Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I had no idea the school mascot
was a werewolf.
We spent last weekend looking over the University of Pittsburgh, one of the five schools my daughter has been accepted to so far. Yes, we're proud of our little girl. But the question that needs to be asked is, How do I make this story wholly about myself?

That's easy enough. While my mother-in-law winters in Florida, we have access to her car, allowing us to drive to The City With A Smile On Its Face (as Pittsburgh's old slogan put it) for free. I mean, free not including hotel, gas and meals. All I had to do to was take a bus to her apartment in Hackensack, the town memorialized in Steely Dan's "Katy Lied": Driving like a fool out to Hackensack/Drinking his dinner from a paper sack. It's also the birthplace of Debby "You Light Up My Life" Boone and the home of the Bergen County Jail. That's some kind of history, boy.

Now last week, the New York/New Jersey area had some rain and almost got kind of warm; the better, I hoped, to get rid of the snow that piled up in the parking lot where the car is kept. But even if the snow was cleared, there was the chance that sitting idle in the subfreezing weather for over a month might have made it impossible to turn on the ignition. However, being a member of the AAA -- just in case this kind of thing happened -- allows me to get a jump with just a free call. Unfortunately, my cell phone had disappeared sometime from when I woke up that morning to when I was walking out the door after lunch. Usually, all's it takes is a call from the landline to hear the familiar ringtone -- Edvard Grieg's "Hall of the Mountain King" -- drifting from, say, the inside of my bureau drawer or atop the refrigerator. Not now, however. You know how your parents would have said something like, "Well, it didn't get up and just walk away!" Well, apparently this time it did.

Where do Hackensack dumptrucks dump snow?
In the middle of Main Street, where else?
So I got off the bus in Hackensack with even more trepidation than most people do. As I walked the several blocks to my mother-in-law's building, I couldn't help but notice that the accumulated snow on the lawns went past my knee. This is never a good sign when you need to move a car from a parking lot. My spirits briefly lifted when I walked onto the property and saw every space free of snow... except one. And I don't need to tell you whose. Not only was the space unshoveled, someone had plowed shin-deep snow in front of it. Thank you, sir, may I have some more?

By now, the temperature was around 50, so some melting was going on. But the snow and ice were so thick that I soon realized that just picking up the soot-covered muck and tossing it aside would take the lifetime of a fruit-fly -- which suddenly seemed awfully long. Tenants came and went with a cheery "Hello," as if it was perfectly normal to clear out filthy ice-snow with your hands. It took a guardian angel -- snow angel? -- of sorts to actually provide some help. The people who owned this particular building, she informed me, owned one down the street, where the plow guy hangs out. She was kind enough to give me a lift to the manager's office a few blocks away. 

I told the manager the story I just told you, and initially she didn't appear to care about it, either. Still, she gave a call to the snowplow guy, who unfortunately wasn't picking up. Nor was she able to provide anyone to shovel out the car because, well, that's the tenant's job. That I wasn't a tenant made no difference.

"Can I borrow a shovel?" I asked politely.
The manager sized me up. "Well..."
"What if I put down a deposit?"
"How much have you got?"
I fished out my wallet. Damn, I hadn't gone to the ATM yet! "Uh... how's $20?"
She studied the color of my money. "OK."

Something like this.
A few minutes later, I was shoveling a car out of a parking lot for the first time in my life. And as I did so, a thought came to me: Now I know why guys my age keel over from shoveling. This stuff was heavy. It took about 20 minutes but I finally got the job done without a hint of a coronary. Even better, the engine turned over immediately. (The wheels spun in place for a bit as I rocked back and forth, almost creating the unfortunate scenario of getting out of the icy patch unexpectedly and smashing into the apartment building.) Having noticed that non-tenants weren't allowed to park at the building where I got the shovel, I moved the car to a clear spot before walking to manager's office, retrieving my double sawbuck and walking back to the car. 

I had gotten more exercise that afternoon than the entire winter thus far. Damn, did I feel -- dare I say it -- manly. It actually felt good to shovel out the car, despite the possible fatal consequences. But by the time I returned for the car, the snowplow guy had finally shown up at the parking lot to further clear the space I had vacated, only to get stuck himself. "Get a shovel!" I didn't chortle at him, for he was half my age, twice my size and appeared to lack a sense of humor. He also looked at me as if thinking, Are you the idiot I got stuck for? Manly I might have been, but not stupid.

Yes, yes, that's all very well and good, I hear you saying, but what about your missing cell phone? That's easily explained. While I was in Hackensack, my wife called me... only to have the spooky tones of "The Hall of the Mountain King" drift from her purse. So yes, it did just get up and walk away.


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