It's been a long winter ? rainy for some, snowy for others, mercurial any which way ? but we're finally coming out of it, with two things on the horizon making our long slog toward spring worthwhile: March Madness, and of course Girl Scout cookies.
Nothing warms the soul like a box of Thin Mints in the freezer; nothing, to me, tastes quite so much like the weather has broken as biting into a soft chocolate-covered Tagalong. Forget Easter candy. The stuff I used to get in baskets was only as interesting as where it was hidden around the house. Girl Scout cookies, though, those are the stuff of my youth. I remember selling them proudly, and even more I remember my first time on the other side of that transaction ? a scout sat outside my local grocery store, adorable in her uniform, spine straight as a pin and an ear-splitting smile of hopeful expectation on her face. I let her explain to me the different types as if it weren't etched on my brain, then bought ten boxes for me and for friends. What's more, I don't know any guy who doesn't turn to jelly for them. My husband ordered some from a friend's niece, and came home with such a big grin on his face, I thought he'd swung by Best Buy at precisely the right moment to find the only unsold Nintendo Wii in all of Los Angeles. Turns out that's the power of a peanut-butter cookie ? or rather, the mere promise of one. The legacy of scouting organizations in this country is a great one, from leadership and teamwork to community outreach and socialization, but at the end of the day what people really remember is that Thin Mints are in the green box and Samoas in the purple.
March Madness is the other beacon at the end of the chill. For as much as I love college football, the sport's season-ending polls and byzantine web of calculations to determine a champion can't come close to the simple perfection of NCAA basketball's 65-team single-elimination bracket. Four divisions, four favorites, four teams at each spot from one to 16, laid out by the experts in an intricate collision course so that one team reigns supreme. The entire aura is frenetic, pulsing with the improbable; there's always a buzzer-beating three-pointer, or a 20-point lead that collapses. No top seed is out of reach, no underdog too pathetic. Sure, a bottom-dwelling 16 seed has yet to knock off a No. 1 team, but that's just a matter of time. The CBS March Madness theme song plays in my brain on a loop. The entire enterprise is to me what pacifiers are to babies: A deeply beloved ritual, and a way to keep me calm when I get bored and restless between football seasons.
Selection Sunday is at the end of this week. First, the major conferences hold their championships, which influence the NCAA Tournament seedings. That's like an appetizer, a tiny taste of what's to come. My alma mater, Notre Dame, plays in the Big East, most likely on Thursday after a first-round bye (bless the basketball team for having better fortunes than its brethren on the gridiron); Jessica's UCLA Bruins, on pace for a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance, also get a first-day rest in the Pac-10 Championship race and are some people's favorites to win the whole thing. In some ways, it's easier when your team isn't even in the hunt at all ? that way, you don't have to do any soul-searching, making sure you're picking your winners in each bracket based on gut rather than emotions. You never find yourself faced with picking against your own, picking for them out of loyalty, or fearing that riding them all the way to the final game will somehow jinx them. I don't envy Jessica that decision. Notre Dame, while pretty darn good this season and ranked in the top 25, probably won't make it past the first weekend. And if they do, it probably means my bracket will be busted. What can I say? Irish football has taught me to be a pessimist.
All of this, however, means I need to get in my reading while I can, because come March 20 it'll be nonstop college hoops around here. I will be on my couch shouting at the TV, waving a Diet Coke in one hand and a Tagalong in the other as my long-awaited supply of Girl Scout cookies diminishes along with my chances of winning a March Madness pool. Blessed as we are in Los Angeles with things like late winters and early springs, we've already hit the time of year where curling up in a warm bed with a book gets replaced by sitting out on a warm patio, and I'd better get the fresh air while it's on special.
? Heather Cocks