Jeff Phillips: A Wee Hour Pep Talk with a Hot Tub Itself

To come across the grey apparition of a banged up, mildew streaked hot tub, in an alley beneath a dim, flickering lamp post, takes your breath away as quick as a polar plunge into the crashing crest of an ocean’s wave in February. The image of a dilapidated and discarded hot tub was, in the end, only a mirage made by tears that emerge from the drying scoop of cold air currents howling down the wind tunnel of a Chicago street, funneling against my eyes as I gaze upon an open dumpster. I can’t help but sense it as a personality. I can’t help but allow the projection of a telepathic conversation to occur between myself and the semblance of a thing I’ve always looked up to as an icon, a symbol of all being right in the world. What the hell are you doing out here? Your days aren’t over, good buddy, I know you still have the goods, some service still stored up inside of you!

A hot tub is, in many ways, my happy place. I’ve always had an affinity toward warmth. When traveling as a kid, I’d beg my parents to book hotels with whirlpools. To this day, that is one of the first things I check for on an amenities list before reserving a room. If I were to log my most relaxed moments in life, they’d mostly involve a good soak in a hot tub. Maybe the sense of ease is flushed with the already freeing bask of vacation. Hot tubs and vacation do make a good pair. I think back to, as a young boy, a time when creativity saw an unstoppable burst as my brother and I tossed around a pair of goggles in a hotel hot tub, so relaxed as our minds unraveled a flurry of ideas for claymation films we would later shoot in our basement. On another family trip, my friend James joined us, and he donned probably the same pair of goggles, holding his breath as long as he could, until some other guests, a middle aged couple, stepped in the hot tub, unable to see young James bobbing below the foam. Once they settled in against some jets, James burst through the surface, right in front of the man. A startled James flinching back at the man’s stern response of “what’re you doing son, scuba diving for fish?” made me giggle for days.

During our high school nordic ski team trips to Mte. Ste. Anne in Quebec, our lodge had both a hot tub and a sauna. We’d alternate our time between these two comforting warmths, adding in a cycle of stepping out barefoot into the snow, to make the encompassing heat on our achy muscles, strained from skiing over a day’s worth of kilometers, all the more rewarding. Comfort sometimes needs contrast.

So when you see your happy place as a miserable vagabond, hunched against the cold brick of an alley wall, it makes you wonder if you need new heroes. But then you feel terrible for thinking that, and you wonder further what you can do to help your fallen heroes reinvent themselves, and rise from the ashes with much more dynamism.

Coldness doesn’t only apply to the temperature of solids, liquids and gasses. There’s a coldness of culture that puts a damper on existence within the nation’s borders. Sometimes it comes in the form of an unworthiness ascribed to race, creed, orientation, religion, origins, and any number of demographic categories some may find an easy target to cast blame and aspersions upon. Shoppers go on racist rants. A lady tells a man in a motorized wheelchair, a complete stranger, she’s thankful Trump won so her taxes won’t have to pay for him anymore. Some kids ask their Hispanic classmates if they’ve packed their bags, a teacher tells a Muslim student that Trump will deport him. Swastikas are painted on synagogues. Women in hijabs are tackled, their clothing torn off by men with red “Make America Great Again” hats on top of their heads. Even an Anheuser-Busch commercial that shows the immigration story of one of its founders, draws vehement cries to boycott the brand. I’m talking about those that would take pride in their making of someone feel unwelcome. Which is undeniably the work of an icy soul, one that allows fear and broad-brushed rumblings of paranoia to pinch the supply of hot blood into the capillaries of compassion. The chemical reaction of a blowhard trying to tear down diversity is a freeze that shoots straight to the heart.

America needs the equivalent of the hot tub in the guise of an atmospheric soak to massage and expand the mind of its citizens, so that the norm of a heart clamped by greed, distrust and fear is replaced by openness, respect, and generosity.

So, sir Jacuzzi, as a stressful workweek shrunk the coils of my spine, and the cold locked in the compression, I can easily go home and sit in the shower, the hot water on full blast, bathing me in mist, with a hot wash cloth draped across my face. My ability to quickly transfer into cozy toasting isn’t easily obtained by all. We’re creatures of comfort, I want us all to all have happy places. The warm bath can rise up as a champion of pleasure. I wish your warmth on the world. I wish you to find your way off the streets. You’re too bulky for me to prop up against my shoulders like a drunkard that just needs to go home, but why not apparate? Imagine if there was a way you could astral project, puff up the size of your spirit to engulf a nation. The great hot tub in the sky, keeping the noosphere cozy. Free your mind and your ass will follow, man. But I suppose if one frees their ass first, the reverse will follow. And force dunking the populace in a metaphorical hot tub is more ethical than spiking the water supply with, say, LSD. Rest assured, you are the light at the end of the tunnel.

