Snow Days (Chapter 3)

 

A few houses up Carl and Cathy’s street resided their school’s head custodian, Phil Anders, who was also home on this snow day. His philosophy of life could best be summed up as “Make love AND war!”

As for the “love” element to that phrase, according to the neighborhood grapevine, he and his live-in gal pal were “friends with benefits” decades before that phrase would become popularized. There was even some clever wordplay, which had morphed his name to the nickname, “Philanderer Phil”.

As for the “war” element, this guy harbored “I’m as mad as hell” anger management issues that, a decade later, could’ve easily inspired actor Peter Finch’s portrayal of TV anchorman, Howard Beale in the big screen flick, “Network.”

Indeed, he could’ve spun a sphygmomanometer into perpetual motion and blown his top skyward with such a force, his shiny cranial bone fragments could’ve easily reached escape velocity to create safety issues for 60s era NASA astronauts orbiting the Earth in their Gemini space capsules.

Physically, Phil was a cross between Arnold Schwarzenegger (minus the accent) and the Incredible Hulk (minus the green). Were it not for his receding hairline, under dim lighting conditions he could’ve even triggered a few bogus Sasquatch sightings, too. As for battling the winter elements, with such a burly physique, he was a natural.

He was always loaded for bear (loaded on beer, too) and ready to engage any DPW’s snowplow driver who had the gall to “home deliver”… from the roadways to his lower driveway… the mega-tonnage of oft thigh-deep snow and icy sludge.

When in his full-blown wild-man mode, he was not only the maestro of middle digit sign language, but he also had a knack for providing the neighborhood youngsters a liberal education… expanding their vocabulary with words never heard in the Bible… well, at least not his choice, four letter synonyms. His protégés even developed an appreciation for poetry once they heard how well he could form crude couplets involving the words truck, trucking, trucker… well… you get the idea.

On this particular snow day, he even introduced his captive audience to his precision snow shovel hurl event… targeting… you guessed it… the moving DPW truck! With a bit more training, a bit less beer and proper self-promotion, he could’ve created a whole new Winter Olympics event.

Carl could already smell that approaching plow truck’s diesel, hear the telltale Doppler shift effect of its roaring engine and the scraping sounds of blade applied to asphalt when… reverie broken… he returned to the here and now snowstorm… just in time to hear the sounds and catch a whiff of the actual thing.

Gazing up the street through the whiteout conditions, he was just in time to spot the DPW snowplow rounding the bend. Carl could only imagine how Phil would’ve reacted for that madman had passed on decades ago.

Mere moments later, the driver had blocked his driveway with a ton of hefty, heavy, slushy, snow “boulders”. Though sufficiently PO’d to morph into Phil’s persona, he suppressed the urge to reintroduce his snow shovel hurl. He was forced to concede that this was the one and only efficient and cost effective snow removal method available.

So there Carl stood… momentarily leaning on his shovel… figuratively and literally snowed under by the new task at hand. Armed with only his muscles and shovel, for the second time that day, he was again slaving away to clear his lower driveway.

He did chuckle a bit as he caught himself muttering some of the very same profane couplets ol’ Phil had taught him in his younger days.

After a half hour had passed, it was mission accomplished. Even better, the snowfall had eased up a bit, too. Carl was finally heading back for the warmth of his home. Turning the key in the lock, just prior to turning the doorknob, he did linger a moment to take one last look up the street… set his gaze upon the house once occupied by his unforgettable neighbor.

Through the upward wafting frozen clouds of Carl’s exhaled, condensing breath, he offered his thanks to Phil for all those fun, fond memories. And just in case that wild man had, instead, wound up taking the “down escalator” ride, Carl sent those same thanks hellward, too.

 

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Snow Days (Chapter 2)

 

The flash of rare winter lightning and subsequent rumble of thunder, as well as a sudden onrush of cold air had briefly snapped Carl back to the present-day snowstorm. A fierce wind gust had also blown his down jacket’s hood backward. Hurriedly refastening the Velcro, he resumed his seemingly endless, snow shoveling routine. As he battled the winter elements, his reverie returned and zeroed in on a long ago snow day of his youth… and, regrettably, that included a childish battle with his dear sister Cathy.

On that particular day, their bickering had gone way beyond the typical sibling rivalry. Adding to the tensions were Carl’s unscrupulous business practices. His devious MO was to sell to her his transistor radio’s used (nearly dead) 9V batteries.

