Horns a plenty

And so, there I am in this large Sears store. I clerked at one in college, the very last job I had before I began to teach. No connection with the company since then, and yet, for some reason, they want me to handle the ambient music.

I oblige them by setting up two turntables to play stuff at random from my collection. This is odd because all my vinyl is packed up in the basement, and what’s playing randomly is from my CDs. I don’t question it and stand chatting with a female customer. Am I being paid for this? I don’t think so, but I’ve always been an accommodating sort.

The lady finds the current track a bit loud for us to converse against, and I agree. Civil war bugle calls are scarcely elevator music. Why do I have them? They’re part of a triple boxed set of everything Mercury put out on their sonically glorious “Living Presence” label.

Mercury record’s “Living Presence” triple boxed set.

I set off to change the music and find a gay couple attempting to do just that. I ought to be annoyed with them for messing with my equipment, but they’re rather cute, and so, instead of telling them off, I josh around and make them laugh as I pluck up the tone arm. Curiously, the bugles keep playing.

We flirt, while speaking of nothing but the problem at hand. Anyone can do this, but I think gay men are particularly gifted in the art of indirect subtext. There is considerable chemistry amongst the three of us as I detach the tone arms from both turntables and remove the needles. The bugles continue to play.

My dad appears . He repaired radios and televisions as a sideline. I whip out a schematic for the turntables (you are aware this is a dream?) “Have you ever run into this before?” I ask. But the bugles are too loud. I raise my voice, but Dad just shakes his head. “You’ve got to fix this, Daddy! It’s driving everybody crazy.” The bugles continue, and he sends me off to fetch clippers. I try to signal the cutesters to stick around, but by the time I get back they’ve moved on.

The bugles are louder than ever. To make matters worse, they seem to be stuck on the same call. Dad is stumped, and I cry out, “I can’t stand this! Make it stop!” I wake myself up. I’m out of the dream. But the bugles are still blaring.

Whaaa??!! HELP!

Oh . . . wait . . I remove my earbuds and shut off my I-pod.

The worst thing about the whole nightmare is that now I’ll never see those cute guys again, and I know they liked me. I hate it when that happens.

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A week among the world

I recently wallowed in a solid week of company – people galore! Well. a tiny band at any rate, all duly vaccinated. In the days since then, I’ve drawn on spring, and its white blossomed trees to see me through. But while the crowd lasted, they buoyed my spirits to the brim and over.

This began on Easter Sunday. My contribution to the parade was to don an orange shirt and a tie of orange, gray and silver diagonal stripes.Tim drove me into Chicago where we picked up Ann and headed to my brother’s. To avoid the choked expressways, we took the Outer Drive and reveled in the unaccustomed scenery, not least the shirtless joggers and cyclists. The Drive is surely one of Chicago’s glories. If you’ve come and gone without experiencing its visual pleasures, you haven’t really been here.

At Steve and Johnnie’s, scattered about the driveway in lawn chairs, were my brother, my sister-in-law, and her dad, the three of them luxuriously inert, sun dappled, and nuzzled by an April breeze. We were, all of us, giddy to be together and unmasked again after so long.

I’ve extolled Johnnie’s cooking so often in these pages that I’ll mention only the newest delight, a southern, lemon ice box pie. As to the rest of her holiday table, conjure up the most rapturous Easter meal you’ve ever consumed and sweep it to the floor, china and all. It couldn’t compare. Naturally, as is my wont, I managed to assault my tie with a dab of candied sweet potato.

After the gargantuan feast, we waddled into the parlor and swapped stories for hours. The hands down winner was Johnnie’s sidesplitting true account of a sort of resurrection rabbit. I’m tempted, but it’s best told in person, and it’s hers to tell.Much later than we intended, Tim drove us back to Munster, where Ann stayed with me for several days.

Monday, the weather was still balmy, as Tim and Lois joined us on the gazebo for take out from Tzatziki and an enormous cherry pie. While I’m frequently on the phone with each of this merry crew, the joys of face to face proximity were heady and welcome.

The next three days with Ann were a warm renewal with a soupcon of squabble for spice. After fifty years, if two people haven’t developed the squabble into a benevolent art form, how can they call each other friends? And Ann is that rarest of ideal house guests, amusing, undemanding and appreciative. Her presence is vital and comforting. I’m always sad to see her go, and once she has, the house seems empty.

