James Lileks
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Flurries were forecast the other day, and we all had the same question: Will they accumulate? We can take a few flakes, but when they have the audacity to persist, it’s a milestone.

Then snow is not an old college pal who crashes for a night on the sofa. Winter is an estranged brother who moves into the spare room and has his mail forwarded.

It’s time to winterize things, we’re told. Winterize your house. Have your furnace checked. Here’s how most people check the furnace:

Turn up the heat.

House gets warm.

Furnace checks out.

What more is there to do, really? You could probably clean up the dust that accumulates around the … uh, the fire part of the boiler.

The first time I turn on the furnace in the winter, there’s a big whoomp! as the dust ignites; the dog runs away, and I want to say “The Great and Powerful Oz has spoken!”

Note: What most people call the furnace is actually the boiler, but I grew up in a house that called it the furnace. It was always set at 68. Anything over 68, well, you might as well get out stacks of dollar bills and burn them. If you wanted to drive Depression-era parents crazy, you turned up the furnace to 69. And you made a long distance phone call at a quarter to 11.

Here’s the kicker: My father’s business was selling heating oil. Dad, you literally have underground tanks with thousands of gallons of heating oil, and it’s freezing in here. Mom thaws out the supper by taking it off the counter and putting it in the fridge.

I exaggerate, of course. I think. (Dad is reading this, and will no doubt phone me tonight to set me straight. The thermostat was set at 67.)

You also need to bleed the radiator pipes. They’re clanking, so they need to be bled. This sounds like some medieval cure for shingles.

Where did the water in the pipes come from? I don’t recall getting out the hose to fill up the pipes, ever. They built the house in 1915, someone who voted for Woodrow Wilson filled up the pipes, and that’s what’s been circulating for a century?

If that’s the case, it seems a shame to pour out the water I bleed from the pipes. It’s like a spirit that’s been trapped in the house for decades, and has been knocking on the pipes to get out. “I am free! I am finally free! Oh, thank you, and I shall grant you three — hey, hey, why are you pouring me in the toilet? Stop!”

Anyway, even after the pipes are bled, the house will still be unevenly heated. Morgue-slab cold in one room, and Satan’s Orchid Nursery in another.

Next, prepare your car. For some people, this means putting a fresh piece of black duct tape over the CHECK ENGINE light. The rest of us make sure we have a survival kit in the trunk, in case there’s an accident in some remote location and you have to wait hours before anyone drives past and sees your car. Like, say, downtown St. Paul after midnight. Kidding!

This kit should include:

• A sack of kitty litter for traction, or in case you crash into the Home for Incontinent Felines and feel compelled to apologize with a donation.

• A silver blanket that traps your body heat, so when you’re eventually found frozen stiff the rescuers will think a giant Eskimo Pie was driving the vehicle.

• Cellphone batteries so you can catch up on Facebook while the wolves circle.

• Those hand-warmer packs. I have about 50 in a box in the car, and every spring I move them to the shelf, somehow disappointed that my preparations were not needed. I would be that irritating guy who puts the family in a ditch in a blizzard and thinks, “Finally! We can use the hand warmers! Won’t my wife be pleased?”

And the reply would be: “I said you were going too fast and the highway was icy, but now that you’ve surprised us with these three-hour heat packs, I just can’t be mad. Come here, you big reckless yet surprisingly prepared lug, and kiss me.”

“I have warmer packs for feet, too. No one’s losing a pinkie toe on my watch.”

• A flare gun. It probably won’t summon help, but you can fire one at the car that speeds past without helping, and it’ll relieve some frustration.

Just remember to stay calm. Your car may be in the ditch. It may be freezing outside, with no signs of life. Just remember the wisdom of Capt. Scott, stranded on an ice floe during his first attempt to reach the North Pole. Sled dogs dead, food exhausted, men delirious from snowblindness. Did he give up? No.

He uttered those words that inspire us to this day.

“To heck with this. I’m calling an Uber.”

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks