Happy Thanksgiving

What I remember most about Thanksgiving is having a school assignment that was due the day after Thanksgiving break.  Why do they make things due the day after Thanksgiving break?

Like the time in fifth grade, I had to write an “report” on Ferdinand Magellan.  I’d done nothing for weeks, thinking, “Oh, December first, that’s like forever away.”  Then that Sunday after Thanksgiving, when I and my brother are still eating pumpkin pie for breakfast, I realize in a panic that the report is due, that I don’t have any books on the subject, and that our library branch is closed.  To appreciate this scene you have to know what it was like in the days before the internet.

Fortunately, my father served with someone on the synagogue ritual committee who worked for the library system, and by calling this person – during dinner, from what I could gather from my father’s side of the telephone call – discovered that there was one library branch that was open, and it was thirty minutes away by car.

It was an uncomfortable car ride.  My father waited while I got out the books, and then had to drive me to his office thirty minutes in the other direction from our home, just so I could type the essay because, I had meant to add, the teacher said that the essay had to be typed.

And there was eighth grade Thanksgiving break, for which I saved an assignment to pick ten Civil War battles and write a short poem about each one.  This was my first (but far from my last) experience with the “all-nighter,” as well as with the technique of using the same rhyming couplet (“In this battle of the Civil War/Twas hard to know who suffered more”) in every single poem to give some substance.  I recently reviewed the teacher’s comments in red – “Good technique but need something about the battle.” – and was insulted all over again.

In twelfth grade, I honored my Thanksgiving break with an assignment to memorize and recite lines from Hamlet.  As I could do this entirely by myself without need for rides or money or labor, I told no one, and stayed up all Sunday night and into Monday morning rehearsing the words “we fat ourselves for maggots.”

After dozing off and missing the bus and enduring a ride to school from a very angry and tired parent, I ran to English class, took a few deep breaths, got into character, and commenced my performance.  It was more exhilarating than I had ever imagined, at least until my teacher informed me that I had learned the wrong lines, and gave me an A-.

These days, the challenge on Thanksgiving is getting ready and out the door at near light speed without upending the pie or squishing the rolls.  This ritual is in its own class of torture.  But by Sunday I am worry free.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Remember When Presidential Campaigns Did Not Go On Forever?

Presidential campaigns were going on forever.  No sooner would one president be sworn in than people would already start talking about the next president.  It was theorized that the problem was that the campaigns lasted so long that people got bored of all the candidates, including the candidate who eventually won.

So it was decided that the Presidential campaign would last one day.  No one was allowed to do any campaigning – no speeches, no debates, no visits to factories or bakeries or diners or ice cream parlors – until Election Day itself.

Several weeks prior to Election Day, anyone who wanted to be a Presidential candidate could sign up by paying a $2 fee to put their name in the hat.  Then, the day before Election Day, the Chief Justice of the United States would mix up all the names in the hat, and pick two.  These were the two candidates – one Democrat, and one Republican.  It did not matter what these candidate’s real positions were, or what party they had been affiliated  with during their career leading up to the Presidential race.  One had to be the Democrat, and the other had to be the Republican.

These two names were picked at midnight on Election Day, and the first debate was at 5:00 a.m.  The two lucky candidates had to quickly familiarize themselves with the platform that they were supposed to adopt.  The main task was to make sure that they didn’t agree on any issues.  So as they studied their positions from midnight to 5:00 a.m., they often called each other up.  “Hey, so are you against starting that war in whatever that place is?  Oh, you’re for it?  Okay, then I’ll be against it.  Glad I checked.”

After the 5:00 a.m. debate it would be time to raise money and run commercials slinging mud at the other candidate.  Given the little amount of time available to raise funds, checks could not be accepted because of the time required to clear.  Only credit cards, debit cards, and transfers between PayPal accounts would work as valid campaign contributions.

Then at 9:00 a.m., with all the money raised, the two campaigns would set out making TV and radio ads that would cast the other candidate as a totally incompetent and unethical hypocrite who cared more about himself or herself than the American people.  Because there was so little time to produce these ads, there was only time to take an existing ad and splice in the names of the candidates.  The ads were really identical except the two names would be in one order in one video, and the in the reverse order in other video.