On Friday, I had lunch with my cousin, Donna, and her daughter, my godchild, Kay, two of my favorite companions. For some reason, Kay seems blind to my faults and finds me more interesting than any two people could possibly be. Mind you, I’m not complaining. Donna, however, has known me since we were tots, and labors under no such delusions. I’m still not complaining.

Luke appeared the following day, brightening the yard and my day with his care and expertise. He’s in the midst of college finals and working for a landscaper. I needed a few things done, but I told him they could wait. He never waits. He always makes time for me. Once, he told me that working in my garden is an escape for him, a bit of therapy when things are closing in. Also, I know he likes me. I like him, enormously. We respect each other over a six decade age gap – and he never turns me down.

He set to work first cleaning Ozzie, the smaller fountain. Then he attacked the skylight windows on the cabana. If that roof had a steeper pitch, a decent rain would clean the skylights, but that didn’t occur to John and me when the cabana was built. Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to the contractor either. I was concerned about Luke’s safety and told him to abandon the project if he didn’t like the looks of it when he climbed the ladder. Instead, he hopped onto the roof and scrubbed away.

Next, there was a dead Japanese maple to be dug up. A gentle rain began, and by the time Luke had chopped out the thick roots, his shoes and the knees of his jeans were black with mud. It rather became him – young man of the earth. I had one last task for him. He left his shoes by the back door and came inside.

I’d seen a vase in a catalog which shall go unnamed. I don’t need another vase, but its irregular shape and amber color spoke to me. I shouldn’t have listened. When it arrived, the box was so large and heavy that I had to roll it inside. I cut the box open and found a second one. More cutting and, like a nest of Russian dolls, yet another box. I tipped out my treasure and thought, “My, it’s big!”

I wrestled it onto the coffee table’ It seemed to be swelling before my eyes, a corpulent amber beast, squatting on the table. I tried it here and there about the house, but the only result was a backache. No, it was either buy a bigger house, or send the damned thing back.

To my chagrin, there was no return slip. My chagrin multiplied when I called and was told by a robot, “Customer Service does not handle returns.” Much time and many expletives later, a return slip and shipping label were printed out (by Lois, after I had given up in disgust. She took one look and declared the vase the ugliest thing she’d ever seen. It wasn’t quite that, but this house wasn’t big enough for both of us).

Luke packed up my leviathan and we set off for UPS. But this was Saturday and though we arrived mere minutes after two, a smirky clerk shook his head at us behind a locked door. I left my treasure with Luke, and by now, he has sent it on his way. Perhaps a race of gay giants, hoping to accent their decor . . .?

My house is silent now, but my head still echoes with the happy voices of those who keep me sane.

Ronald Colman rekindles a blaze

I was born a romantic. From an early age, I knew I’d need only one wish to be completely happy. The genie could keep the other two if he’d grant me a passionate and reciprocal relationship. By the time I got to the passage in Wuthering Heights where Cathy says, “I AM Heathcliff,” it was clear to me that life would only be worth living if I could love someone beyond all reason, someone who felt the same about me. Not that I had any confidence that would happen, far from it.

In college, I did have a pair of romances, each lasting about a year. Two sinfully handsome boys astonished me by seeking me out and courting me. In each case, I was scared to death. This can’t last, I thought, and if it doesn’t, nothing as good will ever happen again. I was so desperate not to screw things up that, of course, I greased my own skids. Fear and desperation is a lousy state of mind from which to navigate a love affair (though the second Mrs. de Winter gave it a try).

In my defense, both my swains were players. In their defense, both were upfront about that from the start. Under those conditions, I suppose a year’s run wasn’t too shabby.

My next serious encounter was a much longer business. This time, I wasn’t afraid because I sensed I had the upper hand (again, not a happy recipe for connubial bliss). My beau was sweetness itself, one of the most genuinely nice people I would ever meet. I respected and admired him. He was thoroughly lovable. Unfortunately, it took us over a decade to admit that what we were really meant to be was great friends.

At that point, though I didn’t stop looking, I knew that I could have an enjoyable life on my own. I was good company for myself and I didn’t need anyone else to “complete me.”

