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Bomb Cyclones, Tweetstorms and Cabin Fever, Oh My

by on January 10, 2018 5:00 AM

One week in and we’ve already got a contender for word of the year: bombogenesis.

Bomb cyclone appeared more frequently in news reports, but I like bombogenesis better, because it captures the beginning-of-the-end zeitgeist occasioned by President Swamp and Little Rocket Man bragging about their nuclear buttons.

Also, I can sing it to the tune of “We Wanna See Santa Do the Mambo,” sung by Big John Greer on “Hipster’s Holiday,” which is my family’s favorite Christmas album. My adaptation of the chorus:

We wanna see cyclone do the bombo, the bombo
See cyclone do the bombo, the bombo
See cyclone do the bombo, the bombo

Recent meteorological occurrences have me looking at Happy Valley’s equally-inaccessible-from-everywhere location in a new light. Consider:

During the last week of the old year, the storm that buried Erie in six feet of snow didn’t come far enough east to give us anything more than a dusting.

During the first week of the new year, the bombogenetic storm that knocked iguanas out of their trees in Florida and closed schools and airports up and down the Eastern Seaboard didn’t come far enough west to give us anything more than a dusting.

That’s two bullets dodged in two weeks. Disappointing if you’re a skier – I’ve gotten to use my cross-countries exactly twice in the past two years – or an admirer of snowscapes, but a lucky break for drivers and shovelers like my dearly departed dad, who included snow among the litany of life events that he considered to be “a pain in the pawk” (that’s New Yorkese for “pork,” which you must admit, is more poetic than “pain in the butt,” although I’m partial to the equally alliterative “pain in the patoot”).

My dad, by the way, who died in 2014, would have turned 100 this April. I’m tempted to mention him in every column I write this year, the way New York Times columnist Gail Collins worked in a reference to "the time Mitt Romney drove to Canada with a dog strapped to the roof of the car" in every column she wrote during the 2012 presidential campaign.

One hopes not even Romney -- who, like so many politicians not currently living in the White House, looks positively statesmanlike these days -- would have made poor Seamus ride turret (as opposed to shotgun) in weather as cold as what we have endured of late.

Back in my California newspapering days we ran a police blotter item about a guy who was running around naked in the snow. The cops responded to a call from a concerned neighbor, interviewed the naked man, concluded this was nothing more than a case of cabin fever and advised the guy to go back inside.

(As it happens, Merriam-Webster lists cabin fever among terms that came into common use the year my dad was born. A synopsis of a novel with that title by Bertha Muzzy Bower defines it as “a certain malady of mind induced by too much monotony… whenever it attacks you it reveals the things hidden in your soul; it uncovers your secret weaknesses and unsuspected virtues.”)

I wanted to spare my neighbors the sight of my secret weaknesses, so on Saturday, having fetched my famous Big Coat down from the attic the week before, I suited up: long underwear top and bottom, flannel-lined jeans, turtleneck shirt, bulky sweater, hat, scarf, face warmer, hood. Thus swaddled, I could have robbed a bank.

Instead, I walked for an hour, monitoring my body temperature all the while: toes cool, legs and torso warm, head sweaty. Pretty comfy, all in all.

But the best part of taking a walk on such a day was coming home. It was as if an interior designer had refurbished my muzzy bower in my absence. I exited a prison. I returned to a shelter. And with the furnace merrily slurping oil in the basement, what an effective (if not efficient) shelter it was.

I stood by a window marveling at the thinness of the membrane separating inside from outside. On one side of the glass, I was toasty. On the other side, just inches away, my mustache would freeze.

The true luxuries of life aren’t the ones we think of: yachts, diamonds, champagne-and-caviar. They’re insulated walls, furnaces, hot water heaters, air conditioners – anything that keeps you warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot.

Speaking of which, while we were shivering in the northeastern corner of North America, they were baking in Australia – it got up to 117F on Sunday. As the globe continues to lurch from hurricane to heatwave to firestorm to bomb cyclone, I continue to be amazed that climate change is only intermittently a topic on the front pages of newspapers.

Instead, we hear about tweetstorms.

A collection of Russell Frank's columns from the past 20 years, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won second place in the Humor category in the 2018 National Society of Newspaper Columnists writing contest. The winning columns: One Day at the Zombie Apocalypse Poultry Auction, Deux Nuits à Paris: A French Farce and A Shaggy Dog Story. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania for 13 years. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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