Then at noon the two candidates would go on their book tours.  They would appear on talk shows with their new books where they discussed how their simple backgrounds and professional adversity had molded them into the perfect President.  Since there was only one day to appear on the shows, the candidates would have be guests at the same time, sitting at opposite sides of the host’s desk, each holding up their book and sipping from their mugs of coffee.  The host’s main job was to prevent the two candidates from talking at the same time, so the host would turn to one and say, “Now you talk,” while holding up a hand to the other, and then would turn to the other and say, “Okay, now you go.”

At 2:00 p.m. there would be another debate, usually featuring at least one scandal that had been leaked at some point during the day, and the targeted candidate would have an opportunity to look grim and admit that “mistakes were made.”  At 3:00 p.m. the candidates would eat a late lunch at a local restaurant, serving locally grown food on plates manufactured in China.  And by 4:00 p.m. the candidates would be shown at home with their spouses and children so that the American voters could see how ordinary and down to Earth they were.

Finally, at 5:00 p.m. the polls would open.  Americans could vote until 10:00 p.m., at which time the vote tallies would be open to legal challenge.  At 11:00 p.m. any legal challenges had to be ended, and at midnight the new President would be announced.

Everyone would watch the announcement with great excitement.  It would have been a very exciting 24-hours.  And just after the announced winner gave the speech thanking supporters and offering best wishes to the loser, the TV stations would automatically switch to a regularly scheduled program, and no one would speak of campaigns for the next four years.

Remember When the World Cup Wasn’t On?

I was walking down the street, with my headphones on, listening to Sir John Gielgud’s performance of the “To Be, Or Not To Be” soliloquy from Hamlet.  Suddenly a long black car pulled up to the curb beside me, and two large men with black suits got out and pulled me into the car.  They blindfolded me, I imagine so that I could not see their faces, or perhaps they wanted to surprise me with a gift, the way parents would do after we lit the Hanukkah candles.

Then someone spoke to me.

“We heard that you said football was boring.”

I protested and said that I never said such a thing, that I love football and cherish every tackle as if it was happening to me or someone I loved.  There was some whispering, and then the man who spoke cleared his throat and spoke again.

“I mean, we heard that you said that soccer was boring.”

I tried to remember if I ever said that soccer was boring.

“Well, I certainly remember thinking it,” I admitted.  “But saying it?  I’m afraid I don’t remember.  I mean, I’m not saying I didn’t say it.  I’m saying I just don’t remember if I said it or not.”

The car stopped moving and the door opened and someone led me out of the car.  We walked for a while and I wondered if I was going to be killed for thinking or perhaps even saying that soccer was boring.  Then I remembered that many great people had died for a deeply held belief, and I was comforted.

Then someone stopped me, and removed my blindfold.  I was standing in the middle of a field.  It was a sunny day, and I felt around for my prescription sunglasses, and realized that I had left them at home.  Then someone called to me from my left.

I turned and a large man in a black suit, perhaps one of the pair who had kidnapped me, was standing by a soccer ball.

“We are going to show you how much fun soccer is!”  And he kicked the ball over to me.

“Now kick it back,” he said cheerfully.  I kicked it back.  I admit it was a little fun, kicking a ball.  I’ve never been able to hit a baseball or throw a perfect spiral.  But kicking a soccer ball?  It’s just like kicking a TV that doesn’t work, except it rolls.

The man kicked the soccer ball in different direction, and I saw that the person he had kicked it to looked as confused and out of place as I did.  Without a word, he kicked the ball back to the kidnapper, who then gracefully kicked the ball in yet another direction to yet another person looking confused and out of place.  I turned my body around a full 360 degrees, and saw many other people standing around, looking confused and out of place, all with a look that said, “I can’t believe I’m standing here playing soccer.”  I was apparently part of a soccer game designed to expose soccer to people who were rumored to have said that soccer was boring.