Turns out, that’s precisely the state of mind to attract a soulmate. When John appeared, the spark was instant, and mutual. It was what the kid in me had wanted all along – love both lasting and beyond all reason. We simply had to be together, and when we were, the sounds from the rest of the world grew dim. We ignited each other, and the blaze, Cole Porter notwithstanding, was not “too hot not to cool down.” It never did. It still has not.

I was reminded of such things the other night by the consummately romantic voice of Ronald Colman, a voice of barbed honey, a sad, wise cello of a voice that buzzed through you with earnest reassurance. It was a voice that enabled him to play the most extravagantly romantic characters – Sidney Carton, Francois Villon, and make them ring true.

Vilma Banky and Ronald Coleman in “Two Lovers.”

This time, I heard him on an old time radio broadcast of The Halls of Ivy. He recites a poem to his wife that captured for him the nature of their enduring passion. I’ll quote a few lines. They’re from John Donne‘s “The Good Morrow.”

“I wonder, by my troth, what thou, and I

Did, till we lov’d? were we not weaned till then?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Whatever dyes, was not mixt equally;

If our two loves be one, or, thou and I

Love so alike, that none doe slacken, none can die.”

That’s how it felt – that’s how it was, with John and me. May it be so with all those of you who wish it.

Edging out

I’m not a risk taker – never have been. My DNA is a prosaically sensible substance. I’ve never needed a robot to cry “Danger, Will Robinson!” I can do that for myself.

Once, on a tour in Mexico, I climbed obediently with the group to the top of a steep rock shelf hanging out some hundred feet above a cenote. I edged out with the others and watched them plunge like lemmings into the water below. When my turn came, I stood contemplating the sheer drop awaiting me. I weighed the uncertain odds of grievous bodily harm against the heady thrill of the dive. I turned around and climbed back down as cautiously as I had gone up. At the bottom, I slipped into the cenote and splashed about with the rest. So, no, even in this era of the great nothingness, you won’t find me running amok spring break in Miami.

Be that as it may, last weekend I did some more risk weighing, and this time I didn’t climb back down. My friend, Darlene was coming out Saturday. For years, almost every weekend, John and I and Darlene and her late husband, Jeff, would go to dinner and the movies. Afterward, we would discuss our heads off. They were as avid film fans as we were. They were also the first straights to acknowledge John and me as a couple.

I brought up Minari, which I had rented, and told Dar how much I’d enjoyed it. She said she wanted to see Nomadland, as did I, but neither of us felt like paying for yet another channel to watch it.”What if,” she asked, “we actually went to see a movie?” Gasp! We’d each had both of our shots, but was such forgotten pleasure even possible?

I checked the local showtimes. Nomadland would be playing just once on Saturday. I went to the Fandango site to see how crowded the auditorium would be. No one had bought a single ticket! I took the leap and bought two seats at the very back, at the top of the stairway aisle, the ones that John and I always took if we could, for extra leg room. I printed out my prize and just grinned at it for a moment. It was like the beginning and end of my book. We were going to the movies!

Come Saturday, I was wearing the gaudy movie socks that Steve and Johnnie gave me for my birthday.

My Movie Sox

No one would see them, but I flashed a bit of ankle for Darlene. At the theater, we were far from the madding crowd. Scattered about the auditorium were three other people, all of an age, and keeping their distance.

I wonder if their response to Nomadland echoed ours. It’s a hard watch, which is not to say it isn’t worth watching. It’s the most mercilessly serious movie in about a million years. Loss, bereavement, loneliness and scraping by on your own are dealt with realistically and without let up for two hours.

Darlene and I were the choir, being preached a sermon we’d already absorbed, keenly. At times, watching Frances McDormand‘s flawless performance, I thought, that’s me, wandering around, dowsing for bits and scraps of pleasure now that John is gone. A younger audience, still partnered, might find it more instructive. I was impressed, to be sure, and not a false note is struck, (the delicate motion as McDormand repositions a chair before leaving is painfully telling), but what is being played is two hours of the blues.

Our longed for evening on the town had turned somber. As Darlene and I were about to wend our separate ways into the night, I could have bid her goodbye with a key phrase from the film, “See you down the road,” but the words would have caught in my throat.

Three great reads

The Ides of March, and yet the snow was back, falling in big flakes, a meteorological anachronism, that last, tiresome guest lingering long after the party has ended and you want to go to bed.

