In January 2005, Andi took off on a trip for LA to visit our friend Jen. At the time, she was 4-months pregnant with Aria, and no sooner was she gone – 3 feet of snow was smacked upside our head.
Well, that’s not entirely the case. What happened was when she left – early on a Friday morning – the forecast called for 8 – 10 inches by Saturday night. A few hours later, as she was in the air somewhere over the Midwest, the totals were upped to 10″ – 15″. From there, every few hours, the predictions grew more dire.
At the time, Colin was a mere toddler, and I kept waking up – every couple of hours – to snowblow the driveway, in order to keep up with the onslaught. All the while, Colin snoozed in his crib. I had horrible, crippling fears that she was going to return home to find me frozen in a snow bank and he yelling for someone to turn on The Wiggles.
The news of a storm should have been music to my ears. But when you are a new Dad, everything seems like the Apocalypse.
After all, I’m a snow junkie!!! I’ve been that way ever since I was a little kid – growing up down on the South Shore – where for a good stretch of time, it seemed we got nailed with enough Nor’Easters for a pre-teen to really paint the town white. Some of my fondest memories of that great neighborhood I grew up on, are dominated with tales of snow – and even one of woe.
I’ve written about this street before. I grew up in Rockland, MA – a modest community of 15,000 strong situated off Route 3 on the way from Boston to the Cape. It was a tight-knit little burg and the neighborhood my family planted roots on was one of those mythic childhood havens that only grows larger than life the further the years stretch. Ours was an L-Shaped street full of young families who had ushered in their own baby boom sometime in the mid-to-early 70’s; meaning my sisters and I were never at a loss for people to play with.
My best buddies, the brothers Kyle and Steven, resided in a home situated at the very apex of the two streets that intersected to form that L – and they had this great expanse of backyard that yielded to a small patch of woods – the perfect plot of land to build our own private Ice Planet Hoth.
Cutting through their yard – we could make our way to the neighboring street – a dead-end avenue that ran directly into the woods. Once you got to its end, it was an easy hop over a meandering stream that brought us to the best sledding hill I’ve ever encountered. While the majority of that land was flat, forested grounds – there was one hill that rose from the ground – as if raised by Old Man Winter himself for our amusement. From the top of the hill, there were two paths you could sled down. One traveled a good distance, before a clutch of reeds slowed your acceleration. The other veered right and if you timed it just so, you could make a short leap over a ramp – grab some air – and fly over that babbling brook (which by that time of year usually held a thick coating of ice). Of course, there were numerous times we miscalculated and found ourself crashing on the ice and moments later – with a sled full of icy flow. Hey – go big or go home!!!
No matter what happened, we always lingered a little too long before finally heading back home to warm up. I never had kick ass ski gloves; having to make do with the mittens my grandmother would knit and gift annually. By the time I decided a little too late that I’d had enough, I would get home just in the nick of time, peal that ice-choked fabric from my bone-chilled fingers and slide my pink piggies into a piping hot bath where for the next few minutes, every inch of my exposed flesh would scream bloody murder before a fine calm finally returned. I’d get myself all warm and toasty – toss on my PJs and robe – and head on down for some hot chocolate and marshmallows. Of course, if I was at Kyle’s house – it was hot chocolate and Fluff – which easily kicked the stale mini-marshmallows at my house to the curb.
It was rinse and repeat, year after year – making for some of the best times of an admittedly pretty sweet life. I loved those days. Loved staying out – freezing my ass off – and knowing that as warm as it may be back in our homes, we needed to stay out and survive the chill for surely someday – in the far-flung future – these memories would forever warm our heart.
And now for the tale of woe – ripped from that same era and not one of my prouder moments; but certainly a character builder.
Back then, my buddy Steven and I used to make a little extra scratch going door to door, offering up our mad shoveling skills whenever the skies threatened Snowmageddon!!! Most people sized us up quickly – taking one look at our combined slender frame and all that packed powder – and told us to hit the road. But, my next door neighbor – the great Mr. Ewell – always opened his doors to us. So storm after storm, Steven and I would get working on his driveway; knowing that at the end of it all, there was a crisp $20 waiting for us.
It took us an hour or two to finish the job; with me doing the grunt work (as I was older than he by a few years) and Steven would follow behind and gather up the scraps, getting the driveway nice and smooth. We had a sweet system in place.
Once we collected our earnings, it usually took us all of two hours to blow it all. First we’d head to McDonalds and order up all the McNuggets and fries we could eat, chasing that with a couple of apple pies. Then it was off to the neighboring 7-11 for a few hours of arcade games, followed by a Slurpee (nothing better on a cold winter’s day) and some Big League Chew. Maybe a comic book or two.
All great memories.
But there was this one time where greed got the better of me and sunk our enterprise. See, the Nintendo Entertainment System had just been released and I was one of the first people on the block to get it for Christmas. All that winter we played the Hell out of the two games I owned – Super Mario Brothers and Balloon Fight.
For a kid of modest means, more games were few and fleeting.