I don’t know how long I was out there.  Time seemed to stand still as we kicked the ball to this person, then to that person, then to that person.  It was too hot to run around, so we all just stood there kicking the ball.  But after a while it was kind of fun.  Just kick the ball.  At some point someone asked the kidnapper how much time was left in the game.  The kidnapper signaled to the sideline, and two other large men with black suits came onto the field, hit the person over the head with something, and dragged him off the field, his heels leaving tracks in the grass.  He did not return to the game.

At some point the soccer ball disappeared, and we were blindfolded one at a time.  I was led to the car, told to get in, and driven a distance.  Then the car stopped, the door opened, the blindfold removed, and I’m let out of the car.  The kidnapper who played with us was standing next to me.

“You see?  Now you know how much fun foot – I mean, how much fun soccer is.  Tell all your friends!”

The car drove off and I wandered down the street.  I passed a bar where people were watching World Cup soccer, and I walked inside.  The players on the screen were kicking the ball from one to another, just as I had been doing a short while before.  I thought about how much fun I had been having.  I remember the satisfying feeling of kicking the ball, and projected my feelings onto the players on the TV.  No one in that bar was more focused on the game than I was, and soon I started to feel like I was actually in the game.  I was living soccer!  This is what they were talking about!

I lasted almost five minutes.  Then I felt around for my headphones, put them on, walked out of the bar, and continued listening to Sir John Gielgud as the melancholy Prince of Denmark.

Remember When Extinction Was Permanent?

I read in the newspaper that scientists have figured out how to bring back extinct animals like passenger pigeons and woolly mammoths. So filled with possibilities was my brain that I kept giving customers incorrect change. As I rollerbladed home that evening the words in the article kept going through my head.

Thanks to advances in genomic sequencing, the woolly mammoth will once again roam the steppes of Asia.

The idea appealed to me in a way I could not yet describe. Bringing back extinct animals – yes, that was impressive and would certainly be a boon for the manufacturers of squishy toys. But the real potential here was something even greater. Over my usual dinner of Cheerios I had a vision.

I am eight years old and I am sitting at the kitchen table. The morning sun is shining and I am eating a bowl of something called Ghostbusters cereal. The cereal is made of multicolored Os of grain and little dense marshmallows that don’t seem quite like food but melt it my mouth nonetheless.

Suddenly my father comes by holding open a garbage bag.

These sugary cereals are making you crazy,” he says, sweeping the nearly full box of Ghostbusters cereal into the large black plastic bag. I am devastated.

That was the last I saw of the great sugary cereals. Cereals made of pure sugar and oat-like structures with a commercial tie-in to a popular television show or movie. I blink back tears. Now I know why the article about un-extincting extinct animals moved me so.

I dress in all black and make sure there are batteries in my flashlight. The museum is a few miles but Mom is glad to drive me and doesn’t ask too many questions. Closing time was hours ago but I’ve seen enough movies to know how to cut a hole in the glass skylight and drop in like a spider.

In between the Monets and Caravaggios is the crowl jewel of the collection: extinct breakfast cereals, on loan from the Smithsonian. Behind heavy glass the boxes are lined up in diaramas. My eyes linger over each one. Mr. T Cereal, Smurf Berry Crunch, Nintendo Cereal System, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Cereal, and…oh yes…Ghostbusters Cereal (with Slimer inside).

These cereals have been off supermarket shelves for decades. These are last survivors, their genetic structures and free toys perfectly preserved for the viewing public, and a day when science fiction would finally become science.

The genomes of these cereals turned out to be not as complicated as I’d feared. All I really had to do was add milk, and the colored oats and marshmallows would distintegrate into an extremely sweet primordial soup. Then boil off the milk, implant the leftover cereal residue into boxes of newer cereals that are still in circulation, and voila – resurrection.