This was a good night for a good book. I’ve just finished three, by a single, spellbinding author, Mark Harris. I’m always on the lookout for insightful writing about film, and with Harris, this hat trick of criticism and biography provided me with a month long bonanza, some of the best reading on the subject I’ve ever encountered.

When is the last time you came to the end of a book sorry it was over and hungry for more? This happened to me with each of the three Harris has written to date. He works slowly, but with such pristine research and insider anecdotes that I want him chained to his desk like a galley slave until he turns out another.

In 2008, Harris wrote Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the new Hollywood . The concept was to tell the story of the five films nominated for best picture of 1967 from the first flicker of an idea in someone’s imagination through to the completed film and its reception by critics and the ticket buying public. To discover the hurdles to be overcome -selling the project, fund raising, casting, temperaments, egos, censorship, Hollywood politics, and all the near disasters along the way, – is to marvel that any of these movies actually got made.

I remember my excitement in 1967 at two of these films, Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate. I’d never seen anything like either of them. I went back to both several times, dragging everyone I could along with me. Each is still in my pantheon of screen classics. I imagine they appealed to the same audiences and cancelled each other out at the Oscars. Had voting been based on the current system of weighted preferences, one of them would likely have won.

Instead, it was In the Heat of the Night, which remains a gripping thriller and one of the few Rod Steiger emotithons that doesn’t drive me screaming from my seat. The final two were regrettable choices. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a dated, mawkish embarrassment, sloppily shot and filled with characters simultaneously stereotyped and improbable. It’s watchable today only for the artistry with which the central trio, Tracy, Hepburn and Poitier stare down their indigestible dialogue.

About Dr. Doolittle I’m not entitled to an opinion because I’ve never troubled to see it. The torrent of scathing reviews at the time kept me away, and not even the pandemic has induced me to change my mind. Harris’ account of how it secured a nomination is a sorry tale indeed, as are his hair curling tales of the inebriate shenanigans of its star, Rex Harrison and his wife at the time, Rachel Roberts.

I can think of no better book to explain to the layman exactly how pictures get made, and very nearly don’t.

Harris’ second book, Five Came Back, was written six years later, in 2014. It deals with five directors who disrupted their successful Hollywood careers to enlist and make combat and training films during World War II. Each was changed forever by what he saw and captured on film. I’ve seen some of their documentaries, John Huston’s Let There be Light, an early look at PTSD, and George Stevens’ harrowing film of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. This heightened my involvement but was by no means a prerequisite for understanding Five Came Back.

Among its many fascinations are the differences Harris explores among the motivations and reactions of these prominent directors, and the course of their careers before and after the war. Except for Frank Capra, whose best work was arguably behind him before I was born, (give or take the guilty pleasures of Lost Horizon or Barbara Stanwyck’s intelligent work in the weepy creepy Meet John Doe), these men returned from combat altered, deepened, and with great films ahead of them. John Ford went on to do My Darling Clementine, The Quiet Man, and The Searchers. Huston would film Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo, The African Queen, and Prizzi’s Honor. Stevens moved on from his romantic comedies to helm I Remember Mama, A Place in the Sun, Shane, and Giant. Wyler would give us The Heiress, Roman Holiday, The Big Country, and immediately upon his return, the towering treatment of postwar readjustment, The Best Years of Our Lives.

These were giants in their field, and Harris’ painstaking research sets before us the nature of their demons as well as their genius.

His new book, a biography of Mike Nichols, came out this year, and in 594 juicy pages that go by all too soon, Harris succeeds in a way that even many decent biographers don’t. Here you don’t feel at some remove, getting certain interesting facts, but through a telescope; instead, you feel as though you are actually getting to know the subject. Harris is helped, of course, in that he didn’t just get to interview people who knew Nichols, he didn’t just get to interview Nichols himself, he knew him as a friend. Nichols directed the film of Angels in America written by Tony Kushner, Harris’ husband.

I never saw Nichols work live. At Second City, I did see some of those he worked with in the Compass Players, Barbara Harris, Alan Arkin, and Severn Darden. Like a great many people, I found the vignettes he recorded with Elaine May insanely funny and laced with poignancy. What made them unique was that they were just as funny the second time you heard them, or the fifth, or the tenth. Every inflection, every turn of phrase was telling, truthful, wacky, and delicious.

