Saturday, February 1, 2014

Ten inches of snow predicted


     Ten.
     Ten inches.
     Of snow.
     Ten inches of snow. 
     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.
      Ten inches.
      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. 

       Ten.
       Inches.
       Of. 
       Snow.
       Ten. 
       Snow.
       Snow.
       Snow.
       Sno

                                                                   #


Postscript: Only about three inches of snow fell. And Kent came out and cheerfully helped without being asked. Ross won his games.



After-Words New and Used Books, 23 E. Illinois Street, is the only remaining independent book store in downtown Chicago. A large, yet comfortable space, it features both a range of new books, with an emphasis on political and counter-culture books, plus a vast used book section downstairs. I never walk by without stopping in, and appreciate their displaying my blog poster — No. 16 —— in their foyer. The next three book stores I asked turned me down. 






     

13 comments:

  1. It's exactly 12:34 a.m.Saturday, Feb. 1st -- no, make that 12:35 a.m. -- and so far, no snow. Keeping my fingers crossed, though I'm afraid the inevitable is not to be denied. I think you should go and buy a snowblower, if not today, then surely after winter is over and they're on sale. It's a lot of fun watching that spray of fluffly white ice crystals shooting out of the chute onto the lawn. And easier on the back. No scarf ends dangling, tuck them inside your parka.

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  2. My dad got us early by the same way Tom Sawyer got his friends to whitewash his fence. Telling us how fun it was to shovel and starting us out on small areas we could accomplish. After that, it was just expected. He even got us to shovel the walk for the old folks across the street and never ask them for money. We even tried to make or so they wouldn't see us shoveling for them because they would always try to pay us or give us something. That was too awkward. Granted I have five brothers so there were usually 3-4 of us to split the work, for driveways and sidewalks around two corner lot.

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  3. Neil,
    I have never commented on this or any blog before, but for this I must.
    This is genius. Genius, man. The "Death of a Salesman" quotes, the plume of blood, the park on the site of the incident. Hilarious. You should win a Pulitzer for this.

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    Replies
    1. Aww, that's very kind. The truth is, I wrote two columns yesterday -- Sundays and Mondays for the Sun-Times. So by 6 p.m. my brain was pretty fried -- I think this is the process of a fried brain -- and had room for one thought: 10 inches of snow.

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    2. I took the opposite trajectory that you did, by the way. I grew up in Evanston and now work at the Cleveland Plain Dealer (what's left of it). I don't know how I found your blog, but it is just great. And to think you did this after two columns at work. After reading it, did your sons give you the attention that must be paid?

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    3. I think I'd better re-read this column....

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    4. Say hi to Cleveland for me. I grew up in Berea, and used to review books for the Plain Dealer, oh, 10 years ago, maybe 15. I write about the city ... let me find the date.

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  4. When I was a kid my dad traveled a lot for business. My Mom, a superb household manager, knew that sometimes you just had to throw a little bit of money at a problem to make it go away. Any time it snowed more than 6”, she’d call ‘the guy with the plow’ and he’d come and clear our long driveway. Knowing Dad would frown upon this if he found out (what with five able-bodied daughters), Mom would send us outside the day of his scheduled return from a business trip, winter coats over our jammies, to ‘mess up’ the clean lines of the plowed driveway so it looked like we had done the shoveling. Heh-heh…he never figured it out. Love and miss you, Mom!

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  5. I get a perverse pleasure out of shoveling. Grew up on a corner lot in suburbia, so lots of sidewalk clearing through the 60's - 70's. Plus a lengthy two car wide drive. I had a used snow thrower once, but by the time I lugged it from the backyard shed and struggled to get it started I could have been a solid ten minutes into clearing manually. Plus, snow throwing disperses the snow to widely and one does not get the nice mountainous piles created by shoveling.

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  6. And you call Northbrook a suburban paradise. Here in Highland Park the city plows, yes plows, the sidewalk. And every single on of my neighbors and I have used the same plow service for the past decade. No calling. He comes if it snows and bills us once a month.

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  7. At least you're shoveling your own driveway! Me, I shovel the sweetheart's. But I too see it as exercise, fresh air, etc. Last large snow, I did the neighbors on both sides to two houses down (the guys two houses in each direction have blowers and have done my walk before, I just beat them to it; sidewalks only, not driveways, as I am not totally nuts; one house over is a housebound widow, and other side is a young couple with an infant). I LOVE shoveling on a quiet, dark suburban evening, maybe a dusting of light snow coming down still, backlit by the streetlights. Not biking so much in this weather, gotta burn the calories someplace.

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  8. Eight years ago my neighbors, before moving away, offered to sell me their snowblower. Best $25 I ever spent.

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  9. I proudly shovel, too. Actually, my wife is the shoveler more than me. She likes the exercise. I once had a snow blower --a little electric one - and it was more trouble than it was worth. I'd have to unplug the chord and move it to another outlet to get to the end of the drive way and it was so small that I'd have to ram into any sort of major accumulation of snow several times before the stuff moved. The bigger gas ones don't allow for shared responsibility. My wife can't pull the chord hard enough to start anything with a gas-oil mix. Another ugly machine possibly taking up space in my garage is enough reason for me to shovel. Alas, I live in a neighborhood where 18 of the 20 houses have snow blowers. Often, when the snow accumulates enough, my neighbor will snow blow the driveway.

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