Quatrantid Madness January 4, 2012Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
Tags: cold, meteor shower, Quatrantids, stars
It was so cold the night before all the palm fronds in town had bowed down to the ground, as if to acknowledge they were too far north, trespassing in the land of Boreas, planted affectations of a people believing themselves tropical. Tonight was worse.
I overslept my cell phone alarm at 3 a.m., carelessly hitting off instead of snooze in my confusion, then started awake at 4:39. I decided I would go out anyway. I pulled on left over Dakota clothing: flannel lined jeans and my snowshoeing fleece top, and then my new L.L. Bean knit slipper socks. I had a decent jacket and gloves but no proper hat. My daughter had given away by Andean cap with its warm ear covers to a friend going skiing years ago.
I didn’t stop to look at the computer and orient myself to the center of the meteor shower. I just plopped down in the world’s most useless Jazz Fest chair, a recliner so titled you would never be able to see the stage or get up if you drank too much. It is, however, perfect for gazing up 60 degrees or so. I had my phone compass set to night, and by its red glow made sure I was pointed precisely northeast. I lit a cigarette (gloves still in my pocket) and settled into wait. I couldn’t tell if the glow over the roof next door was astronomical twilight or the glare of the city.
In the distance, some madman shouted what sounded like “yeah” every minute or so, but after about five minutes I clearly heard him holler “come in,” as if calling some dumb cat which had bolted out the door earlier into the cold. If that was his business, I was surprised it would take any sensible animal that long to come in. Perhaps he had a darker yard than I do, no neighbor’s sodium lamp two doors down to ruin his vision, and could see more than I could, those faint streaks I couldn’t be sure were imagination and expectation, letting out a whoop with each one until someone else called him in for making such a racket at 5 a.m.
It was a few minutes before I saw my first bright one grazing the tail of Ursa Minor, probably 30 degrees away from where I thought the center should be. I switched the cigarette in my hands, stuffing the other one deep in it’s pocket for warmth It was so cold my eyes watered. I could feel the tears running down my cheeks, and I wondered if my vision would blur and miss the faint ones. My nose started to run profusely in the cold but I sat and sniffled and waited. I thought I saw a few but I could not tell if they were wishes without shooting stars. Then then I saw another, this one also 30 degrees off course toward Arcturus in Bootes. (I am no armchair astronomer, but everyone knows Ursa Minor and I can glance at the star map as I write this. Right thinking people are not up in January at an hour when you can see Arcturus.
I was afraid to look away to put out the cigarette but my hands were getting cold. Smoking reduces the circulation to the extremities, and my fingers were brittle icicles, so cold I finally dropped the cigarette from numbness and had to pop up to find it and put it out. I pulled on my gloves, stuffed both hands deep in my pocket, and went back to watching.
One more, I thought, give me just one more good one and I’ll be satisfied and go back inside. I had not eaten my black eyed peas and cabbage until yesterday due to an upset stomach on New Years Day. I didn’t drink much the night before but a couple of glasses of Belgian ale, a few shots of good tequila and a flute of champagne were a risky mix even in moderation and I wasn’t ready to eat anything but toast and cheese grits on Sunday, so the beans and cabbage sat in the fridge for two days, forgotten until lunch yesterday.
Clearly I needed an extra shot of luck, believed I needed it so bad I would sit out for half an hour when the deck thermometer read exactly freezing. Just one more, I thought, come on. Give me a lucky set of three. There were more faint flashes I couldn’t be sure of. The hollering had stopped, and it was quiet for a while until a distant siren wailed. Then it came, a short but brilliant stroke of light headed straight toward the zenith. I had gotten my second wish for just one more, and I got up to go back inside, surprised at what felt like a blast of warmth from the chilly back of my apartment
My first wish would have to wait for time to prove it out.