Reportage / 5 February 2019

Stay warm!

Postcard from "sunny" Ohio

When I woke up today, I found a radio station’s request for an interview– not about literature or politics, but about the weather. It had turned mild overnight, and begun to snow, only minus 16 degrees Celsius. The big lawn outside my apartment was white, the sidewalks hadn’t been walked on, my footprints would be the first and only ones on this day.

It’s February 1st in the year 3 after Donald. I’m sitting in my office at Bowling Green State University. The Bowling Green Massacre, however, which Kellyanne Conway talked about to justify the Muslim Ban, didn’t happen in Bowling Green Ohio, where I am, nor in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Small crawlers push the snow aside, the students are back on campus, for the last two days classes had been cancelled “due to dangerously low temperatures.” At least 21 people fell victim to the cold, the local police chief let his staff go out in their own warm outdoor clothing instead of their uniforms. “We don’t have a lot of crime,” he tells the Sentinel Tribune, “criminals don’t go out in this weather.” I’d love to link the local paper to North Sentinel Island, whose inhabitants don’t want to have anything to do with anyone who’s not from North Sentinel Island, and who, last year, killed a trespassing American missionary with arrows, after having warned him, the day before his death, with an arrow that got stuck in his Bible. There’s no connection, though.

There was only one way people said goodbye on my first day here: “Stay warm!” On Wednesday, temperatures reached -25 degrees Celsius, nobody was on the small town’s streets, I dared to go out with a kind of ski mask, and went to the Student Recreation Center; later, when I was opening a bank account, the clerk would tell me his life story, mainly because next to no one had been to the bank that day. To mock the cold, I grabbed my phone and had to remove my right glove. The thirty seconds I needed to take a selfie and put the glove on again sufficed to induce a pain I hadn’t thought possible. It felt like my fingers were falling off.

It was warm at the reception desk in the gym, the cold had nearly killed my cell phone’s battery, and while registering, I felt like something wasn’t right with me. “I think I’m going to faint,” I said to the young man behind the counter, “where can I sit down?” “Over there,” he answered, without further inquiries. After ten minutes I was able to get up again.
“What exactly didn’t you understand about ‘Stay warm?,’” I asked myself during my workout, while rejoicing at the prospect of the sauna downstairs. I’d been here before, in 2015, when I heard that the most dangerous Republican candidate was Ted Cruz. There was also a clown who had thrown his hairdo into the ring for nomination, which my friends found more or less hilarious, while not even considering he’d stand any detectable chance. Back then I’d entered the sauna with a towel around my waist, just to find a bunch of fully dressed young men, in shorts or leggings, hoodies, sitting and standing there in their shoes with cell phones, looking at me like I was a pervert. This time, then, it seemed natural to find six young men in sports gear, texting and checking their Instagram accounts. Every now and then one would get up and pour some water from his bottle onto the hot stones. Later another guy showed up – he had even brought his bag along. When I left, I spotted a sign next to the door. It read: “Chairs are not permitted in the sauna.”

The day after tomorrow, Sunday, will see an unbelievable 12 degrees Celsius. The President will have had the last say: Regarding the record cold, he tweeted, “What the hell is going on with Global Waming?” Apart from the missing “r” that’s a joke my friends and I could have made. Intended a little bit differently, though.

P.S. Today, February 2nd, is Groundhog Day. Phil, The Groundhog, didn’t see his shadow in Punxsutawney. Which means spring is coming. CNN said he's usually wrong. I’m with the President: that has to be Fake News.