Illinois Gray

February is typically the most exhausting month in Illinois. Sure, it's the shortest, but that's just because if it was any longer, the suicide rate by the time March rolled around would be off the charts.

From September through February, even into March, Illinois is a lot like living inside a black and white photograph. There are no colors, nothing to break the bleak and monotonous stride of winter on the Great Lakes. Everything exists in grayscale, even the sun.

Snow falls like volcanic ash, covering the ground in a slick mess of grime and ice. Pant cuffs become stiff with salt and dirt while shoe leather becomes dull and dreary. Hairstyles become flattened, matted messes, and beards bloom on the faces of men who have nothing left to live for save the hope, the dream, that some day this purgatory will end.

Around mid-January, platitudes start to ring out from the lips of the most stalwart defenders of flyover country. "There are people in the world who never get to experience winter, or snow!" Always in a cheerful note, always with the implication that somehow this is a special blessing for the special folk who choose to live here.

By February, the inflection has changed, the sentiment demented, the phrase repeated but with a different emphasis. "There are people in the world who never experience winter...despicable bastards." This is said, typically, while driving a gray, salty car, stuck in a black hole of gridlock, while spraying windshield washer fluid into an icy mosaic that frozen wiper blades can't clear from the glass. Instead, they make an impotent scraping sound that's like poison directly injected into the gallbladder.

It's all gray, as if a magical crayon descended from the cosmos and colored everything in precisely the right shading and contrast to sap all the contentment out of people through their eyeballs. It's one of the master pigments, like true ultramarine, or carmine. Ground from only the finest vitriol, distilled from political corruption, Illinois Gray anchors the mural of winter in Chicago.

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