Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Celebration may be a great place, but it's missing one very special wintertime component of Chicago: static electricity. Now that I'm back in the dry Midwest winter, I get a shock nearly every time I touch a switchplate or other conducive object. Even though it's only been five weeks since my move, I quickly forgot about the dry air and blue sparks crackling from my fingertips (not to mention flaky skin that needs to be slathered in lotion every night and chapped lips begging for balm).

It was worse when the cats were here. Every time I touch them, or they rubbed their faces against me, ZAP! Sure, I get a charge out of cats, but I prefer it to be figurative rather than literal. After each shock, they would give me a dirty look, like, "Why did you do that to me? Just for that, I'm spitting up a hairball on the carpet tonight."

Petting them briskly in a dark room would generate a shower of sparks. It reminded me of when I was a teenager; I loved to stand in front of a mirror in a dark room and chew wintergreen Lifesavers with my mouth open. Believe it or not, that actually produced green sparks. I read that in "Dynamite" magazine, which other children of the 70s might remember.

I don't think the Lifesavers trick works anymore. It was probably the result of some dangerous radioactive ingredient that has damaged me for life. They were probably forced to remove it after secret lawsuits and multi-million-dollar payoffs. The cats produce blue sparks, not green, and you must stroke their fur rather than chew them (which is good because they don't have that refreshing minty taste), but the effect is still cool. And it's not dangerous unless you try it on Tooncinator, the crazy cat.

But that doesn't work in Florida, where the air is moist even in the wintertime. I remember years of winter Disney vacations, when that swell of humidity would hit me the moment that I stepped off the plane and headed down the jetway to my favorite state. After snow and sub-zero temperatures, it felt so good!

Actually, the humidity has been pretty low-key lately. For the past couple of weeks, the Florida temperatures have been chilly enough for us to turn on our heat pump at night. During the day it's usually pleasant enough to open all the windows and revel in the warm air and the pleasant, fresh breeze. Contrast that with the weather in Chicago this week and you'll know why I'm pining for Celebration. Yesterday, I brought some plants home from my former office and forgot them in the car for several hours. The poor things frozen solid, and I suspect that they're not going to recover. Then it snowed all day today; it was wet, heavy, sloppy snow that accumulated just enough to powder the rooftops, cars, and streets. As I watched the salt trucks drive by, I realized that they were another sight that I never miss in Florida.

At least there was one small treat in Chicago. Unlike Duloc Manor, our condo has a nice whirlpool tub in the master bathroom. Our house in Celebration features a rinky-dinky tub that would make Mini-Me from the Austin Powers movies feel claustrophobic. We want to get a small whirlpool installed, but it's nearly impossible to find anyone to do it. Thus, in Florida I am deprived of one of my major pleasures in life: A steaming hot bubble bath, with the jets whipping the foam into an overflowing frenzy. My husband also loves soaking in muscle-relaxing salts that tame down the pain in his arthritic knees.

The tub in our condo is a garden tub (which would never fit in our Florida house). It's open and airy and surrounded by mirrors, with the walls painted a soothing sea foam green. I slip in, lean back against my bath pillow, and prop up a good novel on a second pillow that I conveniently float over my chest to make a book stand. Sometimes I stay in the tub literally for hours, and my husband is just as bad. We've been know to fight over who has "whirlpool rights" some evenings.

It's lonely taking a bath without the cats around. In their insatiable curiosity, they used to love to wend their way around the tub and to sleep on the tile beside it. Both Tooncinator and Farquaad would position themselves quite close to the edge and dip in their paws, but Stitch did not share their affinity for water. My husband swears that whoever owned him before he ended up at the animal shelter must have drown; when we first got him, he would sit in the bathroom and howl whenever one of us took a shower. I eventually dubbed him "The Wedding Singer," since he is a tuxedo cat and since some of his wailings were rather melodious.

Farquaad did manage to fall in the tub one day; he was the picture of embarrassment as my husband chased him down to towel him off. But it didn't dampen his enthusiasm for hanging around the bathtub; it just taught him to balance more carefully.

The "new" cats never topped my old cat, Vinnie, who also liked to perch on the tub. Sometimes I light candles to create a relaxing ambiance while soaking, and one day Vinnie managed to catch his tail on fire while weaving his way around them. I reflexively grabbed him and dunked his butt in my bath. He didn't even realize that he was spontaneously combusting; the offended look that he gave me was priceless. I couldn't help but laugh, even though I was gagging on the scent of burning cat hair.

In Duloc Manor, when I grease myself up and shoehorn my body into the micro-tub, the cats still like to join me. But there is no edge to perch on, so the three of them all take up residence in various corners of the bathroom. Sometimes they curl up in the sink or recline on the toilet. Other times they just sprawl on the bath mat. I've never figured out their obsession with human cleanliness. Perhaps they wonder why we go through so much trouble when we could simply lick ourselves clean.

We're flying back to Celebration tomorrow afternoon, so I hope that the snow is over. We'll be in the Southwest cattle call, so goodness only knows where we'll be sitting, but I'll take any seat if it gets me back home. Five days in a Chicago March were more than enough to remind me of why I love Florida. No static electricity or snow, just sunshine, palm trees, and that wonderful warmth.

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