For days I was in a dream state. I was eating cereals that were supposed to be long dead. I pittied the poor fool that couldn’t eat Mr. T cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

And then one morning I realized I had been up for days, functioning on nothing more than the sugar rush from the cereals. I wanted to stop but could not. I ate one bowl after another. Suddenly it was clear to me what was going on. These cereals had been created and marketed to kids in another time. Our present environment had no defenses against the glazed oats and marshmallows. If only I had not been so eager and fallen victim to human folly.

Just when I thought I would never be free of the sugar rush, my father appeared.

Dad, you were right,” I said. “It’s too late for me, but you can still save yourself.”

But instead of running away, I saw that he was holding something. It was a large, black, plastic garbage bag. I rubbed my eyes.

In one motion my father swept the resurrected cereals into the bag, and tied it shut with the built-in plastic drawstring. I could see the boxes writhing inside. He ran out of the house, just in time to catch the garbage truck, which was techinically only supposed to pick up paper, but could be bribed into taking some extra baggage.

And as I watched the truck drive away, I soberly reflected on the danger of bringing back creatures long extinct. Sometimes your curiosity gets the best of you.

Remember When You Could Twerk and Not Cause a Worldwide Scandal?

I was setting the table, trying to decide whether to fold the napkins in the shape of a rectangle or a triangle, when my wife came home from work.

“Hi honey!” I said.  “What do you think?  Rectangle or triangle?” I asked, holding up an example of each.

“Did you hear about Miley Cyrus’s performance at the MTV Video Music Awards?”

“No, I didn’t.  What happened?”

“You didn’t hear about it!  Do you live under a rock?  All over the news, all over the internet, all over Facebook, it’s all anyone is talking about.”

“Really?  There wasn’t anything in the Times about it.”

She rolled her eyes, and I made a mental note to never again come to dinner unprepared.  There is certainly no lack of coverage of the event.  Here are just some of the recent headlines:

“Miley Cyrus’s twerking routine was cultural appropriation at its worst” (The Guardian)

“Miley Cyrus, twerking, and the ‘sexual hazing’ of American pop stars” (Christian Science Monitor)

“Justin Timberlake Is Cool With Miley Cyrus Twerking” (Vibe)

“Miley Cyrus to Lead US Attack on Iran” (Bayard & Holmes)

Young people have always used dancing to meet other young people.  I remember the dance scene from the 1987 film Can’t Buy Me Love, where Patrick Dempsey thinks he’s doing the latest dance from American Bandstand.  He doesn’t know that he was watching some educational program instead of American Bandstand, and that it was the African Anteater ritual he was learning, and when he performs the ritual at his high school, all the other students think it’s just the latest dance that all the cool kids are doing, and soon they are all doing the African Anteater ritual.  Miley Cyrus should have done that at the Video Music Awards.

When I was in middle school I learned something called the Chicken Dance.  First you held your hands out in front of you and clapped your fingers and thumb together, like you had lobster claws.  Next you tucked each fist into the adjacent armpit and flapped your elbows, like you had chicken wings and were trying to fly.  Then you crouched down a little while simultaneously moving your rear end from side to side.  Finally, you stood straight up and clapped your hands four times.  There was a song that went with it so that you knew when to do the moves.

The venerable Oxford English Dictionary is apparently going to add “twerk” to its list, defining it as a verb meaning to “dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.”  Based on my years of experience, I am comfortable saying that the third movement of the Chicken Dance qualifies as a kind of proto-twerk.

But when I think of dances that involve hip movements and squatting stances, the kind of dances that, pretty much, anyone can do, I think most fondly of the Macarena, which rocked the world around the year 1996.  Like the Chicken Dance, the Macarena also involved a repetitive series of dance moves that progressed from putting the hands out, to placing the hands on the body, to rotating the hips with twerk-like elements, and then ending with a clap.  But the Macarena, which was named after the song that inspired the well-structured, was far more complex than the Chicken Dance, and represented a great leap forward in the evolution of dignified group-dancing.

Like scientists seeking a purer form of a metal, the twerkers have stripped dancing of the unnecessary hand and arm movements and unduly formalistic sequences, and distilled what was really its essence all along.  So when you watch Miley Cyrus again, squatting and thrusting and unfurling her tongue, know that you are not watching a garish display of celebrity sexuality in cable television’s race to the bottom, but natural selection at its finest.

