Thank goodness for long johns and big briefcases

Thank goodness for long johns. I’m not talking about those delectable rectangular-shaped donut goodies with the chocolate icing on top that are also called long johns, and I thank goodness for them, too.

Thank goodness for long johns. I’m not talking about those delectable rectangular-shaped donut goodies with the chocolate icing on top that are also called long johns, and I thank goodness for them, too.

I mean that saviour of Canadians and other long-suffering inhabitants of the northern hemisphere of our unforgiving planet — long johns, as in long underwear.

I know that’s how I judge when winter is really here and not just a pretend teaser winter when some snow arrives like an uninvited guest and you can see your breath and your ears turn red (if they are jug-handle ears like mine they do) and you have to dig out some mitts that grandma knit for you years ago, or some nice leather gloves that you got for Christmas from your sister.

No, when I have to rummage around in the bottom drawer and drag out the long johns, for me it signals that a breath-sucking, mind-numbing, extremity-freezing ridiculously real -25-and-worse capital W ‘Winter’ has descended upon the land like a dirty white maximum security prison of ice and snow and cold temperatures that would freeze the bolts off a steel bridge (if you know what I mean).

Last week, I worked with a film crew from the United States of Obama who were here to make a corporate video. They couldn’t get over how much colder it was in Celsius than their own obsolete Fahrenheit. When I pointed out that at 40 degrees below, Fahrenheit and Celsius are exactly the same temperature, we all agree that we didn’t need to personally experience that fascinating scientific anomaly.

And about three days after they left, that very anomaly was upon us poor souls left behind to attempt to function with a wind-chill factor that was completely off the charts in Celsius and Fahrenheit on this or any other planet.

The point is, none of the southern crew had brought along any long underwear whatsoever, even though they knew we’d be shooting outside in Canada in January.

I’m pretty sure none of them even owns a set of long johns, although I certainly didn’t go out of my way to ask them. Underwear is not really a subject that four guys sit around chatting about when you’re getting to know each other. Still, they were lucky they arrived here when it was -5C and not -35C, which in Alberta is the difference of about two days.

When it does get cold enough to freeze the ears off a brass monkey (if you know what I mean) you can’t beat the classic one-piece long john. With its convenient button-down “trap door,” the one-piece can be a bit unwieldy, especially under fairly tight clothing, but the body heat factor is maximized with the unbroken coverage of a one-piece hunk of underwear.

As long as you keep your trap shut.

I don’t personally own a one-piece anymore. I learned the hard way that what you gain in warmth outside — say, shovelling the sidewalk — you sacrifice in extreme overheating inside — say, working in an office.

One brain-freezing day years ago, I wore my one-piece long johns to work as a clerk at a local law office. The ‘johns’ were perfect for surviving the act of starting the car and driving to work in the frigid deepfreeze, but by the time the scheduled morning staff meeting in the board room rolled around, I was beginning to suffer from early onset heat prostration. Here I’d been worried about hypothermia that morning and now the problem was long john-induced hyperthermia!

Very nearly passing out from the heat of a well-meaning multi-layered clothing strategy, I knew I’d never make it through a long conflab in a stuffy conference room full of lawyers whilst sweating profusely and sweltering dangerously in very efficient one-piece long johns. So the only thing I could think of was to grab my briefcase and stagger to the washroom.

There, thrashing around desperately in a cubicle like an escape artist trying to get out of a straitjacket, I managed to defrock myself of the thermal one-piece underwear, and re-dress sans long johns. Nobody would know.

Just one problem. What to do with the long underwear?

Way ahead of ya. That’s why I had brought along my briefcase to the washroom, a practice I was not normally in the habit of doing. I snapped open the briefcase, rearranged a few files and stuffed the sweaty longies in there.

I could barely close the top — it turns out that used long johns can be quite bulky when you’re trying to hide them.

By now I was late for the meeting so I went straight to the conference room. Feeling much better, I breezed into the meeting confident that I probably wouldn’t faint in the middle of it after all. But as soon as I plunked my briefcase down and took my spot … well, you can see where this is going.

“Harley, you have the Smith file don’t you?” one of the lawyers pipes up, eyeing my briefcase.

“Ummm,” I say, cleverly stalling. Knowing the Smith file was indeed scrunched in my briefcase, all tangled up in my sweaty underwear.

“Could you get it out for us, please?” he tries again.

“Ummm,” I repeat, slowly reaching for my briefcase.

My briefcase wasn’t one of those classic satchel, top-loading cases. It was the typical suitcase style, and I knew if I snapped open the clasps the thing would likely explode open like one of those joke tin cans that launch spring loaded snakes all over the room.

“I think it’s on my desk,” I mumble and I grab my briefcase even though I know it didn’t make any sense to carry my briefcase back to my desk, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do, especially after being nearly succumbing to severe heatstroke moments before.

I was out of that room and at my desk, sproinging open my briefcase in private before anybody even noticed. And all I can say is, thank goodness I didn’t open that briefcase in public.

But the file was in relatively good shape, especially once I aired it out a little.

Still, thank goodness for long johns — a powerful weapon against a wicked winter. But like any other powerful weapon, you have to make sure you use them carefully. And always carry a briefcase.

Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.