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Posted at 3:53 PM ET, 12/10/2010

Let it snow! Washington, weather and nostalgic drifts

By Alexandra Petri

pandas in the snow.jpg

Well, D.C., it's snowing! Or at least -- it's flurrying! Or was, when I started writing this!

Oscar Wilde once wrote, "Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else." To people such as Oscar, the next few paragraphs are an elaborate metaphor about reforming the tax code.

D.C. has always had an unusual attitude towards weather. The old joke says that in D.C., if snow is expected to fall, they call off school for the day. And if it's expected to hit the ground, they shut down the federal government!

But we've gotten tougher in recent years. Last year's Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon, Snowverkill! was -- well, I missed it because I was in comparatively sunny and temperate Massachusetts. But I hear it was so bad that people were unable to leave their homes and had no choice but to produce a demographic boom.

Some of these expected children have themed nicknames such as "Snow Angel," something I think is on par with nicknaming your child, "Trojan Recall" or "Rhythm Method Failure Surprise."

To me, snow is an indication that somewhere, somebody is performing the Nutcracker. I've always felt connected to the stuff. Snow superstitions were an integral element of my childhood -- Wear your pajamas inside out! Flush an ice cube down the toilet! Perform an elaborate dance to summon the Snow Spirits that causes you to be kicked out of art class but allows you to take credit for the ensuing Blizzard of '96!

Whenever I see snow, a small part of me jumps up and down in its footed fleece pajamas, because there might not be school tomorrow. Then the rest of me remembers that I am an adult. "I can drink coffee," I mutter to the children who skip past me with sleds, their laughter grating in my ears like the noises emitted by a middle school handbell choir trying to get through Jingle Bells. "And I know with confidence what size shoes I will be wearing next year! And you still have to go through the college admissions process, which is stressful and gets more competitive every year!" "Please stop following us," their mothers or guardians say, shooing me. "Your life expectancy is probably less than mine, according to recent surveys!" I yell, darting away and ducking into a Starbucks for cover as they summon the authorities.

Considering that I went to a school which, after one mysterious "Day Off Because of Ice Concerns," followed essentially the same snow schedule as federal penitentiaries, this might be an undeservedly rosy view.

But I can't help myself. For all practical purposes, given my extreme youth and inexperience, my being nostalgic about anything is about as absurd as Justin Bieber's deciding to write an autobiography. But he cranked out First Step 2 Forever, and here I am waxing on about the season. I blame the conditions. All it takes is the first snow and the first sighting of those red cups at Starbucks, and suddenly you find yourself coming down with the galloping nostalgia. The winter holidays are always peculiarly redolent of Childhood. It's not your childhood, even, no matter how uniquely delightful that might have been; it's an archetypal jumble of the Nutcracker, a Christmas Carol, and a Child's Christmas in Wales. You sit in the Barnes and Noble café listening to Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire with a vague smile, thinking of the Old Country, when it occurs to you that you've never had a roasted chestnut and wouldn't know what to do if you did. And an open fire? Isn't that in violation of a building code?

Still, getting enthused about snow is a D.C. tradition! It's another of those ready-made metaphors for politics, in this city where Congresses and administrations come and go like the seasons. Its arrival is a source of excitement. It looks delightful, dusting the air and giving everything a cleaner, fresher appearance. Each flake is unique and different, of course, but from a distance it forms a largely undifferentiated contingent of whiteness. Then it lands. Dirt collects on it. It makes our lives more difficult and interferes with our children's schooling. "Out!" we say. We come at it with shovels, waving our fists. But it keeps coming back. For some reason we think shutting down the government might help, so we do that. But it doesn't have the effect we were hoping. Finally we get sick of it and move to Florida, where the only thing that remotely looked like snow used to be the chads.

But for now the snow retains its magic. As those white flakes plummet thinly from the sky, it still looks hopeful. We forget Snowmageddon. Maybe this time it will be different! We look up. We grin deliriously. Suddenly, we are nine again.

Let it snow!

By Alexandra Petri  | December 10, 2010; 3:53 PM ET
Categories:  Big Deals, Petri  | Tags:  Classic DC, kids these days, snow  
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Great column, Alex. But you're still in second place in the snow humor department.

In March, 1999, all the forecasts called for a "light dusting" of snow, but we got over 8 inches that paralyzed the city. Tony Kornheiser wrote his second-best column ever, called "Eat My Dusting."

The column included such gems as, "Let's be honest here: A baboon in a leisure suit could do as good a job with the weather as these guys."

One of the baboons, Bob Ryan, wrote an angry letter blasting Kornheiser, which was almost as funny as the column. Note to ComPost commenters: NEVER get angry at a humor columnist. You'll end up looking like a baboon!

Fortunately, you can still read Tony's column at:

Tony's BEST column ever you ask? That was his "Lorena Bobbit" column, which I've been unable to find. If anyone finds it, you'll win my prize of best googler ever!

Posted by: divtune | December 12, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

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