It had been quite by accident that he’d discovered how, after these dry cells had failed, they oftentimes (albeit briefly) came back to life. Ergo, whenever his sibling’s radio went dead, like a circling vulture, he’d swoop down and set up shop. Of course, that day’s snowstorm… one that had rendered the roads into town nearly impassible… made it far easier for him to close the sale. For Cathy, it all boiled down to either buying his shoddy wares or missing out on listening to her fave new Beatles songs.

In feeble defense of his compromised, faltering ethics, he did warn her she was buying used merchandise and, if lucky, she might get up to an hour’s worth of music out of her radio.

However, once her luck ran out… her battery conked out… her justifiable indignation boiled over, which powered her high decibel demands for a full refund… only to be met by her brother’s smug reminder, “Sorry, all sales are final!”

While present day Carl took a breather from his shoveling, he tempered his memories with a grown-up perspective. He realized that a well-timed parental intervention had made him the principled man he had become. He fully credited Mom and Dad’s stern lectures for successfully curing him of his crooked, conman conduct. Had they not?

Well… he could’ve easily morphed into a predatory lender or, perhaps, even some rank, high-ranking, power-tripping, eccentric, egocentric archconservative. Hell… he might’ve even metastasized into a “too big to fail”, global economy plundering, Wall Street bankster and/or tyrannical, egomaniacal, whining, crybaby, capricious, Constitution gutting, corrupt, corporately owned, unpresidential president.

Carl’s thoughts once again bridged the decades… back to that particular snow day of his youth… how he had looked over his left shoulder just in time to catch a glimpse of his own Mom rolling her eyes and slowly, glumly shaking her head side to side.

With his now grown-up perspective, he could totally dig her reaction… even caught himself mimicking her same gestures.

He realized that there are still far too many spoiled rotten boys who never received that much needed, inter-generationally imparted wisdom… and, as such, too many of them were doomed, forever, to remaining little boys, hopelessly, helplessly trapped in adult bodies… that such infantile misbehavior / arrested development represents much of what is wrong in his homeland… indeed… the entire world.

Once again Carl resumed shoveling and remembering… picking up where he had left off…

By that time, young Cathy and Carl’s poor, sleep deprived Dad had realized that there could be no extra ZZZ’s for him. And adding to this already considerable racket, Mom would be revving up her vacuum cleaner; employing this “white noise” as a means to drown everyone out.

So desperate for some peace and quiet, both parents teamed up and used their best con job to convince their kids to go outside and play in the snow. Their logic… what better way to get them to “chill out”? Dad could barely contain his chuckling as he handed them both snow shovels and said, “Have fun kids.”

And once they were out-of-doors, it was only out of parental love that he had resisted the strong temptation to haul out some nails and oak 2 X 4s to hammer barricades across both front and back doors. Of course, the fact that his kids were now unknowingly and obediently clearing the sidewalks and five car length driveway for him could only help get them back into his good graces.

Their labors had also netted them a fringe benefit. The resultant snow piles were the stuff snow forts were made of. Once their opposing “military bases” had been completed, the snowball fights erupted; approaching levels of viciousness that only could’ve been an extension of their earlier indoor skirmish.

It probably would not have even shocked Carl had Cathy gotten one final usage out of all of those used batteries he had sold to her… by hiding them inside her snowball WMD… the sis vs. bro battle “powered” by dead batteries.

Well, eventually, the hostilities subsided. Not unlike Carl’s used batteries, yet another dwindling energy issue had occurred… as the morning had worn on, their sugar buzzes bad worn off.

Just about the time the siblings had gotten the rage out of their systems and declared peace, that’s when aggression of a different nature kicked in… courtesy of their nearby, madman neighbor, Phil Anders.

 

Chapter 3 to be posted tomorrow.

Snow Days (Chapter 1)

 

Once upon a time…

…lifelong Michigander Carl Schuster woke up to the telltale sounds of roaring, sustained, window rattling winds. Reluctantly leaving his cozy bed he could already feel the chill in the air as he traipsed over to the window to peer through the curtains. The predawn dimly lit sights of his frozen and drifted over neighborhood were certainly consistent to the howling gales he’d been hearing.

Once again, Ma Nature was unleashing one of her early winter blizzards and she had already dumped tons of the white stuff in his neck of the woods. Awakening his Mac from its slumbers, a quick check of his favorite weather website confirmed what he had already suspected… most of the northern tiered states were under siege and the worst of this massive weather system was far from over. Waiting in the wings was the potential for winter thunder and lightning followed by a brief warm-up that could bring a wintery mix of snow, freezing rain and sleet. Last but not least, there was a massive polar vortex looming… one which would eventually send the mercury plummeting to subzero double digits.

