I am in the grocery store asking without hope about those quick-light fire logs for my rarely used fireplace in this, the fiercest and most enduring cold snap a native-born cares to remember.
I say "without hope" because this is the third grocery store, not to mention the Walmart, Kmart and Target, at which shelves were brimming with charcoal briquettes in the unlikely chance of a backyard barbecue but emptied of logs as if locusts had come through.
A woman at my elbow wants to know, too, but, no, they have been out for days. The cashier helpfully adds that a store down the street has real firewood, if we're interested.
I look at the woman, she at me. Real firewood?
So how does that work, exactly? Something about rubbing sticks together. My time in Brownies, when we trooped to the woods and used a magnifying glass to start a spark, was a very long time ago, and anyhow, how would that work in a living room?
Around here, we may know the finer points of rigging a fishing pole or unhooking a pelican. We can survive sunburn, the sideswipe of a hurricane and the white-knuckle drive out of a vicious summer thunderstorm. We can shuffle through stingrays with nary a barb and endure Red Tide. But this?
The woman and I leave, both shaking our heads.
Another morning I am trying to figure out why I can't see through my car windshield when it hits me: Ice, actual ice, which may also be why the grass was crunchy. I am considering whether to get warm water to pour on it when an expat Northerner intervenes in horror, suggesting instead a credit card. (Nice to have so many of them around to instruct us, isn't it?)
Actually, it turns out to be handy, potentially disaster-averting advice. I scrape away the slush with an old gift card surely never intended for this purpose, from a place called Bahama Breeze.
At work, a colleague complains of gender inequity: Women bask in mysterious and foreign hats and scarves, gloves and knee-high boots. (I was relatively unfamiliar with the concept of an "earmuff," until I saw a purple pair on a woman passing me downtown even as my own ears turned red.) But Florida men, my colleague says, tend to be ill-prepared. His solution: layers on layers on layers of shirts, topped with the only coat he has ever needed, a thin, linerless raincoat.
Weather has sent our homeless scrambling for shelter, not to mention warm beverages and donated clothes from the good-hearted who empty their closets. On a street corner I see an array of sweat shirts and jackets: a Carolina Tar Heel, a Dale Jr., two Buccaneers and a Plant High Panther.
At home, our heater is like an elderly security guard who has long worked in a quiet building, only rarely called to action. Suddenly, he has found himself on the SWAT team, desperately huffing and puffing to keep up. The dog has taken to walking around with a fleece blanket draped over her ears, the Labrador version of Little Red Riding Hood.
Another morning, early, I am blowing on frozen hands as I drive past a Krispy Kreme, tantalizing smells wafting in through my rumbling heater vents. I look over into the inviting warmth of the diner and see two men huddled over steaming coffees, gloveless hands wrapped around cups. Both wear yellow rain slickers, though no rain is in sight.
I think, how Florida.