Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Garden of the Seasons: The Last Days of Christmas... Big Snow, Small Temps, and the Moderately Absurd Struggle to Take Out the Trash

            On the Eighth Day of Christmas (Jan. 1, in calendar terms) the reality of the new year was settling in. (See the first seven days at http://prosegarden.blogspot.com/2017/12/the-garden-of-seasons-twelve-days-of.html )
Since the day was a national holiday, offices were closed, work options slim, all possibility of outdoor exercise laughingly obliterated by subprime temperatures unexperienced in the last century, the domestic celebration of the holiday season was reduced to two hours in the local Y. This lengthy holiday period was beginning to wear, overlapping as it did the metaphysical question of meteorological nonbeing: what does it mean to be below zero? To add a particular frosting (in the icy sense) on our predicament, it turned out that our local YMCA had proved a popular magnet, serving for everybody else's holiday port of last resort. The joint was jumping. The machines were humming.
            As a rule I begin my workout routine with a warming bout of stationary cycling. Approaching the exercise device-room clatter, though happily the metal-freak had not been allowed to pump his favorite torments through the crowd-control amplifier this busy afternoon, I was confronted by a rank of stationary cycle machines fully occupied in whole-hearted, and no doubt resolute, efforts to draw off those calories: Eight Maids A-Milking.
            You will permit Day Nine to be a little less festive. The world of work has resumed, zooping Anne out of the house at an early, arctic hour. My own interest centered on the progress of the most intriguing of my holiday season gifts, the indoor seed-starting kit that includes a substantial tray, three little square-bottomed metal planters, five packets of tiny herbal seeds (cilantro, for example, fall somewhere between microscopic and invisible), three label-sticks that resemble what you have when you finish licking your creamsicle. All this is accompanied by a grow-light unit that, when attached to a narrow ledge beneath a window, shines with a hot-pink fury that not only makes me want to stand up and grow, but glows through both the parlor and out onto the darkened street. A sure sign, no doubt, to passersby that they are entering a hot pink-light district.
            Summon the Nine Dancing Ladies.
            On the Tenth Day -- has it really been so long? -- we are taking advantage of a virtual thaw to explore new transportation options. The greater regional transportation, the notorious MBTA, having graciously created this opportunity for exploration by deciding to close down the nearby Wollaston train station for a modest two years to do a few long-delayed repairs and figure out how to build the elevator they have been putting off for 27 years since the passage of American Disabilities Act. This tardy decision gave Anne, who ordinarily trains from the nearby station, the opportunity to sample the MBTA's bus transportation system. Of which we have all heard so much.
            We spend the day with fingers crossed. Tonight we will learn the success (or otherwise) of this new throw in the game of commutation. If it does not go as planned, if the conveyance, say, fails to arrive on schedule to rescue those who shudder at the roadside in chilly dawning expectation of its momentary appearance, the powers that be will hear about it. Who be these powers? The Lord Duke of Baker, the Lord Overseer of the Duchy of MBTA, Quinzee's Lord Mayor of Coquetry, plus seven of the (good-lord, are they really?) city council sitters.
            And we will do our best to set these Ten Lords A-Leaping.
            As for self, in celebration of the day's heat wave spiking temps into the upper twenties, I mobilize local transport to pry around the neighborhood in search of simple needs; a planner for the now three-day old year of 2018.  (Struck out.) A parking space near the local library (got lucky). A visit to the High Church of Coffee with the Best Bagels. (Reliable as ever). A longer foray to an emporium of general merchandise (still need the planner); abandoned for lack of faith. But my perseverance had earlier been rewarded when the High Church of Coffee proclaimed a divine intervention to bless me with a free four-dollar coffee. A troubling gift: do I really pay four dollars for coffee?
            And when will the dubious gifts of this grateful season stop coming? On the Eleventh Day we are gifted from heaven by fourteen inches (and counting) of fresh white celestial product. I'm not sure who ordered it, or why so much. Is this what happens when I press the wrong button, or press the right button twice, on one of those many Amazon-like purchase sites. I recently donated the value of our house to the Massachusetts branch of the ACLU by entering some other value (mobile phone number?) in the wrong place. Good-humoredly, they gave us most of it back, but warned me not to do it again. Sue me, I said.
            But nobody, I fear, is taking back this snow. Considering our recent temperatures have been lower than those in most of Alaska, I sense a theme of misdirection in our weather that is seriously imperiling the festive mood of these last Days of Christmas. There is nothing convivial about worrying over loose windows and leaky roofs in the old houses of the old cities of older-by-the-day New England. Soon we will have hired folks clomping around our roofs to remove the burden of accumulated snow that refuses to thaw and go away, as it used to in the good old winters of yesteryear, but is like to be perma-glued in place by the current spate of single-digit temperatures. Then there is the matter, or specter, of frozen pipes.
            Vacation homes by picturesque lakes in Rockwellian towns like Stockwater and Lake Norman, I am told, are particularly vulnerable to this malady if their plumbing has not been adequately drained to the last drop. I am convinced that if I were to plow my way through the current storm all the way to the Bezerkshers, we would find whole neighborhoods fraught with worry and desperately seeking experts -- what shall we call them? those mavens of drainage? -- in this matter of dewatering their plumbing to the very last drop.
            Indeed, I am certain that we would straightway be confronted by Eleven Pipers Piping.
            If not more!
            And how many side-walk shovelers will this Twelfth and final Day of Christmas require? I cling to my pink gro-lights, call for my bowl (soup once again on the evening menu) and pipe -- not that kind; not the other kind, either, because I don't smoke, even on Christmas -- but the pipeline of screen-based diversion that nourishes the spirit in these dark and (rather excessively, in my opinion) frigid days, wherein we watch moral parables of loss and forgiveness.
