THE WAY TO BEGIN this column is to tell you right off that it is not the one I was going to write. Never mind what that one was - it was before I woke up yesterday and found my car frozen to death at the age of four, before the pipes froze and then burst in the unheated utility room and before I found out that the plumber and the AAA were vying to see which one could get to my house before Cherry Blossom time. This is the winter of my discontent.
I am not complaining - really, I'm not. I don't feel sad, but melancholy instead.I recognize this for what it is - a passage, a point in my life in which things change significantly. I was slow to realize this, but I think that I first started understanding it after the second snow of the season, the one that began falling around 10 at night in my area.
The snow looked beautiful on the trees and the grass and I got that old, excited feeling - the one I used to have when I was a kid. I would press my nose against the window, watch the snow fall and wait for the entire board of education to decide whether I had to go to school the next day. What recalled that feeling, I think, was a phone call I got reporting that my son's school would be closed. No car pool driving for me. Once again, snow had liberated me.
So I turned in rather early, feeling pretty good. Then I heard it. There was this scraping noise. At first, I didn't recognize the sound because it has been years since we've had a good snow in Washington and we've had none at all since I moved from an apartment to a house. The noise continued. Scrape, scrape. Suddenly, I knew what it was. A neighbor was shoveling snow, out there in the dark, seemingly getting each flake as it hit the ground. By morning, I knew, all my neighbors would be out shoveling snow. They would expect me to do the same, eyeing my walk, prepared to turn me in to the citizen's association. I slept poorly that night.
In the morning, I was shoveling snow.At first it was sort of fun, but then I got colder and colder and the snow got heavier and heavier. Pretty soon I was hating the snow I used to love, cursing what we in the newspaper business sometimes call "the fluffy white stuff." I stopped, leaned on my shovel and did some thinking. I was becoming depressed but I didn't yet know why. I shrugged it off.
I continued to shovel and I thought about a radio show I just heard in which a doctor had offered advice to middle-age men on how to avoid a heart attack while shoveling snow. Suddenly, I wanted very much to recall what he had said. Something about doing warming-up exercises first. Too late for that. Something else about not thinking of work and all its anxieties. That was easy. All I could think of as I stood there with my Sears shovel was a friend with three kids and how he had turned to me one day and said out of nowhere: "My God, I've got three kids." I laughed then, but I no longer thought it was funny.
I have always been one of those people who loves winter. A real sweater and Cognac man is the way I saw myself. I hated the heat of summer, hated short-sleeved shirts, air conditioning and pants that lost their crease two minutes out of the cleaning shop. I couldn't understand people who loved summer and hated winter, but I noticed one thing about them: They were always older than me.
So I sensed a passage, a turning point. There have been others. I remember, for instance, standing in a circle with my friends, placing our hands one upon the other, and vowing never to stop playing basketball. Don't laugh- that was a blood oath. I remember some of the other vows - how I would never stop reading poetry and never buy a refrigerator that automatically made ice cubes and never stop going to the movies and never become overweight and never live in the suburbs with a station wagon and a driveway. I would, in short, stay young and even though I have broken some of these vows, I don't consider them that serious. In my mind I was still a kid.
By now my plight has hit me. I'm sitting at home with my toes frozen from the cold water in the basement and two plumbers have called to say, in essence, that there's a war on. I'll never see them. My car is lying dead in the street and I'm worrying if the boilder will explode because I've turned off the water and God knows what else. Sometime during this cold wave something happened and I don't like it one bit. I discovered I hate winter.
I've become an adult.