Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Oobleck Effect

There's always one snowstorm like this. It's hyped for days, goes from a few inches to a foot, okay nine inches, well maybe five. Then a few inches, like we said. It's okay, just a little winter hysteria (wisteria?), also known as the Oobleck Effect.

I went to Jam 'n Java around 3. It's a dimly lit, cavernous café with lot of natural light, big windows still bedecked with winter scenes, including a snowman suicidally holding a hot cup of coffee. Snow was coming down, but gently. Saving its punch for the rush hour, no doubt.

The last snow we'd had had thawed, then refroze hard into curbside sculptures that were now boring. We were ready, more or less, for a new delivery. The predictions were nothing like what Philly and New York and DC were getting, but enough to make us nervous. What is it about pending snowstorms that makes us so nervous we close schools with a slam and recheck the accumulations every ten minutes and buy two of everything at the Stop & Shop? It's the Oobleck Effect.

Oobleck--perfect word--was coined by Dr. Seuss for his 1949 book Bartholomew and the Oobleck, in which the King of Didd, bored, decides to do nature one better. He orders his wizards to create a new weather. This they do. The next morning a green wisp arrives. Soon it begins to fall as tiny pea-sized green blobs. Before long they're baseball-sized, then watermelon-sized. Everything gets stuck in oobleck and is completely immobilized, including the king. Only when his page Bartholomew persuades him to apologize for his hubris does the sticky stuff melt away.

I still remember having an Oobleck party in second grade, with lime soda and green cupcakes. But we knew it was evil stuff, especially at the beginning, when it was just green smoke.

Snow has that ooblecky quality when it is forecast a few days out and when we haven't had it for a while and others have, and now our shield has finally failed us. UH-oh... The grown-up part of us groans at the prospect of shoveling it, parking in it, slipping on it. But the kid part of us wants the blizzard, the more z's the better: a blizzzzzzzzard.

Only not this time, kids. But it doesn't really matter. By now we're all at the point of winter when everything gets maximized. The storm that doesn't materialize is almost more annoying than one that does, like one of those maddening dud sneezes that goes ah- but not choo. Snow, cold, wind chill, it has all outstayed its welcome now. Somebody needs to apologize.

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