Saturday, February 1, 2014
Ten inches of snow predicted
Ten inches of snow.
There was a time, a period of years, when I had in my possession the phone number of a man who had a plow attached to the front of his pick-up truck. I would dial the number, on evenings when a significant amount of snow was predicted for the next day. He would stop by like clockwork, shortly after the snow fell, and plow my long driveway at breakneck speed, backing up, pushing huge berms of snow off to the side. I would leave an envelope containing a sum of cash —I think $25 or $30 —in the mailbox, and everyone would be happy.
But guys with snowplows on the front of their pick-ups are a transitory lot —like the men in country songs, putting on their boots and cowboy hats and moving on down the line. One day I phoned him and he wasn't plowing anymore.
So I shovel.
I try to dragoon my two sons, 16 and 18 to help. They should help.
"Where are your sons?" Willy Loman is asked, in "Death of a Salesman. "Why don't your sons give you a hand?"
Well, they have activities—Ross has a chess tournament Saturday. And Kent volunteers. Important things to do. Places to be. They don't like shoveling. And I failed to instill in them the sense of leaping duty that dads always seem to impress upon their sons in fiction. My dad was good at that, good at a "get your ass out there and shovel" bark that sent me scrambling for the door. I tried to avoid being that guy, so now I have to shovel alone, sometimes. Usually.
I should have bought a snow blower. Years ago, I almost did. I went to Home Depot to get one, with an acquaintance, who was also buying a snow blower. Another snow blower. I went with him to see how it was done, as moral support, or something. He walked immediately up to the most expensive snow blower in the Home Depot, one that had, I swear, rectangular lights on stalks, and a radio, and looked like it was built to clear airport runways. I hovered behind a shelf of seed packets, watching. The snow blower cost, if I recall, $1400. The snow blowers that I eyed suspiciously, that I thought cost a decent amount and were in my price range, cost about $500 and looked like bread boxes on wheels the size of Oreo cookies by comparison.
In my memory -- and heck, perhaps in actuality too, sometimes the two intersect—people in the store stopped, to watch my friend go by pushing this snow blower. Some clapped or whistled or cheered, as my friend wheeled his snow blower to the check out line. It was like the ending of "An Officer and A Gentleman."
I bought a shovel instead.
I view it as exercise. Shoveling. Exercise in the crisp air. Exercise ordained by God. Why go to a gym and work out and pay someone to plow your driveway when you can take a shovel in hand, do the thing yourself, and get in exercise as ordained by God while saving money? It's perfect.
HOWARD: This is no time for false pride, Willy. You go to your sons and you tell them that you're tired.
The guy across the street, whose driveway is half the length of mine, has a snow blower. He very kindly does the sidewalks of the neighbors on either side of him, and at times, tracking him out of the corner of my eye, I've imagined him steering the thing into the center of the street, where he puts it in neutral. I walk over, as one does in dreams. It sits there thrumming, vibrating with power and possibility. He smiles and makes a sort of Gallic "here it is" shrugging gesture, both palms turned up and to the side, proffering. I take the thing in hand, feel it straining to go forward, like a brace of bloodhounds. He nods. I jiggle the throttle, or the clutch, or whatever it has and the snow blower springs to life with a throaty roar, and I snowblow my way up my driveway, loudly tossing an arcing plume of snow into the yard.
But he never has done that.
WILLY: I can't throw myself on my sons. I'm not a cripple!
It is not —I insist — cheapness that keeps me from buying a snowblower. No no no no no. No. It's tradition. My father never owned a snow blower, or a garage door opener, and so now those devices seemed like sybaritic luxuries. More. They are impossible, forbidden. People like me did not have those things. It is outside the realm of possibility. Buying a snowblower would break some known order of the universe, and if I bought one — not that I could, not that it is possible, but say it happened — as a result, as punishment, my scarf would dangle down into the twirling blades, and I would be sucked face first into the maw of the thresher, or whatever it's called, and a plume of bright crimson leaping from the device, which would crawl away with my upper body jammed in it up to the shoulders, feet dragging limply behind, bouncing a bit on the uneven parts, spewing as it went. It would become an urban legend. My family would move away, but nobody would buy the house, the Snow Blower House. Eventually, the structure would be torn down and they'd build a small park that no one ever stepped foot in on the site...
It was a long week, and to be honest, I am tired and was looking forward to resting on Saturday. On the couch. With the newspaper or a book or both. Now I'll be in snowpants, shoveling all day, trying to stay ahead of the 10 inches of snow.
Maybe it won't happen. Maybe the weatherman will be wrong. He, she, they, have been wrong before. Maybe the snowy frontal system, or whatever it is, will skirt Chicago, and dump over Wisconsin, a state of resourceful, burly men who, I believe, all must own snowblowers as a matter of state law.
That is what I'm praying.
Postscript: Only about three inches of snow fell. And Kent came out and cheerfully helped without being asked. Ross won his games.
Post-postscript: In December, 2016, I broke down and bought an Ariens, one of those fancy big snowblowers with the light and the little shovel attached. It didn't snow more than three inches for the next year and a half, but what I didn't realize—what the mindset of this column blocked me from seeing ahead of time—that I would be happy just owning the thing, just seeing its orange, powerful presence sitting my garage, gleaming, ready.