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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Rambling midweek post with no point at all

Warning:  Harry Potter spoiler alerts for everyone who hasn’t read The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince.

Over the weekend I saw two movies.  With Janet, Brokeback Mountain, which was every bit as good as I’d hoped and better (full review on request, time permitting), and, with Jamie, the Disney dog-hero film Eight Below, which was not nearly so bad as I’d feared.  (If you combine the two films, you get Eight Below Brokeback Mountain, a heartwarming and inspiring tale of gay malamutes and huskies fighting for survival in the Antarctic.) Two dogs die, by the way.  Just so you know.  Jamie, however, is now quite mature enough to handle narrative representations of death, having dealt with the death of Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and (just within the past month) the quite horrifying death of Dumbledore in Half-Blood Prince.

As it happened, Jamie and I saw Eight Below after the cold front had swept through Pennsylvania; it may have been 59 degrees last Thursday (and it was—I wouldn’t lie about such a thing), but when we got out of the movie at 5 on Saturday, it was about 15 degrees, and the wind was brisk and bitter.  “Zip up your puffy jacket,” I told him.  “It’s like the Antarctic out here.”

“It’s not like the Antarctic,” replied Jamie, sensibly enough.

“No, that’s true,” I admitted.  “The Antarctic would be 50 below zero.  It’s not quite that cold in Pennsylvania.”

“Not fifty,” Jamie said.  “Zero.”

“No, fifty below zero,” I repeated, whereupon he said “not fifty, zero,” and this went on for a few rounds before I realized that Jamie wasn’t grasping the concept of temperatures below zero—or the concept of negative numbers in general.  And why should he, I wonder?  Let’s all switch to the Kelvin system now.  It makes no damn sense to have temperature scales that have a zero, then lots of numbers under zero, then an “absolute” zero, as if to say, “OK, we really mean zero this time.” Sure, it would be weird thinking of 300 degrees as a nice warm day (that would be 27 C or 80.6 F), but we’d get used to it.

I was reminded of an exchange I had with Nick when he was almost four, and we lived in wind-swept Illinois.  Our first winter in Champaign, Janet and I cautioned him as we were putting him to bed that it was going to be extremely cold the next day, with a high of five below zero.

Nick was aghast.  “There’s gonna be no world?”

And that memory led me, in turn, to think of a conversation I’d had with Jamie just before putting him to bed one night.  After wishing him sweet dreams, I asked whether he ever had any dreams in which he finds himself flying.

He was near sleep, but the question snapped him to attention.  He raised his head off the pillow, turned to me, and said, chidingly, “Michael!  That’s impossible!”

Which is true, of course.  But not so weird as five below zero.

Posted by Michael on 02/22 at 04:41 PM
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