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Unnatural Selections 

by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & & lt;span class="dropcap" & T & lt;/span & he year's first real cold snap came somewhat unexpectedly, bringing the kind of abrupt change that sends squirrels scurrying for nuts, draws elk into the lower elevations and sends all manner of wildlife instinctively looking for winter refuge. Sitting at home on the first evening of it, I felt the cold primarily in my knuckles. A dull chill enwrapped the fingers of my left hand as it sat in my lap, cupped and still, while stabs of iciness picked away at my thumb joints. Every movement worked the cold deeper into my bones, but I had a deep, almost existential problem to work through. I couldn't consider something as inconsequential as limb-warmth until I solved it.

Click... Click. Nothing. Click, click. No response. A group of cars was making its umpteenth lap around a yawning oval and I couldn't stop them. I sped up my thumb-action a bit. Click, click, clickclickclickclick. Damn.

I turned the remote control over and removed the battery cover. I pulled out the two AA batteries, licking them to check for a charge. I felt one, but it was faint. I rubbed them off and put them back in. Click ... click, clickclickclick. Daaaamn.

I sat cross-legged on the couch, staring across the vastness of my TV room at my television and Digital Video Recorder, the former sitting on a janky old end table, the latter perched beneath on a cardboard box. I could cross the room and change the channel manually, but that seemed barbaric. It's two-thousand-effing-eight, I thought, I have TiVo. I will not crawl.

So I stood, unfolding myself from the couch. The cold invaded the rest of my joints. I winced a little as I walked from the room. My destination was the kitchen -- land of spare batteries -- but the protests of my bones and ligaments and cartilage had me pondering a stop halfway. I walked into the living room -- realm of the thermostat -- and opened the cover plate. The LCD screen read "45 & deg; F." I flicked the furnace switch from "off" to "auto" and waited for the whir of the fan that would bring the long exhale of 70-degree air to my bluing joints. Instead, the LCD blinked out. I flicked the switch to "on." Nothing. Flick. Flick. Nothing. Flickflickflick. Damn. I pulled the thermostat's battery cover off and found it too needed AAs.

Opening the utility drawer in the kitchen, I found my long, Costco-sized 32-pack of Duracells and emptied the contents into my hand. My lips tightened. I exhaled hard through my nose in annoyance.

Leaving the kitchen, I walked through the living room without stopping, past the thermostat (its battery hole still gaping), and into the TV room, settling back onto the couch. I was far from frostbite, but my fingers were cold enough that replacing the batteries was a ham-handed affair. Fumbling them into place and replacing the cover, I mashed the channel button a couple of times. The screen flipped to one of the networks, God knows which, and I was faced with the toothy smile of a weatherwoman. Gesturing vaguely and saying something about a low-pressure system, this 20-something girl seemed to be aiming for the learned gravity of Tom Brokaw at 35. It wasn't working for her, but that didn't matter. Things were working for me again.

The most important thing anyway.

I took a long, deep breath. Mission accomplished. As my thumb hovered over the "My DVR" button, I had a thought. Given the choice between warmth and entertainment, I had chosen entertainment. Really, I hadn't made a choice at all. In my mind, the question of which was the more pressing threat to my well-being, boredom or cold, was self-evident.

"Our high today," the weatherwoman said, in awe, "was fourteen degrees below norm--." I hit "My DVR," silencing her, and pulled a thin fleece throw blanket around my shoulders. It could have been 40 degrees below normal, I thought, and I'd have still probably picked distraction over warm feet.

I remember reading a jacket cover once, for a bit of pop science called Future Evolution. Written by University of Washington paleontologist Peter Ward, the book argues that, though we're almost certainly killing our planet, the way we manipulate the plants and animals and environment around us ensures that we're practically "extinction-proof." I don't know if that's true or not -- whether I'm extinction-proof -- but I'm sure as hell living like I am.

I rocked back and forth under the blanket, shivered again, and hit "play."

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