Nichols’ mastery of improv and performance were matched by his formidable skills as a director. Through seven decades, he worked with and fostered the careers of a Who’s Who of stage and screen. He knew everyone, and they all wanted to work with him.

This was an extraordinary life, from a childhood of wrenching obstacles to a prolonged career of dizzying success. Those who knew and cared about Mike Nichols have trusted Harris and been generous with their intimate memories. He rewards their trust with a beautiful yet objective book.

Mark Harris does his homework – in spades. Now I need him to get back to work.

Shadow play

Stu was coming this morning – he who sprays our trees and shrubs, and whose gardening advice is sound and practical. I wanted to talk to him. There weren’t any pressing issues. I just wanted to talk to him. He’s a very agreeable fellow, and how many people do I get to talk to these days? In any case, I didn’t want to oversleep and find he’d come and gone, so I left the bedroom drapes open.

Now, my next door neighbors have a new light in their back yard – 0r at least one I’d never noticed before. It’s bright enough to deter any nocturnal felons. It shines directly into my bedroom windows.

My neighborly night light.

I’ve delayed bringing this to my neighbors’ attention because they are the sweetest people in all Munster. Besides, I have an ample and trusty black sock with which to drape my eyes.

About 2:00 this morning, I stirred awake and became aware of some motion on the ceiling and on the wall behind my head. The room was dark, but the brilliance of my neighbors’ light cast two rectangular shapes into the room, and within them, shadows of thin branches on a tree in my yard were dancing.

The effect was rather magical, and quite entertaining. I sat up and craned around to enjoy it for a while. The wind was choreographing the shadows about in a graceful gavotte. On the branches, I could see tiny but pronounced nubbins which will presently swell and burst into this year’s crop of leaves. I realized that in the inky recesses of my bed chamber, I was witnessing an irrefutable harbinger of spring.

I may put off speaking to my neighbors about their klieg light a little longer.

84 and counting

A child thinks he’ll live forever. Yet, he never imagines himself being old. I didn’t. I can remember wondering why some people had let themselves get so elderly looking and acting. I must have thought they had a choice. They’d grown neglectful, made bad decisions. I wouldn’t do that. But here I am at eighty-four.

Do I feel it? Seldom, unless the mirror catches me by surprise. Logically, intellectually, I know something will take me before . . . well, before. But it is my great good fortune that my health gives me no clue as to what that will be.

The occasion of my birthday led me to reflect on what, if anything, I know for certain. It was a good day – really the best birthday I’ve had since John is gone. Lois suggested she come over (we’ve both had our shots) and order from Tzatziki, our favorite Greek restaurant.

The resultant feast was a long, savory, indulgent affair. Chicken kebabs, roast potato wedges, fried eggplant, saffron rice, hummus with warm pita, lemon rice soup, and honey drenched baklava, these were all served up on special occasion china (thank you, Katy), with candlesticks and blue linen napkins in gold rings.

We took our time, reminiscing from opposite ends of the long dining room table, like Mr. and Mrs. Kane before things went south. When it was through, I began to sing “This is a Lovely way to Spend an Evening.” Lois had never heard it. I told her it had been a big hit, back in the day. She wanted to know who made it, but I couldn’t recall. She googled it, and presently we were listening to Frank Sinatra spin it out in sheer, delirious perfection without benefit of an orchestra (In 1943, the musicians’ strike called by James Petrillo meant Sinatra could be accompanied only by a chorus. On many records of the period, this is an unwelcome distraction, but here, it doesn’t matter a bit).

Good music, good food, and a good friend, mainstays in my survivor’s arsenal. The most potent of these is friendship.

If ancient Lee has anything of use to say to his younger self, it goes like this. 1) Don’t eat that bowl of Grandma’s vegetable soup. You’ll crack a tooth on a beef bone and need a bridge. 2)Don’t show off and bounce little Jay on your shoulders. You’ll mess up your back permanently. 3) Listen to Mrs. Weicher and don’t run away to the army. 4) Few things will change and enrich your life as much as travel and writing. Start them as soon as you can. Sooner.

Last, but certainly not least, make more friends. It’s easier to do than I thought in my youth. The people you admire are not living the untroubled lives you assume they do. In fact, they’ll be grateful you make the effort to get to know them. More to the point, you’ll need a bunch because time, distance, illness and death will snatch them from you.