Remember When Restaurant Service in France Was Gruff?

Paris is apparently making an effort to make its restaurant staff more polite.  It reminded me of the trip my wife and I took to Paris last year.  For those of you contemplating a similar trip and who want the inside story from an experienced traveler who was there for nearly five days, here are a few tips for dining in the City of Light:

1.     “Cheval” means horse.

2.     Every member of the waitstaff I met was very polite and spoke fluent English.  I didn’t even try to speak French.  One restaurant even had an American server that was assigned to any American patrons that walked in the door.  She reminded me of one of my classmates from high school.

3.     Despite the pervasive English fluency, if you ask for grog, and you don’t pronounce the “r” with a proper guttural roll, they won’t know what you’re talking about.  Practice in front of a mirror before you leave, maybe while you’re waiting in the airport.

4.     Believe the hype about the croissants.  No matter how lost you get or what other frustrations you meet along the way, the croissants in Paris will take you to another dimension.

5.     There were many cafes but nothing that had what I would count as coffee.  I’m not talking about espresso or some other smidgen of brown liquid shoved into a cup from a dollhouse tea set, but a coffee that can bring me back to life every morning.  The kind of coffee I drink every day before work, and as soon as I get to work, and after lunch so that I don’t pass out at my desk.  They have something called “Cafe Americain” but it must be an inside joke.  There was even a Starbucks across the street from our hotel.  From the length of the line and the price of the coffee and the kilos of cardboard and plastic that clothed each serving, I said to myself, “Well, this must be authentic American coffee!”  But I drank it and I still fell asleep on the train to Versailles.  What the croissants giveth, the coffee taketh away.

And those are my tips for dining in Paris.  Bon appetit!

The Private Universe of Shopping Carts

Did you ever notice how a shopping cart in any place other than a supermarket or a supermarket parking lot looks extremely out of place and even a little disturbing?  I saw one during my morning commute a few weeks ago.  It was so near the road that I almost clipped it.  It was there the next morning.  And the next.  And the next.

The evening commute takes me on a slightly different path that did not go past the shopping cart, and so I only saw the shopping cart in the morning.  I did not the shopping at all until I passed it, and when I did, I would be reminded of all previous encounters.  At first I was disturbed just by the sight of the shopping cart, but after a few days I became disturbed more by the fact that I only thought about the shopping cart when I passed it in the morning, and wouldn’t think about it again until the next encounter the following morning.  It was like the shopping cart and I shared a universe for a few brief seconds and then separated into distinct realities.

Did the shopping cart feel the same way about me?  “Every morning a car with Mark Kaplowitz inside drives by,” the shopping cart says to itself, “but I don’t see the car in the afternoon, and I don’t think about it until the next morning when it passes by again.”  Did the shopping cart find the routine as unsettling as I did?  I began think the shopping cart was looking at me when I passed it.  I began to feel self-conscious during that stretch of road.

Then, a few mornings ago, as I approached the shopping cart spot and started anticipating its presence and steely gaze, I saw that the shopping cart was gone.  Then I saw that it wasn’t gone, but merely pushed over on its side.  Someone must have had the same feeling I had, and finally could no longer stand the stare of the shopping cart.  It must have been dangerous to stop a car in the middle of a road to push over a shopping cart.  Maybe it was done late at night when traffic was light.

Whatever the circumstances, the spell was broken.  I can now think about the shopping cart at any time of the day.  And I do.  I picture it lying there, among the tall grass, enjoying the precious last days of summer.

Remember When Stores Couldn’t Track You Within the Store?

I met a traveler from an antique land who said, “I read an article in the New York Times about how stores are now using their unwitting customers’ cell phone signals to track their movements within the store.”sweet ride

I can picture it now.  A major retailer is having its mid-July meeting, and the Director of Sales is going over old and new business.

“All right, let’s see where we are.  Winston, are all the school supplies on the shelves?”

