Hey, guess who was completely socked in by the Blizzard of 2013? Yeah, you got it.
A snow day is like a page scissored out of reality. It exists in a universe of its own, divorced from anyone's schedule or timeline. For me it seems to hang weightless, floating above mundane concerns, an interval in which I can do as I please, regardless of what anyone else thinks about it...and I indulge myself to the fullest.
And because I'm feeling rather self-indulgent just now, I'm going to...what's the phrase? Ahh...lay a rather heavy trip on you. One you might regret having taken, Gentle Reader. So gather up your courage if you want to take this ride. I don't plan on being gentle.
I am sixty-one years old. I'm also rather badly afflicted with one thing and another -- mostly maladies characteristic of old age -- but, to my disadvantage through my unquenchable vanity, I've managed to retain the strength I had when I was young and completely hale. I can still bench-press two hundred sixty pounds and military-press two hundred twenty-five, and I'm rather proud of that...too proud, as the sequel will demonstrate, but that's the way I am. So when something like this blizzard falls upon my neighborhood, I don't wait for some hireling to come to clear my driveway; I don my cold-weather togs and attack it myself.
But strength isn't everything. There are other considerations to be respected in addressing an onerous task like clearing several tons of snow from an oversized driveway. One of them is endurance. Another is pulmonary capacity. Another is pain.
Being a pigheaded sort, I tend to press myself beyond my limits heedless of certain danger signs. I did that this morning. The price was a spasm of agony of the sort that says in tones beyond all misinterpretation, "Jackass! You're sixty-one years old! Leave the heavy lifting to younger men with sound hearts and healthy spines!" It sent me to the ground, gasping for breath and wondering if I'd finally tempted Fate just a millimeter too far.
Strong hands closed on my arms and hoisted me away from my unintended intimacy with the asphalt. It was my neighbor Richie, about twenty-five years my junior, who'd seen me at my follies. He helped me back to my feet, steadied me, and said, "Time to go inside, Fran. I'll take care of this."
Richie wouldn't relent; at least, I couldn't persuade him that I was perfectly all right. He shook his head, saw me back into my house, picked up where I'd left off, and finished the job himself.
Yes, it was a wee bit embarrassing. But the C.S.O. was spared having to call the local funeral home.
Richie is an exceptionally good neighbor with a wonderful wife and three delightful young daughters. I've never known a better or more considerate person. I could give you the full litany, but it would be beside the point. Suffice it to say that he watches out for me and the C.S.O., an undertaking above and beyond his other obligations as a husband, father, and homeowner, to an extent I and many others would find embarrassing.
I would do anything for Richie and his family. Anything. That there's so little I can do for them is occasionally a thorn in my flesh. To have a neighbor like him is a blessing beyond all accounting.
And in my more contemplative moments, I wonder just how many Americans, whatever their ages, sexes, and stations in life, enjoy the feeling of being looked after that comes from having a neighbor like Richie. Somehow I doubt that the fraction is all that large.
Long Island isn't the sort of place a soon-to-be-retiree wants to "make his last stand." It's terribly expensive; for one without the sort of income that goes with regular employment, it's more likely than not to be unaffordable. The C.S.O. and I have been pondering where we might move to; there are many places, even in the Northeast, the C.S.O.'s preferred habitat, that are less expensive than Long Island, and less intrusive upon the privacy of a common citizen than New York State.
But we surely couldn't take Richie and his family with us.
And that has besieged me with many second thoughts about the desirability of hauling stakes for some less expensive clime.
After Richie had shooed me back into my house, I went to my little office, sat before my computer, and dialed up some hoary old music:
- The Seekers: I'll Never Find Another You
- Stan Rogers: Lock-Keeper
- Journey: Foolish Heart
- Stephen Bishop: It Might Be You
- Toto: I'll Be Over You
- Critters: Mister Dyingly Sad
- Four Seasons: Dawn
- Tremolos: Silence Is Golden
- Cyrkle: Red Rubber Ball
- Circus Maximus: The Wind
- Double: The Captain Of Her Heart
- Del Shannon: Runaway
...and a few other tunes I've already forgotten. Thirty years old if not older, all of it too sentimental for words. I sat here and let it pour over me, and I wept.
Yes, I know why. I wouldn't dream of telling you otherwise. I wept because the world that gave us those wonderful old songs is dead and gone. More specifically, the nation that gave them to us, and to the world, is dead and gone. We killed it.
We killed it with our unprecedented self-centeredness.
We killed it with our unbridled cupidity.
We killed it with our unforgivable laziness.
In that world, people like my neighbor Richie were the rule rather than the exception.
And there is little, if any, hope that it can ever be brought back to life.
I will die. All of us will, someday, but I'm nearer to the one-way door than most.
For many years, I hoped to be part of a great movement back toward freedom, justice, and a wholesome, virtuous civil society. A society in which my neighbors would be like Richie, rather than the distant, indifferent types who've characterized most of the people I've known these past four decades.
My hopes have been dashed by developments. As American society has vulgarized and the American economy has crashed, people have turned inward rather than outward. They've sought to build fortresses around themselves, rather than trying to construct and fortify communities with those around them.
When Nature turns against us, such that all the forces of meteorology, geology, and physics mass to thwart the aspirations of men not merely to flourish, but just to live, is when one begins to take stock of one's neighbors, and one's dependence upon them and debts to them.
And that's when someone like me begins to wonder whether, when I and my coevals have departed this vale of tears, among the blessings our progeny might never know will be the comfort of neighbors upon whom one can rely without the slightest twinge of doubt. Without thought. Without even having to call upon them.
The sort of neighbors who, whether or not they'd recognize the playlist above, would groove to it just as happily as fossilized old me.
Neighbors like Richie.