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Oh, the Wearing Outside is Frightful

(This week in Secondhand SCIENCE silliness: ionizing radiation. It's the most fun you can have without an electron.*

* Don't go having fun without an electron, kids. What would your grandmother think? Lord.)

With a winter like ours in New England -- relentless blizzards, subzero wind chills, snowdrifts the size of albino brontosauruses -- you eventually start asking yourself some important questions. Questions like:

Will the yard ever thaw again, or should I start charging neighborhood kids two bucks a pop to ice skate on it?

Can I claim snow blindness on workers' comp, to get out of trudging through waist-high Siberian slop to the office every day?

If I trip face-first into a snowbank and play it off as though I'm making a snow angel, will anyone actually believe me? And will the bus I'm waiting for leave without me in disgust?

Important questions, all. But the most pressing one I've found is not one I expected. It's more of a wardrobe query, and it's this:

When does a thing stop being "clean", exactly?

Let me preface my thoughts on this by saying it's not a question that usually comes up. A worn garment is a dirty garment -- a filthy, unclean, shameful lump of cloth to be hidden away from polite society until such time as it's been laundered, fluffed and, depending on your fabric softener brand, made to smell like a thousand old ladies buried in a rose garden.

"The rule is clear. I might bend it occasionally, when push comes to salsa stain, but I've never questioned the rule."

In other words, worn equals dirty -- with a few exceptions. Weekend sweatpants, for instance. A hoodie slipped on just to make a beer run. Gently lived-in jeans on a desperate Friday morning, when the only clean options are tuxedo pants and a neon pair of Speedos.

The rule is clear. I might bend it occasionally, when push comes to salsa stain, but I've never questioned the rule. It's the rule.

That was before the four snowmen of the Blizzapocalypse blew through, shitting sleet on our heads like New England had collectively signed up for some sort of climatological ice bucket challenge. Now the rule isn't so clear. For instance:

All week, I wore four shirts. The average forecast was fourteen degrees below absolute zero, or something equally ridiculous, with a seventy percent chance of slipping on icy sidewalks and falling ass-backwards into a snow bank. So I layered. I started with a T-shirt, then a long-sleeved T, then a heavier long-sleever and then a sweatshirt or rugby or whatever I thought I could get away with wearing to the office that wasn't lined with fur or the cozy warming blubber of baby seals.

These shirts were all different, every day. But by mid-week, I started asking: are some of these things still "clean", by some reasonable definition?

Like, clearly, not the T-shirt. That thing is rubbing up against pits and hair and tucked into pants and became dirty -- really, truly dirty -- roughly three seconds after I put it on. The T is not clean. Nobody's saying that.

Ditto the outer shirt. While its experience is perhaps less... suffocated, it's out there in the elements, sleeves flapping, touching people and walls and probably rogue globs of salsa, so it's definitely not clean, either. It's seen things, man. And it's probably filthy.

But what about the shirt under that? Existentially speaking, is it clean? It's not exposed to the world. It's not touching me. It's got a two-shirt buffer from me, to soak up any scents or liquids or anything else a disgusting human might ooze throughout the day. So, what's its status? Clean? Dirty? Can I wear it again without washing it? If I do, can I tell anyone? Is this even a sane question? And if it is, should I write about it in a public place, exposing my madness to the world at large?

Clearly, the answer to at least one of those questions is "yes". Sadly for us all. But that doesn't answer my original question, which is whether some of those "sandwich" shirts in the in-between layers are clean. Or "clean", which would be close enough, because I lived in a dorm room for four years and heaven knows we didn't come anywhere close to "clean" -- or even ""clean"" -- the entire time.

It's not just the shirts, though. Oh, no. We're not in "layer your torso and be done with it" territory here. This is time to gird all the body parts, which means extra insulation all over -- which means further conundrums vis a vis personal hygiene and doing fourteen loads of laundry every week.

Seriously. Sandwich shirts are easy, by the time you start asking yourself whether you can recycle the middle pair of three socks into your wardrobe. Or whether any of four pairs of boxers were safe enough from your junk to make it back into rotation.

So yeah, this winter is tough. The shoveling we can handle, and the driving and the freezing and the roofs collapsing under two tons of white stuff. But the wardrobe planning?

Shit. Make it spring already, would ya?

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