Al Batt: Today’s not the day the teddy bears have their picnic

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

He had a voice like a truck rolling north on I-35.

Al Batt

“I’ll tell you what winter isn’t.”

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He paused to let the anticipation build. The clock in my brain ticked, “One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…” I waited because I wanted to hear. People are fond of telling us what winter is, but seldom tell us what it isn’t.

“It’s no picnic,” he said solemnly.

I looked at the mountains of snow made from molehills of snow during a winter that had driven folks to become house huggers, gathering around glowing screens for warmth as ants everywhere worked on their picnic invasion strategies.

I saw picnicking on a blustery day in January. Crows were eating carrion on a busy road. A Ram or classic Rambler had hit a raccoon. It was a corvid picnic. Four of the crows ate until a watch crow perched on a post called out, “Caw” or “Car!” when a car neared. The diners flew just in the nick of time.

Crows are seldom hit by cars but occasionally collide with trucks because crows can’t say, “Truck!”

I heard myself protesting at a board meeting, “I’m not crazy about the idea.” But I’m crazy about the idea of a winter picnic.

In the 1993 movie, the time-loop comedy “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray’s character, a cynical TV weatherman named Phil Connors, was in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, when he encountered Ned Ryerson, an annoying former classmate intent on selling life insurance to Phil. Phil attempted to rush off but stepped into a deep slush puddle. “Watch out for that first step!” cackled Ryerson. “It’s a doozy.”

Winter is a doozy, but a winter picnic would be better than a slush-filled shoe. All I’d need is a straw hat with fur lining. I know what you’re thinking, “A winter picnic will happen when there is a macaroni and cheese crayon.”

The crayon king Crayola introduced a color called Macaroni and Cheese in 1993.

I’m a natural for picnics. I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth. I think dirt and insects taste best outside. I visited with a former softball teammate.

Neither of us could remember ever having made an out. The memories of past picnics come galloping with a similar slanted and wishful recall. I remember no bad picnic food, but then I can’t recollect what I had for breakfast.

Ancient picnics were epicurean delights. The special was homemade pie. I brought silverware, which evolved into plasticware. The sound of snapping plastic knives during the cut-a-watermelon competition was comforting. Sometimes, my mother called an emergency picnic when one was needed. A wicker picnic basket, fried chicken, pie, potato salad, Jell-O, Kool-Aid and yellow jacket stings. Cool Whip, ketchup, mustard, mayo and paper plates.

Someone brought a plunger because you never know. Tablecloths and blankets doubled as mobile roofs when it rained and served as communal napkins.

W. Somerset Maugham said, “There are few things so pleasant as a picnic eaten in perfect comfort.” Many people don’t know he said that because he wasn’t a Super Bowl quarterback. I’ve never had a picnic in perfect comfort. There were insects or hurricane-force winds. The presence of mosquitoes and wasps caused food to have a hint of insect spray. There was always a mysterious food no one took credit for making that I felt obligated to ingest. I accidentally ate a colony of ants, a police dog licked the coleslaw and there was a good chance of being hit by an errant frisbee. Yet the picnics were perfect. A decluttered picnic table was a sad sight.

Eating ice cream on a winter picnic would be blissful. It would be tasty and unlikely to melt. I’m subject to ice cream headaches and I wouldn’t get another if I had one already from the frigid ambient temperature.

After considering a winter picnic, I told everyone I met, “It’s a great day for a picnic.” It wasn’t. It was a nasty winter’s day.

I looked at the thermometer. I’d need to go south to have a picnic.

Winter is no picnic. That’s a pity. Maybe it’d help if I procured an ant farm and ate pie in front of it.

More ants, anyone?

Al Batt’s column appears in the Tribune every Wednesday.