The Fine Line Between Hard and Stupid
By Lana Duffy
Contrary to most Manhattan-dwellers, I have a small section of coveted, private outdoor space. So naturally I put in a small fire pit after my super told me I could do what I pleased as long as I didn’t burn the building down. This being one of the only fire pits in what I presume to be a rather wide radius it has attracted the interest of some of my friends, who are always welcome to come over for beers and s’mores around the fire… when it’s close to or above freezing.
But it’s officially cold as balls outside, and that’s if those balls were in space without a suit. This morning I woke up to snow, the first snow that’s stuck around New York City this season. I do believe tonight the low is going to be somewhere in the stupid cold range. It’s worse elsewhere in the country, but it’s still annoying and I’d rather be indoors.
Nevertheless, this morning a good friend asked about doing a fire pit night this weekend, the coldest weekend so far this season. There is snow on the fire pit cover. No, I responded, let’s do it next weekend.
This raised a challenge by another good friend of mine, who sang to the tune of “you were in the Army, so I thought you were tough.” While she was kidding (she couldn’t even make it if I had agreed, the antagonizing brat), it still made me balk a second.
Wasn’t I tough anymore?
Have I finally gone soft?
Wait… do I really give a shit?
The third question negated the first two and was also easily resolved: Nope, not one, single shit. I spent a decade sitting out in the cold. Why the hell would I do it now when I could wait seven days and enjoy myself much more?
It brought to mind one instance that saw me standing out on an M203 range in the mountains of southeast Germany during a blizzard. I’d been the range NCO and the tower’s heat was broken, as was the loudspeaker. So I was standing out there, shouting commands over the wind, having not felt my fingers or my toes since around 5am. My first sergeant felt bad enough to bring me a cup of soup mid-morning, though by the time he got it to me it was lukewarm at best, especially since he had to pry my fingers to form them around the cup.
Or there was that time at Fort Bragg during an ice storm when we were doing PT and I put my arm in a puddle and thought my hand was going to snap off at the wrist like in that movie Snowpiercer where they put the guy’s arm outside the train and can just shatter it by tapping it with a hammer (if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a look on Netflix). They closed the base that morning, but not until after PT. Of course not until after PT. Never until after PT.
So many examples of being forced to stand out in the cold. Chute detail. Ranges. Land nav. The country of Afghanistan anytime before April. Shoveling parking lots no one drives in because that’s just what junior enlisted do.
So why in the hell would I even think of doing that now? Even to sit around and have beers and light marshmallows on fire before sandwiching them in goodness, no. CAN I be tough and suck it up and sit in 15 degrees and smile about it? Sure. But I don’t have to, so why would I?
This is, of course, directly contrary to the fact that I jumped in the Atlantic on New Year’s Day with a bunch of other idiots, mostly former military, but that’s because Team RWB is a hilarious organization and we all have terrible ideas together. But it also didn’t involve sitting out there in the ocean, or even on the beach. I was freezing cold for roughly 5 minutes and I could go back to the bar.
So I responded to my friend not a defense of my physical and mental toughness but a defense of “Meh, I’m having a beer inside because I can. Tough has nothing to do with it, stupid does.”
See, there’s a choice now, and that’s awesome. Sometimes I might want to jump in an ocean in 28 degrees, sometimes I might want to sit inside and watch Snowpiercer on Netflix. Either way, I can make that decision. Even though I’ve been out two years now, somehow I still feel vaguely liberated having only just realized this opportunity.
So suck it, cold. I have logs, I have graham crackers and chocolate and marshmallows, but I’m not playing your stupid game any longer. No officers or sergeants major are yelling at me to get out there, so my false motivation is staying tucked away where it belongs: on the couch.
And when I sit and watch the snow blowing around the fire pit, I can think on all those times I had to stand out in it and rejoice in the death of the era of embracing the suck.
Let it go.