“Yes sir.  As of 11:59 on the night of July 4th we started putting out the pens and pencils and notebooks of every size, shape, and cover material.”

“Good.  And when is the Christmas merchandise going out?”

“We’re aiming for middle of next week, sir.”

“Excellent.  Okay.  Now, on to new business.  I believe you were going to prepare a presentation for us on the new technology that allows us to track customers through the store using their cell phone signals.”

“Yes, sir.  If you’ll direct your attention to the screen here, you’ll note the squiggly neon lines winding around the screen.”

“Yes, I see,” says the Director.  “It looks like my kid drawing with crayons on the kitchen tile.”

“That’s an excellent analogy, sir.  Now, each squiggly line represents a customer.”

“But I don’t understand.  We’ve been using cameras to monitor the customers for years.  How is this cell phone thing different?”

“Well, sir, a camera allows you watch the customer, but unless you are very attentive and don’t take any coffee or Facebook breaks you won’t know all of the products the customer looked at or for how long the customer looked.  This technology bridges the gap.  The customer’s odyssey through our aisles is tracked, and the longer a customer stays in one spot, the darker the line becomes at that point.”

“What is that customer doing over there?”

“Looking at platinum bound notebooks.”

“Oh, those are a hot new item.  Wait!  Where is the customer going now?”

“Looks like the customer is heading over to the cheaper notebooks.”

“Did he, she or it take a platinum notebook?”

“Let me check out the video camera.  No, it looks like her arms are empty.”

“We have to redirect her back to the more expensive notebooks.  Captain Riker!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Use those things we bought from The Hunger Games auction to help our customer back to the overpriced school supplies.”

Captain Riker pushes a button, and suddenly the customer is met with a wall of fireballs heading directly towards her.  She turns around and runs to the exit of the store, but then is met with a swarm of bees whose stingers dispense hallucinogenic poison.  The customer runs from aisle to aisle.  The Director watches the whole thing from a screen mounted next to the Keurig coffee dispenser.  Eventually the customer finds refuge in the aisle with the platinum notebooks.

“Ex-cel-lent,” the Director says, blowing on his coffee.  “Now she has no choice but to—wait, what is she doing?”

The screen shows the customer tying four of the notebooks together to create a platinum shield.  Holding the shield squarely in front of her, she runs right through the wall of fireballs to the notebooks bound with soft cardboard, retailing at $1.29 apiece.  She grabs a few and, still holding her shield aloft, runs to the checkout line while the fire behind her consumes erasable markers and glittered index cards and fish-shaped wastepaper baskets.

“I can’t believe she did that!” the Director screams.  “Now how are we going to control the customers?”

“Well, sir,” says Winston, “did you ever see Inception?”

Remember When You Didn’t Have to Create a Profile Everywhere You Go?

There is a support group for people who sign up for too many online profiles.  The group meets once a week in the basement of an old church.  I went to last week’s meeting.

The group is led by a woman who at one point held profiles from 157 different websites.  “Each account had a unique password with at least one uppercase letter, one number, and one symbol,” she said to me as she introduced herself.  “This was a great source of pride to me.”  Then one day she couldn’t remember one of the passwords, and she had a nervous breakdown, and had to spend some time in an institution, where she was heavily medicated and had to re-learn how to say her own name without numbers or underscores.  She eventually became rehabilitated enough to go into a group home and now her responsibilities are leading the weekly meetings and refilling the reservoir on the Keurig coffee dispenser.

We sat in a circle and one of the attendees, a young man, began to speak.

“I had a Google account and a Facebook account and a Twitter account.  Then I joined LinkedIn, even though I didn’t have a job, and I had to borrow a coat and tie and pressed shirt from a friend for the profile photo, and because the t-shirt was mine you could still see the dinosaur design through the white shirt I borrowed.

“And then I joined Pinterest even though I had nothing to pin, and Goodreads even though I haven’t read a book in years.  Frankly, I had thought they stopped making books.

