Monday, February 9, 2009

Snow Storms

“I was, it will be understood, afflicted by the solitary’s vulnerability to insights, so that when I peered out into the flurry and saw no sign of the Empire State building, I was assaulted by the notion, arriving in the form of a terrifying stroke of consciousness, that substance—everything of so-called concreteness—was indistinct from its unnamable opposite.”

---from Netherland, a novel by Joseph O’Neill

A few weeks ago, I pull in behind the little Festiva and park. I don’t think to back in. This means the wheels that actually move the car, the ones in the front, are farthest from the road. The next day, when I try to go out for coffee, I find I am stuck.

I back up to the lip of the paved, plowed road, but then my wheels spin. And spin. The ice is under an inch thick. It looks like nothing, but it’s enough. I don’t have sand. I strain and push and manage to make the car rock a little in its tracks, but that’s of no use.

I hate asking for help, so I make a bold decision to drive off into the lawn and try to loop around till I'm back on the driveway and heading out. The ice is thin and crunchy over the grass, and the ground should be frozen, so perhaps this will be a brilliant move.

It is not.

I am stuck. I shovel, break down cardboard boxes, back up onto slats of wood. The car moves maybe two feet.

I head for the phone. First, triple A, which won’t come if the driveway’s not plowed. Next I call my sister, who tells me to call the caretaker. Car rescue is not in his job description, but he comes right over. He’s an older man who’s had cancer. He rocks the car back and forth in the mud, but it goes nowhere. He drives off, saying he’ll try to find someone with a winch.

I’m left standing in the middle of the lawn, contemplating this debacle. How fragile everything is! How much can go wrong in an impulsive instant!

I look up at the graying sky. A foot of snow is predicted to begin falling within the half hour. I imagine my car stuck for the season, a white lump waiting for spring, a permanent badge of incompetence.

A man comes up the road walking an overweight hound. He’s very kind, telling me that he himself has managed to get stuck in a snow bank when there was no other snow around. He tells me if my car has a manual transmission we can gun it out.

I do have a manual transmission, and I also think to myself that I have tried this gunning technique, but I defer to his undoubted expertise. He says we need to clear all the stray bits of cardboard and shovels first, and we do. Then I try to hand him the keys.

“Oh, I can’t drive a stick,” he says.

The car sprays mud and goes nowhere while the man's hound, now tied to a tree, barks. Why don’t I trust myself? What gives other people the happy confidence to offer advice, with no caveats, about things they know little about?

Blessedly, B. drives up again, this time with his son and grandson, both also named B. All three are cheerful and obliging. The elder B. takes the wheel, and the rest of the family and I line up at the rear bumper. We push the car out.

B. reparks the car in the driveway, facing toward the road. “Shouldn’t be a problem now,” he says.

I thank them profusely. “He’s a nice guy,” the son says of the father, as the father beams and the grandson looks on. I realize that in some families helping is one of the values that actually gets taught. I think I am watching it pass down the line.

This idea feels new to me. In November, my dog had a terrible seizure, and at 10 in the evening, I made a desperate call to my neighbor for help. She offered to drive us to the vet—as long as she could take her daughter, who was already in her pajamas and heading for bed.

Later, I thanked her, especially because her child had to witness such a difficult thing. “No, I think it was good,” K. said. “It was a good lesson, that you help your neighbor.”

In recent years, I have been forced to ask for help again and again, for big things and small. It remains a battle to ask, and I struggle to receive this help with more grace. Having been humbled so often, owing debts of gratitude larger than I can ever repay, I am now trying to learn how to be more thoughtful and proactive in offering assistance as well.

Better late than never, as they say.

Half an hour later after the car is restored to the driveway, I get back in the driver's seat and try to leave for good. All goes smoothly until I am once again just inches from the road. And then my wheels spin! I try it again. And again. Slowly, faster, slow again. B. could do it, why can’t I? Here’s another project: trying not waste my energy on feeling ashamed.

The first flakes are falling. Resigned to my fate, I walk over to the neighbor’s house and explain my latest predicament. He drives right over with a big Toyota pickup. We lash a rope from one vehicle to another. He inches the truck forward till the line goes taut, and my car slides right out. Thirty seconds.

“That was way too easy,” he says.


Gerry Gomez Pearlberg said...

Haven't read this yet, but look forward to doing so soon.

Joan said...

Ha! I post on your blog right back! (runs around triumphantly, leaving muddy footprints all over the blog.)

All kidding aside, a sublime anecdotal reflection on the simplicity of asking, a terribly difficult thing for me to do also.

Gerry Gomez Pearlberg said...

Now I have read it. And I have enjoyed it. Good grist for the mental mill. These posts are excellent; you should be proud.

JMC said...

Nice one,