            We are all ready, I think, to toss out the holiday spirit. The spirit, or at least its wrappings, have piled up in our house. Day Twelve has a humble goal: make sure the trash gets picked up. We missed trash day a week ago while making our airy little way back to Massachusetts from the great New York City, arriving home via the Blue Hills (you will recall) just in time to see the garbage truck turning off of our block. This week trash collection was moved back one day in recognition of that secular feast, New Year's Day (or Eight Maids A-Milking, you will also recall). That meant pick-up day was Thursday. But no one was picking up anything on Thursday. Rather the heavens were dropping about a foot and a half of fast-lying white-faced precipitant on our unprotected noggins. All this leads to Fearful Friday.
            Will the streets be cleared sufficiently for the city's trash removal service to free us from our overflowing burden? Can we manage to clear our own pathways sufficiently to haul out the receptacles and plant them on the half-cleared streets? What sayeth the city's bonnie website? It sayeth nought. What sayeth its friendly Facebook page? Mister Mayor Longface on video speaking sadly of the flooding, long-facedly of the power disruptions, the traffic accidents, the strandings, the public shelter opened in the high school. But nary a word on the prospects of a Friday trash pickup. If we are compelled to live another week among our leavings, we will require yet another plastic trash container. We have already topped off three, one beyond our usual two (one of these, perforce, solely for recycling), for it fell out that in the time before these magical days of the Feast of Christmas were accomplished, way back at "Partridge in a Pear Tree," our domicile was home to four and even five revelers instead of the usual two, and unsparing were we all when it came to wrapping paper, ribbon, cardboard containers, witty misdirections, other such oddments of packaging, not to mention eat, imbibe, and be reasonably, fittingly merry, and maketh such comestibles as cranberry quickbread from scratch (not so quickly), and mulleth over cider, leaving leavings of orange peel and husks of nutmeg, and the occasional carapace of bourbon.
            So, obviously, lots of trash. In despair, I fell into a slumber, bidding my goodwife to wake me at the first sound of an advancing Trash Removal Vehicle of considerable girth.
            When the call came I had not yet left my bedchamber. Goodwife however has already legged it down to the train station. "Rouse thyself, husband, from your bucolic stupor," she urged, via the landline, "for I hear the music of the Giant Beast that Eats Garbage already in my ear."
            What happened next is not easy to tell. Sleep-fogged, eskimo-clad (though lacking finer points: where was that hat?), I was shocked to find that the path punctiliously cleared the previous snow-slurred afternoon had been re-whitened with blow-hard. Somehow this new load of snow had acquired a girth the airier precip of an earlier day lacked. Each shovelful strained second-day muscles. And then, my waterloo, my trial of tears, I discover that I have failed to lay even a single shovel on the passageway between the narrow canyon of sidewalk and the deeps of Mr. Trashmore, where the filled-to-brim receptacles await me. I slog my way through. Cold around the ankles, the calves, the vulnerable knees. I grapple the weightiest of these, old over-sized blue-skinned re-munchables.    
            I haul it, bucking and moaning, through the uncleared passage to the sidewalk canyon and then venture the similarly uncleared and, not to exaggerate, the freshly mountainous driveway, thanks to the timely attentions of the plow, at which moment I am verbally accosted by a well-intentioned neighbor. Who, mid-speech, witnesses my stumble and plunge into this freshly snowed summit, calving glaciers as I fall.
            I gather my snow-spattered dignity, rising like a frost-tattered Prometheus. "What's that?"
            "The driveway. We'll take care of it."
            Ah. I realize he is referencing the presence of his home-for-January-break daughter's red battery-powered vehicle next to our own more battered conveyance in our off-street parking area.
            Naturally, pride in my own resurgent vitality forces me to gainsay. "Oh, I'll work on it later."
            Later meaning after I stick these garbage cans somewhere out in the street where the goddam trash service can finally do its job and I can stop thinking about it.
            He repeats his vow of clearance as I grapple my burden anew.
            The snowed-in, plowed-out, hellishly frigid Twelfth Day of Christmas proceeds. When I look up from the breakfast table, my blue giant recyclable-receptacle is being machine-handled into the trash-eating dragon that grunts its way down the semi-cleared street. One down. Sometime later when the tasks of solitude have reclaimed my attention I notice that the other two black plastic containers have been emptied as well and, in their lightened state, are preparing to roll around the neighborhood, victims of every Arctic-day gust. When I venture out to reclaim them I discover, sure enough, the driveway has been handsomely cleared to the roadway sufficient to allow the egress of the two side-by-side vehicles.
            After gathering up the containers, relieved that the trash crisis over, I turn my back on this newly restored order of transportation, or ways and means. The sun glares, the wind roars. Beyond my sphere of attention the world gathers. The postman arrives; the afternoon paper. The parties of snow shovel-wielding entrepreneurs, nowhere in sight the day before, come stalking down the now-cleared strip of sidewalk, some choosing the roadway instead. Chanting loudly they offer of their services to the imperiled householder.
            "Clear! Clear! Have no fear!
            "We are the boys who clear the snow! The quicker you pay the harder we go!"
            "Twenty for sidewalk, fifty for drive! We are the boys who will keep you alive!"
            They come in threes, and then a pair, swiftly pursued by a shovel-raising foursome. I watch their parade from a sunny, pink-glowing window. There they go!
            Our Twelve Drummers Drumming!