Monday, April 13, 2020

Surprising Subtlety

Subtlety isn't something you expect in a commercial product. Certainly not a product with such flamboyant packaging as Hot Hands hand warmers, pictured here. But I tried this product today for the first time and found it intriguingly subtle yet effective.

Here's what happened. I had an errand I wanted to run – a visit to the drive-through ATM at my bank, about a mile from my apartment. Even though it had snowed earlier in the day and I knew it was going to be cold, I decided I wanted to go on foot because I'd been cooped up in my apartment without a break for a couple days, and I desperately needed fresh air, sunshine and a little exercise. So I put on two jackets (a hoodie and a relatively light winter coat) and a knitted cap but, for some reason, decided I didn't need gloves. I guess I trusted my pockets to keep my hands warm. And off I went.

On the way to the bank, I had a tail wind pushing me along. Even so, 22 degrees plus wind made for an uncomfortably cool walk. I put up the hood of my hoodie and kept my fists jammed in my pockets, but even so, I was feeling pretty miserable (and stupid) when I got to the ATM. I took out $40, braced myself, and turned into the wind for the homeward stretch.

Oh, was it cold! It was face-hurtingly cold. Part of the way home, I darted into Walgreens with little more in mind than to blow time in a heated place. While I was there, I spotted a rack of stocking caps and wondered aloud if the store carried mittens; but they did not. Then I spotted a clearance display of these hand warmers, and I decided to give them a try.

What comes out of the package looks rather like a tea bag – kind of a woven paper sachet full of something that feels like really fine gravel or maybe crumbled up charcoal. Following the directions, I gave each pouch a good shake, then wrapped my fists around them and stuck them in my pockets and walked the rest of the way home. And you know what? Even though I had the wind blowing right at me, the only discomfort I felt was an increasingly urgent desire to blow my nose.

It was actually pretty weird. I expected those hand warmers almost to burn my hands, to become uncomfortably hot as I walked with fists in pockets. But they didn't. In fact, I didn't even notice any particular sensation of warmth. For the first block or so, I even wondered if the hand warmers were working. But then I realized that even though my hands didn't exactly feel warm, they didn't feel cold either. And that was astonishing, under the circumstances.

My hands weren't numb. Nor were they in pain from the wind chill biting through the fabric of my light winter coat. Even with a bit of wrist exposed between sleeve and pocket, I feared no evil. I expected toasty warmth and slightly dreaded becoming a little overheated, but was surprised to feel neither. Even more surprising of this little bundle of chemicals branded with images of flames and glowing heat, success was mingled with subtlety.

Did I wash my hands when I got home? You betcha. I don't know what they put in those things, but I didn't want to taste it at dinner.

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