I Have a Toque and I Know How to Use It

My umbrella blew inside out in Kendall Square a while back during a trip home from a first-year shopping trip.

My umbrella blew inside out in Kendall Square a while back during a trip home from a first-year shopping trip. I wrestled with it for a few moments before giving up and slogging back to the T.

There are some things that happen only in movies. That's what I always thought about having an umbrella blown inside out by a gust of wind or getting gutter-splashed by a car. Coming from Los Angeles, where roads are wide and the rain always vertical, I thought those things were some wide-eyed screenwriter's fancy.

Now I know better.

For in these first weeks in Cambridge, my most important practical learning has come from cold and wet weather veterans who know that a toque is a cold-weather hat and speak fondly of high school "snow days." The closest I ever got were "fire days" and "earthquake days." No kidding.

For all the practical advice the college has dispensed to us in the form of mandatory proctor meetings, speeches from the assistant deans and booklet after booklet on academics, no one has told me how to survive a Cambridge winter.

The assistant deans of freshmen do seem to try to give people from warmer places locals as roommates. My roommate, who hails from Newton, Mass., advises that cold weather is best dealt with by dressing lightly and running from place to place. When it started snowing yesterday, he wore a long-sleeved shirt and a light fleece vest. Being cold in October toughens you up for when it really gets frigid in December, he reasons.

In addition to help from roommates, the college has a financial aid program called the Kimball Winter Clothing Fund, that helps students from warm climates who also need financial aid to buy the things they need to survive what the Financial Aid office calls "our blustery New England winters." The letter to applicants recommends various items of clothing, including waterproof boots, a hat, earmuffs and a scarf. But for those of us who don't have a pressing financial need, the College offers precious little to help through our first winter of black ice, wind chill factors and rivers that freeze.

I propose that the College institute a cold-weather orientation program for those of us from snow-challenged parts of the world. First, we would learn how to tell the difference between gloves and mittens. Then, we'd be able to try our hand at scarf wrapping. The final exam would be a trip across the Yard when the first nor'easter hits.

Maybe then, as the mild fall days come to an end, there will be fewer desperate first-years wandering the Yard with their umbrellas inside-out.