And yet – the local K-Mart, which was within walking distance – was beginning to get a steady influx of new software. One title in particular, Metroid, screamed at me.
It looked so new and different, with this mysterious galactic warrior staring out at me from the cover – a far cry from those heroic plumbers I’d been putting through the paces. I had to have it.
But where the Hell was I gonna’ find $39.95.
And then – as if a sign – we got whacked with back-to-back storms, pressing Steven and I back into service for Mr. Ewell.
Two storms. $20 a pop. $40 in total. (See that – that’s me doing Math. HOLLA!!!)
Only one problem. Steven needed his cut. That only left $20 for me – only bringing me half way to what I needed. Sure, I could have saved up. Done things the right way and earned that game. But I was a vain, petulant fool and for that – for my hubris – I would be brought down a few pegs.
But not before I briefly got my mitts on the most glorious game of them all.
My devious mind came up with a plan. Knowing the storms were coming (and during a work week when he would be away), I walked over to Mr. Ewell’s and told him Steven and I were ready to go the moment the storm did blow. And then I added, if it would make it easier on him, he could pre-pay and we would be there both days, the second the snow stopped flying. For some reason, he was sold and $40 was deposited in my greedy mitts.
A half hour later – Metroid was mine.
All mine!!! Mua-hah-hah-hah.. Ahem…
Of course, I called Steven and told him my good fortune, letting him know we had a new adventure to journey through and conveniently leaving out the part where I suckered him out of the equation.
The next day, Storm #1 hit. Once the snow ended, we showed up at Mr. Ewell’s and took care of the driveway in record time. Steven mentioned we should go grab the cash and I told him that we could wait until after Storm #2, thereby buying myself another day of deceit. To distract him, I suggested more Metroid. He took the ruse.
A day later, we were back on the job – cleaning the remnants of Storm #2. Before Steven could suggest finding Mr. Ewell, I dreamed up another lie. I told him Mr. Ewell said he was a little short and would have to pay us the next week. And then, I dangled the shiny bauble Metroid before him and with that, we were off.
My long con was so short-sighted. Only a matter of time before this house of cards came crumbling down.
Every few days, Steven would say we should go get the money from Mr. Ewell and I kept coming up with new and creative excuses for why he couldn’t pay. Something inside of me told me this couldn’t last forever but I was living in the moment. And we were getting so close to the horrors that lurked at the heart of Planet Zebes. The universe needed us more than we needed more McNuggets.
As long as I was of sound mind and body, I could deflect his inquiry with my advanced intellect. I was older. I had a few years of extra schooling lorded over him. There was nothing he could lob that I couldn’t deflect. Worse came to worse, I could always bust out some algebra on his ass and watch him squirm and solve y for x.
What I did not count on was a major cold knocking me flat; sequestering me to two days of couch rest.
On the second day of my ailment, Steven and his brother Kyle stopped by – saying they were going to go collect the money from Mr. Ewell and that they would be back with my rightful share. I offered up a weak protest but by that point – I didn’t have the energy nor the strength. I think part of that was by design. I couldn’t live this lie another moment longer.
Once they left, I knew my end was nigh. I prayed for death… or at least some toast.
20 minutes later, the phone rang. My sister Jenna answered and had a quick discussion. She then excitedly called for my mother and while leaving the room, looked at me – with a devilish glint in her eye – and said “You’re busted.” Minutes later, my single mom was throwing on her coat and heading out the door, grabbing for her purse. As she walked out, I could see her rifling through it, counting the meager bills that lay within.
It would be the stocks for me, for sure.
All these years later, I still look back upon that foolish gambit with nothing but shame. Sure, it was harmless kid’s stuff BUT I’m better than that. Or maybe – I needed that brief criminal act to remind me that crime never pays. And what little coin you might grab, you lose in the only currency that ever matters.
Steven stopped hanging out with me but that was short-lived. We were buddy-buddy within a couple of weeks. His big bro Kyle – also my good friend – held the grudge a little longer but by the time winter thawed, his cold heart had melted too and we were back to playing Whiffle Ball in his back yard – like nothing had happened.
But we never EVER got hired by Mr. Ewell again. And though Mr. Ewell was always very courteous and friendly when he saw me, I always picked up a slight hint of disappointment. That was my penalty and it made its mark more than any amount of grounding or chores ever would. Every time I saw him, I felt that sting of disappointment.
So here we are. A snow day. And it seems on every major snow day, for one brief moment – I think back to my past. So many good memories. A few bone-chilling ones. All tiles in my ever-evolving life’s mosaic.
It’s February 2013 and once again – Andi is on vacation – this time down South. Lo and behold, 3 more feet have been tossed in our face. I have the kids at my apartment but this time around, it was me snoozing in my “crib” last night while Colin kept waking up every few hours to tell me “Daddy – It’s still snowing outside.”
The more things change… the more they stay the same.
On the plus side, that kid and a shovel are totally on the clock later on. And I’ve learned my lesson.
I ain’t paying him a dime!!!