Resetting his furnace thermostat upward, he could hear his ancient, Grayline gas fired furnace coming back to life. Switching on the kitchen radio, pre-tuned to the all news station, the talk jock was already in mid-delivery of one of his hi-octane, apocalyptic weather-on-the-eights reports and, in the process, doing his damnedest to stoke up the adrenaline levels of every susceptible listener in his captive audience.

True, this was a sizable storm, but to Carl, the somewhat jaded, veteran winter warrior, he couldn’t help but wonder what made that newsreader so hyper? Was his on-air demeanor a contractual obligation? Might a fast food drive-thru window screw-up have netted him regular coffee instead of decaf? Or maybe he had simply forgotten to refill his Xanax Rx?

Well, it didn’t take long for Carl to prepare and chow down his basic breakfast fare… a heapin’ helpin’ of stick to your ribs oatmeal, a couple of cups of energizing espresso and two slices of crispy toast layered thick with strawberry jam.

With his body now fueled up and the morning dishes cleaned up, he gazed out the window at the blustery near whiteout conditions and let out a long sigh. He realized there was little point in procrastinating further. Buckling up his boots and bundling up in a down parka he grabbed his snow shovel and left the comfort of his humble home to bravely trudge into the winter wonderland… to go head to head with what was sure to only be round one in this days long meteorological event.

It rapidly dawned on Carl that he was barely keeping up with the snowfall. Indeed, clearing this mess from his sidewalks and five-car length long driveway made him feel like he was fighting a losing battle. Undertaking such a repetitive, mindless task amidst a bone chilling, monotonous, white tableau, he suddenly started to feel his mind zoning out.

No… not quite to the point where he was channeling Stephen King’s flipped out character… the snowbound, Overlook Hotel sitter, Jack Torrance, who, in the film, “The Shining”, had repeatedly swung a hatchet to chop through a bathroom door, stick his head through the splinters and insanely, gleefully proclaim, “Heeeeres Johnny!”

Nope… nothing quite so surreal and melodramatic.

Instead, Carl was now flashing back to some vivid, real life recollections… fond bittersweet memories dating back to his elementary school days. Indeed, it had been on a similar, snowbound morn, when he and his young sister, Cathy, had been stationed in their respective bedrooms… each still snug in their beds, tuned into their pocket-sized, transistor radios… both listening, intently, to their pre-agreed upon different radio stations as two broadcasters were running down, county by county, the miles long list of school-closing notifications.

But, eventually, their patience had paid off. They’d no sooner heard their school’s name mentioned when their squeals of glee echoed throughout their home. Dad being a teacher in the same district, this meant he’d be home for the day, too.

By now, both the aroma of frying bacon and fresh brewed coffee were wafting through the air so there was little need for homemaker Mom to invite everyone to her pancake breakfast.

Once their morning meal was history, everyone quickly made their plans. Dad, who, just the night before, had been burning the midnight oil correcting and grading his student’s turned in papers, opted to roll back into bed to catch up on his sleep. Since there was no need to pack her children’s lunchboxes, Mom decided to pop some made-from-scratch sweet rolls into the oven.

Even though they could hardly wait for them to be baked, Cathy and Carl each wandered off into their own little worlds… initially, quietly, indulging themselves in their gender typical hobbies… Sis sticking to her sewing / knitting projects… Bro “engineering” his toy Lionel electric trains / constructing cool stuff with his Building Blocks and Erector Set. Since these kids were both quite capable of multitasking, this meant their nostrils would be flaring to detect the first telltale scent of cinnamon and ears would be geared towards hearing the oven’s timer going off.

Mom barely had time to ice these still warm, delectable confections with thick, gooey, vanilla flavored frosting before her drooling young’uns began scarfing them down… and the accompanying sugar buzz was sure to fuel the fire of their juvenile squabbles.

Initially, they fought over who would get to eat the last cinnamon roll. Mom, ever the shrewd diplomat, quickly cut it half and then showed them she had already prepared a second batch, which was still rising and nearly ready to pop into the oven.

She shook her head side to side as she realized she had only negotiated an uneasy truce. On this particular morn… under these cooped up circumstances, she knew some of the childish battles to come would have the potential of going thermonuclear.

Carl certainly had seen that flash of light… but it was not from that long ago “atomic” blast. No… this had been the winter lightning and rumbling thunder, which had jolted him back to present-day reality…

 

Chapter 2 to be posted tomorrow.