It's a balmy 22; toss on the shorts

It's a freezing afternoon and I am at Atwater's in the Belvedere Square Market, having a cup of their delicious soup for lunch in order to maintain the chiseled physique and whippet-like quickness for which I'm known.

My wife and I are at a table near the window, a prime spot for people-watching if you're into that sort of thing, and she is.

Suddenly I look out and see an astounding sight.

There on the sidewalk is a man wearing a fleece, shorts and flip-flops.

The temperature outside is now 22 degrees. The wind chill makes it feel like 16.

I know this because Tom Tasselmyer, WBAL's crack chief meteorologist and the Dean of Doppler Radar, announced it minutes earlier on the radio.

It's so cold that birds are dropping out of the sky. Fish are shivering in frozen ponds. Yet here is this man, dressed as if for a stroll on a beach in Cancun. Get rid of the fleece and all he's missing is a loud shirt and a frozen cocktail in one hand.

At this point, it is all I can do not to put down my soup, run outside and confront the guy. Because the phenomenon of wearing shorts in the dead of winter - let's forget the flip-flops for a minute, that's just icing on the cake - has always fascinated me.

You see it a lot in Maryland, more so than in many other states. I don't know why this is. Maybe they know better in Pennsylvania, where everyone seems to wear camouflage pants in the winter, anyway. Maybe in Delaware they're too busy gouging motorists with outrageous road tolls to care what they wear.

Here's another thing: You never see women wearing shorts in the winter. No, it's always a guy.

I am not talking about these kids you see waiting for the school bus in the winter wearing gym shorts, for which they should all be sent to their rooms, on the grounds that they're too lacking in common sense for education to do any good.

No, I'm talking about grown men, many of them middle-aged, like this man outside Atwater's.

The fact is, I actually have approached some of these guys in the past to ask what in the world they're thinking. They always answer in the same way.

"Oh, it's not that cold out," is the first thing they say.

I don't know if this is macho posturing or if they actually believe their own nonsense.

And if they actually believe it, my question is: What kind of freakish metabolism do you have?

When do you start to feel the cold? If you're not cold when it's 22 degrees outside and you're wearing shorts, what does it take to make you cold?

Would jumping off an ice floe into the North Atlantic do it?

Would being locked overnight in a meat locker with frozen steer carcasses do it?

Tell me what it is that would make you cold. Because I really want to know what I'm dealing with here.

The second thing that guys who wear shorts in the winter tell you is: "Your legs don't get cold anyway."

I don't get this statement, either.

Whose legs don't get cold? My legs would be freezing if I were wearing shorts when it was 22 degrees.

No, check that. I would have lost all feeling from the waist down wearing shorts in that weather.

Outside Atwater's now, the man in shorts and flip-flops has been standing there for several minutes.

People at nearby tables are staring at him and shaking their heads.

I am half-tempted to order another soup, because I want to be here when the ambulance pulls up and they take this man away, either to treat his hypothermia or to put him under observation.

But the whole scene seems to confirm one of my theories about why guys wear shorts in the winter: They do it for attention.

Here is this man, Joe Blow from Wherever, and now it's showtime for him, you can sense that. The man is in his glory.

By now, the wind is whipping even harder and the great Tom Tasselmyer is probably telling listeners to stay inside and start burning the furniture to stay warm.

But here on a frozen sidewalk, in defiance of all standards of sanity, is a man wearing shorts and flip-flops.

Soon I go back to my soup, because the guy's act is getting old.

When I look out again, the man is crossing the street with a woman by his side. And she's sensibly dressed!

Maybe it's his wife. Maybe it's his girlfriend. Whoever it is, she should really have a talk with him.

Maybe she should pull out a calendar, too, and go over the four seasons again.

That could be the problem right there.

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