“Then there was a site that advertised free music, and a site that counted calories.”  He tapped his abdomen as he says this.  “I had to pick a username and password for all these accounts, and I always picked the same password:  RoseBud.   I thought I was being smart.  Turned out I wasn’t so smart, because it was the same username and password that I use for my online banking, and my identity was stolen.  Luckily, I didn’t have any money.  So I deleted all these accounts and now I’m much happier.  I even tried to buy a book, but I had deleted my Amazon account.”

Next a young woman spoke.  “I was on all those sites and apps that he was on, and more.  Except I used a different username and password for each one.  I was like a secret agent, walking the Earth with a stack of drivers’ licenses, trying to keep track of multiple identities.  I didn’t know who I was.  I created a document in Microsoft Word to keep track of all my usernames and passwords, but then I got worried that a hacker would be able to find the document.  So I encrypted the usernames and passwords with a code of my own making.  But I had to keep the code somewhere, and I was afraid to keep it on my computer.  So I wrote the code with a pen and paper and hid it inside of a box of Cracklin’ Oat Bran.”

Suddenly all the eyes were on me.  It was time to share my story.  But I didn’t know what to say.  I clearly didn’t have a problem.  I was in attendance only because I needed a topic for my blog, a blog that I access with a password that I change every week because I’m worried that someone will hack my account and start posting unfunny blog posts.  These people were the crazy ones.  Not me.  So I finished my cup of coffee and said that I wasn’t ready to talk about myself.  And they smiled, and thanked me, and said to keep coming.

Remember Spring?

“Ah, spring!” I said as I swung my legs out of bed, opened the window, and was hit with a blast of bitter arctic air in the face, exacerbating the dryness about my noShovel in Snowse and mouth.

As a rolling stone gathers no moss, I quickly donned my parka, my bomber’s cap with fake rabbit fur, and my Gore-Tex boots that take two men and a crowbar to lace up, and filled up the mower with gasoline.  In high school chemistry we learned that gasoline’s freezing point is far below that of water and fingertips, and so I was not surprised when the gasoline gushed out all over the lawnmower engine and onto my boots and the garage floor just as it always did, while the layer of snow on our garbage bins remained as pristine as it was when I brought them in from the curb three days ago.

I had often wondered if a lawnmower could blow snow off the lawn as snow blower blows snow off a driveway.  Well let me tell you: it doesn’t.  I had to shut off my poor confused mower while I shoveled the lawn for an hour, revealing the grayish-green grass that resembled the frozen spinach I pick up from the store when it’s my turn to cook dinner.  I don’t think the mower blade could reach the mashed-down grass but the tracks of the mower wheels were just as satisfying to me as on a Sunday afternoon in July.

July…the very word is like a bell.  I go into the backyard, shovel in hand, to hunt for the buried sprinkler that I forgot to recoil somewhere around Labor Day.  After another hour of shoveling I’ve found the sprinkler along with a few mammoth bones and the cork to a champagne bottle that I popped when McDonald’s announced that the McRib was back.

The sprinkler head was fine but I had to take an electric blanket to the hose to unfreeze the water that clogged its passageway.  The hose was fifty feet long but the electric blanket only a foot and half, so I could only do a small section at a time, moving on down the length of the hose, ignoring the strange looks of my neighbors’ kids whose school had evidently remained closed for the day.  But when they saw me turn on the sprinkler they smiled, and went and got their ice skates.

I grabbed a trowel from the garage and began digging in the flower beds.  I’d lent my ice pick out to someone for a Halloween party last year, so I had to hammer the butt of the trowel to drive the metal point into the flower beds so that I could expose enough frozen earth to dig.  After an hour I had two holes dug out, but my hands were so cold and numb that when I tried to open the little paper bag of seeds I jerked it and sent the seeds flying in a cloud of hope over my newly cut frozen spinach lawn.

My work done for the day, I looked up and down my street, at the pockets of snow on the tree branches, and the dirty ice and slush shoved up against the curb, and tendrils of smoke from the chimneys, and the icicles hanging from the gutters.  And somewhere, in the frozen stillness of March, as the snowflakes began to fall again, I heard a little bird begin to sing.