brain as if it were impervious to stupidity, I do still enjoy on occasion the concentrated ingestion of booze. Part of the desire for these sessions lies in the communal joviality found on such occasions, especially when augmented by a hand-selected roster of high-quality drinking buddies. And alcohol use can be ceremonial as well, as on Sunday game days when a slug of spicy Bloody Mary is the most effective antidote to the on-field foibles of my household’s beloved Green Bay Packers.

But the aftermath of a drinking event, I believe, can be as beneficial to one’s psyche as the event itself. I don’t particularly enjoy hangovers, per se—what’s to like about a throbbing head and cotton-mouth?—but there’s an element to fighting through a self-inflicted malady that affirms life as we know it, the natural order of things. My dad, when observing the bleary-eyed wretchedness that marked my early, all-star hangovers, would look at me with a grin half-knowing and half-crowing and say, “Well, if you’re gonna dance, you’ve got to pay the fiddler.”

In addition to the satisfaction inherent in completing an equal-value transaction, I’ve also found that hangovers provide the effect, whether imagined or physiological, of a sort of mental house-cleaning. I’ll often emerge from the far side of a bout of bottle flu with a different take on things, and while it would be stupid to suggest that hangovers can cure problems, sometimes a little perspective shift is all one needs.

So inasmuch as winter can be likened to a five-month seasonal hangover, it might not hurt to pepper your long-term malady with some strategically placed, short-term wantonness. There are a number of conjunctive activities to a night on the town, with darts, trivia, billiards, and even, if you have an inclination towards public humiliation, karaoke. But no indoor winter endeavor comes closer to providing a perfect template of booze-fueled competition than bowling.

Yes, winter is time for bowling. The beer is cheap, the varied individual bowling styles are highly entertaining, and it’s the only pursuit I know that literally forces you to wear someone else’s shoes. Oh, the shoes!

And the pins, in their delicate symmetry, their perfect representation of staid order, practically beg for a projectile to send them willy-nilly, and a simple exercise in transference can bring untold satisfaction to the wielder of said missile. The pins are the lover who just dumped on you! Crack! They are the nimrods who tailgate your rear bumper on icy streets paved with black ice! Smash!

They are the silly people who have us on the brink of a—no, several—nasty wars! Boom! They are the dominant paradigm!

Subvert!

Of course, it would be naïve to suggest that you could simply bowl your way, drunkenly, from November through March. At least, it would if you live, as we do, outside of Wisconsin. More wholesome activities like the occasional hike, or snowshoe, or cross-country ski jaunt can be performed within the limits of partial hibernation—just enough to keep the color in your cheeks. And the long, languid nights of winter are ideal for the mind-nourishing endeavors that feel somehow scandalous in the context of taut summer days, like attending the theater, listening to music and reading books.

But when the time comes to step out—or in, rather—among the tangled webs in your mind, don’t be afraid to let all hell break loose, if only for a while. Just don’t forget to pay the fiddler.

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