Beyond that, I’d tell little Lee not to expect everything from any one of them. Collectively, they’ll meet most of your needs. Individually, prize those who meet at least one of them: empathy, problem solving, an ear that listens without problem solving when you just need to vent, silliness, laughter, stimulation, and sometimes just shared memories. We must have witnesses to our lives. Without them, our existence is a hollow and most unsatisfactory thing.

That’s about it for my accumulated pearls of wisdom. The kid should check back with me next year if I’m still around. Maybe I’ll have learned something new.

Clean-up week

In the 40’s, our spring break from grammar school was known as “clean-up week,” probably so we wouldn’t dare to think of it as a vacation. The nuns admonished us not to lark about, but to cheerfully assume the yoke of whatever dreary household (or yardhold) tasks our parents had been saving for us. I sometimes wondered how much cleaning up the good sisters performed around the convent in our absence. More likely they capered in gleeful dances to be rid of us for a while.

Magically, parochial and public schools were never out on the same week. Were they in terror lest we mingle with heathens and risk conversion? When we returned, we might be asked to write of our labors. There may have been a bit of raking or weeding at our grandparents’ house, but I don’t recall Steve and I being treated as galley slaves. On the contrary, I think I spent the bulk of those times on roller skates, or with a good book in my hands. Nevertheless, I’d turn in some fiction about having painted the walls in bright colors, a chore I wouldn’t have minded, if I could have splopped the paint on in a day, and gotten to choose the colors.

I think of this now because this week has been, in some ways, a kind of clean-up week for me. It was a week of chores, tasks and obligations, to none of which I looked forward, but all of which are now completed.

On Monday, I went for my second vaccination – lucky to get it, I know, when so many haven’t even been able to make an appointment. I was glad to get the first one, but I’d been warned that the second dose was laden with painful and unpleasant side effects. Not so in my case. All I felt was an overpowering desire for a nap, which I took. That night, I slept blissfully for another twelve hours.

Tuesday, I saw the dentist. I’d lost a tooth but was determined to resist getting another implant (I have one). The process takes forever and costs a fortune. Happily, Dr. Thornton told me that while it probably seemed to my probing tongue that all was lost, there was still enough left to accommodate whatever wonderful substance he plugged me up with. I’m back in the chomping business and don’t sport a lisp.

Thursday, I went with Lois to renew my driver’s license, something I always dread for fear of failing such dire tests as the BMV will throw at me. I’m accident free, and have gone decades without so much as a parking ticket, yet the night before renewal is always filled with nightmarish what-ifs. But in the morning, my good luck continued. The examiner was a pleasant young woman, unlike the Dragon Lady who tormented me last time. The vision test went more smoothly than before. They’ve streamlined it and, instead of the pesky, flashing peripheral lights, it was a straightforward reading of a letter chart. The single down side was the photo which, predictably, turned out to be jowl city.

Today, the snow had melted enough that I was finally able to budge the back gate. I emptied the trash cans of ice and snow, and filled them with all the accumulated bags of garbage and recycle. How many trips did it take? Suffice to say, Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” would have been an apt soundtrack.

I closed the gate, my satisfaction dimmed only by the appearance of dirty paw prints all the way up the wood. What foul beast has been chinning itself on my pristine new fence? Ah, well, something else to clean up.

But not this week.

Nanook of Munster

Many moons ago, back in the ’70s when I was chairman of the English department of Chicago Vocational, my colleagues saw fit to give me a Christmas present which I’ve prized ever since. Far from the usual academic remembrance, it was a plush, stuffed, gray and white Malamute. I suspect my housemate at the time tipped the department that this pup would be more my cup of tea than a desk set. I took to the eager-eyed, amiable critter at a glance. He brought back memories of my army time in Alaska, watching the Iditarod race and those magnificent sled dogs.

I named him Little Nanook and have him still. Several times this week, I’ve wished he could come to life and accompany me on my slogs through the drifts of Munster. What snowy romps we’d have, with no fear of my falling, for if I did, Nanook would lick my face and tug me back upright. He’d feel at home in this newly blanched land of organ pipe stalactites threatening doom from every eave.

C’mon, let’s step out on the porch ….

My walks are shorter these days, when I take them at all, though perhaps I’m still burning as many calories, huffing and puffing through the white hills and slopes of what had been Forest Avenue. If nothing else, I know I burn a few tugging on and pulling off my galoshes.

