I have been to the vortex.

I have been to the vortex and I have returned with lessons. And also very dry skin.

In the states this winter (unless you lived in the southern-most tip of Florida), you experienced what the meteorologists were calling the Polar Vortex: an awesome name for nature’s attempt to purge herself of humanity once again (haha! I’m still standing, you bitch!).

Here in Chicago, it created horrific cold—with wind chills pushing the temps into the -40 territory*—and terrific snow. And I mean terrific in the worst sense of the word. We had the 3rd largest snowfall of all time, apparently.

And with all of that time to reflect on the awfulness of life, you’re bound to seize upon those few, fleeting lessons.

So here’s what I learned and am willing to share:

I know exactly where my property line ends. Because that’s EXACTLY where Monotone Joe stops shoveling. I don’t blame him for stopping. It’s tough trying to defend your property from car-parkers and sunflower thieves every other month of the year. Why should he go even ONE INCH onto my sidewalk?


If you’re looking for someone who can shovel an absolute straight line multiple times a day in blizzard conditions, Monotone Joe is your man!

Bitching does not clear sidewalks**. Shovels do. If you want your porch and walkway safe for pedestrian traffic, then best suit up and get to work. Standing there, whining, only makes the snow pile that much taller. Unless you stand there so long that your OTHER neighbors take pity on you and just snowblow the whole walk, right up to Ole Man Monotone Joe’s place (which, I hear, is haunted). Thank god for them. It was cold standing there by the window.

NoNotes.com is a great app for recording phone calls. Even outgoing ones. To assholes. I was forced to install this app because some jackwagon was trying to rip off Jill’s 93 year-old grandmother. This jackwagon, Vinnie, owns the landscaping company hired to cut the lawn in the summer and remove the snow in the winter. He was charging Jill’s grandmother for two shovellings that didn’t happen. I know one didn’t happen because I cleared the snow myself. But Vinnie was happy to charge her for it. That’s what makes him a businessman.

Since he was charging for my work, it only made sense that I be the one to call and sort through the theft. I installed NoNotes so I would be able to send the entire exchange to Jill and also the FBI. Then I went to a private conference room at work and made the call. The thing was, I had to be really quiet since there was a meeting going on in the next room. So I came off sounding completely out of my mind. I spoke the whole time in a near whisper. Like I was barely containing my rage.

“Listen. I am not paaaying for work you didn’t dooooooo.”

I was a mob boss making a veiled threat.

“You don’t seem to understand. You don’t get it. Your services are no longer needed. This account is closed to you.”

I was Jack Torrance in the grip of the Overlook.

“When you don’t shovel, you don’t get paid. Isn’t that easy? Even you can figure that one out for your books?”

They eventually agreed to remove the erroneous charges, but not before losing a client they had for over 10 years. Maybe he’s not such a good businessman.

I am terrifying. The brutal cold demanded that I wear my camo balaclava. It was the only way to keep my face. But despite the horrible biting cold and the horizontal snowfall and the absolute hell that had settled into Chicago, people did not seem to like seeing a grown man tottering about with his face covered in camo. Every day, during my two-mile slog through damnation, people would stare. Of course, I also tower at exactly six feet tall. I’m a massive mountain of a man. The poor pedestrians probably thought they were witnessing a professional wrestler wandering about in dangerous cold looking for the ultimate rumble. Nope, just me in this balaclava that’s smashing my goatee hairs into my mouth.

Every day, I skidded about on uneven ice-capped snow piles down 95th street, because businesses on 95th street hate customers and don’t want you inside so they never shovel. Every day I teetered between falling into traffic and falling through storefronts. And I’d pass the same dress shop full of easily startled women. Every day they looked at me with terror in their eyes. Big expressive eyes full of the dawning realization that Frankenstein’s monster lives and he wears a backpack and a balaclava and has a hard time walking on snow down 95th street.

Nothing warms better than a hug. Especially when the hug is from kids who temporarily forget that they hate you. In that brief moment, when they slip up and stray from their sworn mission to destroy you, and throw their arms around you and say “I love you daddy,” yeah, that pays it all.


*I remember as a young man, working on the frozen docks of hell (I mention the docks in my last post—any excuse to link to it, I guess). One winter, the temps with wind chill got down to -65. The cold cut right through my battery acid-washed Carhartts. The snot in my nose and saline in my eyes froze instantly. And my bosses were all a bunch of JAGOFFS.


**There’s a long list of things that bitching won’t do for you—here are just a few: losing weight, living healthier, earning more money, making commutes more enjoyable, repairing your kitchen, rewriting the last season of Dexter, dealing with people who bitch all the time, eliminating mulberry trees.


  1. OMG I saw monotone Joe only doing his front yard every morning. What a prick!

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