The hot tub is hard to get moving, but I can tell it’s mulling the possibility over. It wants to help.

I’ve never heard of an argument breaking out in a hot tub. I offer up a smile, maybe I can make the curvature wobble as it surrenders to laughter.

For the first time it speaks back to me. Not with a joke to continue any riffing I’ve started, but to strategize. The key is for people to not know they’re in the metaphorical hot tub, it says, but to feel its effect. There are too many who would deny others entry into their tub, too many who might just get up and walk away dripping if a person with a different skin color got in, so we want to trick them into staying in long enough, to be relaxed enough, into realizing there isn’t a valid reason to mind the presence of “others” in the same spa.

I’m all ears. It’s snowing now. It accumulates in the concave containment of the tub. This isn’t exactly the piping hot bubbles I’m yearning for, but it’s a start. It’s the presence of what can later melt and be brought to temperatures to match a hot spring.

Conscientious consideration for other cultures, well exemplified by my progressive peers, earns us the moniker: snowflakes. The right wingers thinks it demeans us. Because we’re softies? Because we’re ineffectual feelers? But enough snowflakes can blanket the streets. Let’s look at that word that can be used to describe snow. A blanket is a thing of action. Blankets can warm a shivering body. Blankets can also suffocate a man, and even snuff a fire. Enough snowflakes, riding the momentum of gusty winds, can stop the mechanics of modern life, and the bustle, fast-paced habits, must pause until the blizzard recedes. Why did they choose to call us snowflakes then, if snow can be so devastating? Perhaps it’s only because at first glance the snowflake is soft and tiny. It’s fitting to them because they think we’re overly sensitive. Sensitivity though, is an asset. It’s the highly sensitive equipment that can detect the slightest movement. Acute senses are better for discerning the truth, to see which patterns indicate imperfection, or even impersonation, the flawed facades when others try to pull a fast one on us. Information might be best handled by the sensitive, instead of the rigid. The telescope bolted to the ground with the strongest metal can never look at something from a different vantage point.

I invite anyone to laugh at snowflakes, but underestimate their abilities at your own risk. What is hurtful about the term snowflakes, is that snow can be seen as removable. A shovel, a plow can push it away in bulk. I’m sorry if you’ve felt condescended to, but we liberals don’t like being seen as a nuisance to be cleaned up. The upshot is, there is a power then in being that nuisance, if we can hold tight, coalesce ourselves as a massive cake across an intersection.

With a Republican controlled House and Senate, a Republican in the White House, conservative dreams are about to come true. Why then are they so angry because we don’t like it? Are they recognizing that we do have the capabilities to derail it? Why do I see #snowflakes still a trending outlet for outrage?

What kind of truce can I broker between Republicans and Democrats? So that deemed deplorables and libtards can take risks in the exchange of ideas. My side isn’t perfect, it’s guilty of just as much hypocrisy as the other, but it is my side, and its causes are the ones I want to defend. It’s worth noting that for a long time I considered myself a moderate, and it was only recently, that the bitter and stubborn rhetoric of the right did little to convince me, in fact pushed me further to the left until I finally found myself compelled to draw a line in the fast falling snow, what looks more and more like ashes in the shadows.

We shouldn’t always get along, let’s have our snowball fights, even throw a hard packed ball of ice from time to time if it’s an earned and necessary shot. But let’s at least help our opponents up after we’ve pelted them, invite them in for a stiff drink to warm the belly and numb the pain and discuss what went down and why it did. A disagreement shouldn’t make one the worst person in the world. The post-mortem of a discourse that devolved should be the impetus to fine-tune our powers of persuasion, not stew in a grudge.

Since politics is still very much a competition, hence we’ll be locked into a fervor with the likeness of a longstanding, football team rivalry for the foreseeable future, I’d like to suggest we snowflakes stir up a new nickname for conservatives: “freezing rain.” A fitting depiction, for when freezing rain eats at snow it creates something quite messy, and also dangerous, but it still has the potential to be beautiful when illuminated by precise points of light. It can even inspire one to revive the art of compromise, transition away from the toxicity of all-or-nothing heroism. The core principle where we should not budge, however, is that exclusion should not be America’s mode of operation. Rallies behind policies of exclusion will fast deflate our reserves of liberty. Fear and freedom butt heads like competitive brothers and it becomes strenuous exercise to keep them from cannibalizing their challenger.
I think I hear drums beating to egg me on and charge my spiritual batteries. But it turns out it’s the sound of thick plastic flexing its shape. The hot tub eventually does take to laughing. It’s taking advantage of friction and motion. It’s trying to do what a hot tub does best; create warmth for others.



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