Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Thoughts of a Snowy Day Long Ago

The weather can be volatile at this time of the year.

I guess it's that way everywhere, even in the places where it starts snowing in October and doesn't stop until about April.

But it can be pretty extreme even in places like Dallas, Texas — where, I will concede, it tends to be a lot milder than most places.

That — along with the fact that a new, state–of–the–art stadium has been open for business here for nearly a year and a half — is what enticed the NFL to bring its Super Bowl here this year.

But the weather can be hit or miss around here in the winter. If the Super Bowl had been played here last weekend, the players and fans could have enjoyed sunny skies and balmy (for February) temperatures.

As I write this, the temperature is about 20° (wind chill is about 2°) with a light snow and a stout wind. We've been getting rain, freezing rain, sleet and snow for several hours. Businesses and school districts throughout the area are closed down.

The Dallas Area Rapid Transit system, on which the city was counting to handle the transportation needs of the influx of guests for the Super Bowl, is reporting that rail service is currently suspended and "[b]uses are operating but slowly."

Forecasters think the temperature will inch above freezing by the end of the week, possibly rising to the 50s by kickoff on Sunday, but there doesn't seem to be any question that last Sunday would have been the best time to play the game.

Timing is everything.

The two classes I'm teaching at one of the campuses of the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) won't meet today because all DCCCD locations are closed due to the weather.

And I've been sitting here this morning, occasionally gazing out my window at the ice–coated street below and thinking of my college days.

I got my B.A. at the University of Arkansas. While I was there, I lived with my parents. My father had gone back to school to pursue a degree in architecture, and my mother was teaching first grade in the nearby Springdale district.

Unlike the central Arkansas town in which I grew up, we had four distinct seasons in northwest Arkansas. In the winter, we got snow, and sometimes the accumulations were sufficient to cancel Mom's school for the day.

My classes, on the other hand, were seldom canceled — unless my professor simply could not get to the campus. Then he/she would notify someone, who would normally post a notice on the door, but the students had to trudge their way in to see it for themselves.

That wasn't a huge problem for me. Our house was near the campus. I had to walk up hill a little to get to the campus, which did pose problems if it was icy, like it is today — but, generally speaking, what little ice we got usually got covered over rather rapidly with snow, and that is usually more conducive to doing, well, just about anything.

Anyway, I've been thinking about one day when I was in college, and a lot of snow fell overnight.

The next morning, my mother heard on the radio that her school district was closed for the day. I, on the other hand, had to get ready for class and make my way to the campus, where I discovered that my classes were not canceled.

I remember coming home around 1 in the afternoon and discovering my mother in the living room, ironing board out with a basket of clothes sitting next to it. She was pressing shirts and watching a movie on whatever was our equivalent of HBO in those days.

The movie was "The Boys From Brazil," a thriller about a plot to clone Hitler and revive Nazism. It had been fairly popular at the theaters a few years earlier, but I don't know if Mom ever saw it on the big screen.

What I do know is that it was on TV on this particular day, and it had only been on for a few minutes when I got home. I opened a can of ravioli and warmed it up, then came in to the living room and watched the movie.

I only intended to watch it for a few minutes, but I got caught up in the plot. It really is an intriguing one.

Gregory Peck played Josef Mengele, the famous butcher from Auschwitz and the perpetrator of a plot to clone Hitler. James Mason was a co–conspirator and Laurence Olivier was a Nazi hunter (inspired by Simon Wiesenthal) who was alerted to some suspicious activity in South America.

The genetic material that was used in this experiment had been acquired from Hitler himself, according to Mengele. Dozens of baby Hitlers had been created using that material, and they had been dispersed around the globe to carefully selected couples who duplicated, as closely as possible, the parents who raised the original Hitler.

Hitler's father had been a civil servant, more than 20 years older than Hitler's mother and had died while Hitler was in his early teens. For all these young Hitlers to be shaped by the same experiences as the first one, they had to lose their adoptive fathers at about the same point in their lives.

And all those young Hitlers were approaching the time when they had to lose their fathers.

That was the plot. It was engrossing. But, to be honest, it really didn't have much to do with snow, other than the fact that I had been walking through a lot of snow before I came in the house and found my mother watching that movie on that afternoon so many years ago.

Well, actually, there were some wintry scenes in that movie, some segments where the actors were forced to wear winter clothes, even one memorable "execution" scene that involved some snow.

And there was one scene that I find particularly chilling in hindsight.

Remember, this movie was made in the late 1970s. Cable TV was still new, and specialty channels, like The History Channel and The Military Channel were still many years away.

Yet some of what it presented seems almost prophetic to me now, the way much of "Network" seems to be.

Peck, in his role as Mengele, tells Olivier near the end of the movie what he had seen on the TV in his motel room — "Films of Hitler! The movement! People are fascinated! The time is ripe!"

He spoke of a "Hitler tailor–made for the 1980s, '90s, 2000!"

And I think that, if such genetic material had been taken from Hitler while he was alive and had been preserved, it might still exist somewhere today.

For that matter, there may be real boys from Brazil living among us today. Mengele, we are told, died while swimming in Brazil in 1979. He may have drowned accidentally or perhaps he suffered a stroke.

Whatever the reason for his death, he avoided capture for more than three decades, and he appears to have continued his human experimentation in his postwar life. He may well have conducted experiments like the one that was suggested in "The Boys From Brazil."

If he did, those experiments may have been disappointments to him. He may have judged them failures.

Or they may have been in their nascent stage at the time of his death.

If so — and if, as might be implied by the movie, he had a timeline to follow — he could have been "born" several years before Mengele died and still not be the age that Hitler had reached by the time he seized power in Germany.

He could have been an infant when Mengele died — and, consequently, would not yet be as old as Hitler was when he was imprisoned for treason and wrote "Mein Kampf."

In short, if Mengele did conduct such experiments in the last years of his life, we may be on the brink of seeing their outcomes.

Just something to think about on a wintry day.