Suburban Soliloquy


It snowed. Over a foot came down on our neighborhood. Our sad house, an eyesore on the block, was made equally beautiful to the rest. The weight of the snow bent down the branches of the evergreen bushes on one side of our driveway narrowing the access to the house. Others had shoveled their driveways, but my back had gone out and no strapping young lads came to the door offering to do the work for a price. It didn't matter.

That recent night it snowed I had to drive to work. My tour begins at midnight. I enjoy driving in the snow. It does present some challenges. It requires a moderate understanding of physics, of inertia, centrifugal force, momentum. Snow requires new calculations resulting in predictions different than when traversing dry roadways. The 2006 Honda Accord EX, with leather and five-speed manual, tracks fairly well in the snow with front-wheel drive and the weight of the engine over the driving and steering wheels. Still, it is necessary to keep an opened mind as the car takes on the characteristics of a sleigh. Notwithstanding, sleighs are fun, aren't they?

My mother is generally more fearful. She hates it that I must drive in the snow, either to the office or home from the office. This last snow she called me at my job at two in the morning because she couldn't sleep and needed to know I had arrived safely. Every snowstorm - they are far fewer now than in the past - she tries to dissuade me with passive arguments from driving, which only serves to infuriate. In a past snowstorm, I had been so incensed with my mother's mollycoddling that after she called expressing relief that I didn't need to go anywhere, I reacted by taking Ms Keogh, my more significant other, for a pleasure drive. In fact, Ms Keogh and I had often taken long drives in the country during snows to see a world artfully embellished by winter. The most serious problem that arises are the other people driving, some of whom are obviously clueless and don't know their limitations.

There was one night a few years ago my mother called me at work begging me to not try and drive home because of the snow. She was certain I would become stuck and freeze to death in my car. But my commute home isn't across the trackless prairies of the Great Plains. My trip traces the well defined U.S. Route 1 through New Jersey, where, if I got stuck, I could walk over to someplace like the Princeton Diner and have pork chops until one of the regular plows came by.

For me the first snow always brings to mind François Villon's Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis and the line "where are the snows of yesteryear?" Yes, I know the poem is about dead ladies, yet I chose to disregard that and, with nostalgia, call forth happy memories blanketed in snowy events involving wonderful people not yet dead.

Early one morning in December of 1975, I talked Matsui-san, who eventually became my first wife and remains a dear friend, into taking a walk in the snow. It has been a long time since I have been willing to bundle up and go for a stroll in falling snow. Matsui-san and I started off from Coolidge Corners in Brookline early one morning and walked towards Boston on Longwood Avenue, ankle deep in snow and an ever constant precipitation of more. If my memory is correct, there were yet Elm trees lining the avenue and near the park were some houses in Tudor style with steep roofs, gables, and some red bricks arranged in a herringbone pattern. These were favorites, the kind of home I wanted, asymmetrical and with many nooks. Next came my favorite apartment building, the Longwood Towers, also in a Tudor style. It was castle-like with turrets and crenellation along the roof. It stood over Boston's Emerald Necklace, an array of parks that traced the meandering Muddy River (more a creek in size) to the Charles River. Sadly, in 1975 the park was decimated and defiled with trash. It was pitiful in other seasons and in winter it was hardly emerald green. However, that day snow had erased all that was unpleasant about it. We crossed the trolley tracks; saw the passing trams armored with icicles. We nixed the temptation to board the Riverside Line and ride its scenic route to the remote end. Instead we continued our walk heading the other way, through Riverway Park towards downtown Boston. On a pond, ducks swam in circles to keep melted holes opened in the ice. They climbed out and waddled towards us thinking we might feed them.

This strip of parkland was another concoction of that genius Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape architect. Just like Central Park in Manhattan, which he also designed, one is fooled into believing it's just nature left undisturbed when in actuality it is all artifice. Olmsted had even moved the Muddy River to create the park. (Brookline was originally named Muddy River Hamlet.)

We went on, plowed our way into snow sometimes knee deep, into the city of Boston. The towering Prudential Building was otherworldly, visible only as a vague grey shadow of an incredibly tall monolith. Snow dunes were forming in the streets and parked cars appeared like the frozen crests of waves. We saw a few folks shoveling out their cars and snow plows were appearing everywhere, yet we labored down the center of Commonwealth Avenue that had not yet been cleared. People had their dogs out frolicking in the snow, dogs expressing uncontained happiness in contrast to their masters’ cold constraints.

We switched to quiet Marlborough Street, narrow and tightly lined with brick homes squeezing each other. When we had arrived to the Boston Public Gardens, the paved walkways were lost beneath the snow. We pioneered new routes. From the Gardens we went across Beacon Hill into narrow streets and eventually arriving at the Old Union Oyster House. Matsui-san and I had walked over three, maybe four, miles that morning. It was still early. The Oyster House had not yet opened, still they let us in to get warm, and opened early so we could have two large bowls of clam chowder that Sunday morning.

I don’t remember, nor does my notebook reveal, how we traveled back to my apartment, but we had returned by the afternoon. Matsui-san napped on a mattress on the floor that served as my bed, her feet on the radiator. I sat and smoked a cigar, rewriting a novel that would never be published, never should be published.

Then, late at night, she bemoaned the fact that I didn't have any coffee. I suggested we drive into Boston for coffee. She thought I was kidding. It had continued snowing all that day. We had the loan of a friend's Volkswagen Bug while he was on business in New York. I said it was the perfect car for negotiating snow. And so it was, even though the snow in the lot reached over the bumper. It was necessary for Matsui-san to stand on the bumper and bounce up and down as I backed the car out of its spot. The trick worked. I wonder now if it had occurred to me then the shame of getting a car, not my own, stuck in some inconvenient place. I had such confidence. At two or three o'clock in the morning, we were in the only restaurant opened that late in downtown Boston, Ken's, where we ate London broil and drank dark beers. For dessert we had coffee and their deluxe chocolate layer cake.

That was just one snow story of many I’ve accumulated over the years. I hardly go out in the snow anymore, except to get to and from my job. Two days after our recent snow, our first snow of the season, warm rains came and washed it all away, except where my neighbors had piled it high shoveling it out of their driveways. Once again our dilapidated home was visible to their eyes or, as Ms Keogh would prefer, “Our quaint, rustic house.”

This essay is the most recent in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any
comments or suggestions,
the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon,
as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"