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Jeff Whitten: Too cold for calzone
editor's notes

It got cold enough Wednesday morning to put a bit of frost on the old pumpkins – your pumpkins, my pumpkins, everybody’s pumpkins. As I drove to work dodging SUVs festooned with Ohio State Buckeye gear I tried to remember when I’d last been that cold.

Maybe around this time last year, though it’s hard to keep track of the weather with so much other important stuff going on. After all, us Gamecocks are in the middle of a coaching search and there’s a runoff somewhere. What’s more, all this cold business is relative.

What to me is freezing to an Akronite (someone born in Akron, Ohio) is probably shirtsleeve weather. And it’s probably balmy to someone who’s spent the past six weeks hanging out at the East Antarctic Plateau, where the temperature once dropped to 128 degrees BELOW ZERO. My frosticles hurt just typing that.

Anyway, though an nth generation South Carolinian from the Upstate, I was fortunate to have a father and mother who wanted to escape a life of cotton-mill drudgery and found their way to a better life through Uncle Sam and the U.S. Army. Part of that escape was a three-year tour of duty in Alaska, which is pretty far north.

There, as a rambunctious and none too bright young teen (two qualities I still possess in abundance), I learned firsthand you should never stick your tongue on a metal railing and if you threw a pot of boiling water up in the air on a freezing night it would explode into snow.

I also learned that afros – this was in the mid 1970s, a time when “fros” were the style, and the bigger the better – would break if you hit them in the right place with a snowball when going outside was like sticking your head in a bucket of dry ice.

And, I learned your clothes can freeze solid at the bus stop and if you were smart you got an engine block heater for your car. My dad certainly did, being smart. I had to go outside and plug that thing in a lot.

Speaking of Dad, he once came back from a Jack Frost training exercise minus half his mustache. Turned out it froze and he rubbed it off by accident. I thought it was funnier than he did. I also got lost once in some ice fog, which only happens at -20 below. I hadn’t gone five feet outside and turned around and couldn’t see the door I’d just come out of. Just whiteness. Like the GOP.

Anyway, real cold weather does stuff like that to you. It can also turn you into Jack Nicholson in “The Shining,” if you get snowed into a giant haunted hotel somewhere. But at least it was a dry cold, and as anyone can tell you who has been there, 32 degrees with nearly zero humidity is a far cry from 32 with 70 percent or higher humidity, which is common in the coastal wilds of this part of Georgia. Or, South Carolina. I remember squirrel hunting as a small boy up in some woods around Moncks Corner before it got developed to death. I evidently turned blue after spending hours walking through fields and woods in search of squirrels, whose descendants have since paid me back in spades with daily raiding parties on my bird feeders.

Someone asked my dad, “your boy always that color?” He said no, most of the time I was usually kind of pink. Then he gave me a shot of Jim Beam and we made haste back to the pickup and heat and baloney sandwiches.

Still, I think the coldest I have been of late would’ve been in Germany, where it seemed every other day we were out in the field or pulling guard duty, and it would either snow or rain or sleet, or all three. And that reminds me of a story. Once, while in a freezing guard shack outside Aschaffenburg in the middle of a freezing night, a buddy stopped by on his way back to the barracks to use the guard shack phone to order a pepperoni and sausage calzone. “I’m frozen, got have to have some hot food,” he said. When I got back to the barracks about four hours later, the guy came over to see me with something in tinfoil. He unwrapped it and showed me a half-eaten calzone.

Sticking out of it was what looked like a partially chewed slimy grey rubber band chunk of some sort of gristle with this weird curly wolf fur growing out of it. ‘I bit into that and it was ... chewy, and hairy” he said, then made horrible gagging sounds and ran to the latrine.

Weird how things stay with you. I talked to him a quarter century later and he still remembered biting into whatever it was in the middle of his calzone. And he’s a colonel now and has more important things to worry about, kind of like me.

Stay warm, stay safe and if it suddenly snows stay home.

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