I’ve seen a snow plow the size of a railroad engine push through our alley, but that’s been of little use to me. So much snow is plastered against the gate that it won’t budge. I pity those whose garage doors open onto the alley. As it is, my pantry hall and breakfast room look like those of an elderly hoarder, loaded as they are with grocery bags stuffed with recyclables.

Yesterday, I had to attack the front evergreen bush, bowed down so low that it forbade the paper carrier getting anywhere near the porch. Somehow, the mailman succeeds, but I’d have to crawl on my hands and knees to get out that way. Dressed in boots and parka, and armed with a branch cutter, I batted and hacked at the unfortunate bush until I’d removed enough limbs to furnish a large Christmas tree. Lord knows what the massive shrub will look like in the spring after this hasty haircut (I assume there will be a spring?). I hope I haven’t butchered it beyond repair, for its upward horizontal arc has always been quite beautiful.

I stepped back to survey my tonsorial efforts and decided it would be helpful to snip one last branch above my head. Unfortunately, and idiotically, having grown warm with all the chopping, I had lowered the hood of my parka. Down came the branch, but with it, a bucket’s worth of snow on my head and down my neck.

This self administered snafu reminded me of a similar incident, one with fatal consequences, in Jack London‘s stark “To Build a Fire.” I would wait for the coldest day of the year and read it aloud to my freshmen students. The murderous subzero Yukon temperatures have put a foolish man and a not so foolish dog at peril for their lives. The man uses the last matches to build a fire – under a snow laden tree. When the warmed snow extinguishes the modest blaze, the dog regards the man with contempt and abandons him to his fate.

I like to think, even in the face of such abject stupidity, that Little Nanook wouldn’t desert me. Would he?

Being my own valentine

It’s something I’ve become good at, of necessity in the past four years. Before that, of course, every year, John and I would seek out a secluded table for two, exchange cards, and have one heck of a romantic evening.

Since then, I’ve chosen not to ignore the day. How can you, with every paper, radio, television program and Facebook post reminding you, urging you and your sweetheart to make the most of the occasion?

So I do. By myself. No need to reserve in advance. There’s always a spot here at the Double K Ranch, if you have an in with the owner, and I do.

I didn’t really dress for the occasion, except that this morning as I stood in the bedroom closet, it seemed to me I should choose a tee shirt that would have meant something to John. As the Imelda Marcos of tees, it took me a while. The one I settled on is white with some large gray Japanese characters. I don’t know their meaning, but John would have.

There has to be chocolate. I thought of raiding the leftover stash of Halloween candy for a Baby Ruth, but then I remembered an unopened gift of Fannie Mae’s from the dawn of time. Their shelf life must border on eternity. I permitted myself one piece. It was good. It was all one could ask of a piece of chocolate, and I ask a lot.

When evening came, I took down a slim, fragile glass from a set John and I bought in Venice.

A toast to John.

They were the most beautiful glasses I had ever seen. The surface of the flutes is ribbed diagonally with tiny beads, most pleasing to the touch. Their color is actually pink, but in certain light, as in the store in Murano where we found them, they appear blue. I poured out an inch and a quarter of Pear William, my favorite aqua vitae, and raised a toast to John.

I ordered supper from Kitaro, and pitied the poor delivery boy when he arrived, shivering in 0ne degree weather with an obscene wind chill. You have to order a lot before they’ll deliver, but I’ll save the pan seared tuna with wasabi, and the miso soup for tomorrow. Tonight, confidently wielding chopsticks as John had taught me, I had pork dumplings, and shrimp with noodles.

After a rest, I attacked their succulent dessert, exotic bombe. It lies alluringly on the plate like a ravished flower with four open petals of passion fruit ice cream, backed with a thin, hard crust of dark chocolate. It is strewn with real whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. The overall effect is rather erotic. I ate it all.

My floor show was an episode of The Murdoch Mysteries, followed by Miss Scarlet and the Duke. In a bit, I’ll toast John once more, this time with raspberry Chambord. Am I spoiling myself? Yes, as I urge any of you to do who, like me, are alone tonight. Sometimes one must. Reality will keep until morning.

For now, Happy Valentine’s Day to all, and especially to you, Baby.