Monday, March 27, 2006


In Which Messages Come In Tongues of Flame...

And then the weekend landed, as I had imagined it would, with an awful thump.

No job to distract myself with. Forty-eight whole hours to sit around and fritter my sanity away, obsessing about things I can't stop or help or save or fix.

Such were my thoughts as I went to bed Friday night and woke up, a scant 6 hours later to discover that, in fact, the weekend had not arrived with an awful thump so much as a wet smack.

"Dad!" Thomas yelled in my face (he assumes everyone is deaf when they're in a sound sleep). "It's snowing!"

I don't know what the weekend was supposed to be like in your neck of the woods, but ours most definitely was not supposed to include snow. Mostly sunny. Highs in the 50s. A few clouds. Maybe some wind. Not precipitation. Not frozen, white, winter precipitation.

I opened the window shades. Big, fat, heavy, wet flakes everywhere in the sky. And more than a few on the ground.

Her Lovely Self stared despondently out the window. "I was going to maybe start clearing out the garden," she sighed. Like me, she's been trying to lose herself in work.

I looked down the street to see one of my neighbors struggling with a snow shovel. From the growing pile of snow he was pushing across his driveway, it looked like we might have an inch or so on the ground.

"Where is this coming from?" I asked no one in particular. Then, ever my father's son, I consulted the great meteorological oracle, The Weather Channel. And I sat there, glancing from the small TV screen in our bedroom to the windows and back to the TV again. In a moment, the Local on the 8s came up, and there was that chipper little sun partially hidden behind the tiniest of clouds. No snowflake icons. None. Then a list of nearby cities popped up and every one of them was reporting temperatures already in the 40s--and this at 6:45 in the morning. Whose weather were we getting?

One of those useless radar maps popped up on screen just then, showing me color-coded precipitation sweeping across a portion of the state. There was nothing--except for the smallest two or three pixel-wide blip of color. Then it was gone. Was that our snowstorm?

Growing up in New Hampshire, you came to expect snow flurries, oh, pretty much every day from about Halloween til Easter (or sometimes Memorial Day). Snow was such a common event, it was rarely mentioned as part of the normal forecast. It was the meteorological equivalent of the silent "e." An anticipated foot of snow was worth mentioning--briefly--on the weather report. A blizzard promising whiteout condition usually got a few seconds of airtime. But not always. You learned not to be thrown by the occasional surprise Nor'easter.

Clearly I'd been away from home too long, to be flummoxed by flurries so quickly.

By the time I had my first cup of coffee, I had recovered from my state of stupefaction. And as I watched the flakes fall (slightly less heavily now, it seemed to me) I could also see some of that promised sun, creeping up over my neighbors' rooftops. With any luck, it actually would get into the 50s today and melt all the snow off.

But then I remembered: the snowblower.

I got it last year just before cold season, a cunning little red job with a shiny black corkscrew of snow-throwing power mounted in front. I grant you: It was not as impressive as the giant black monster blower my dad had when I was a kid. That blower was as large as our Volkwagen and had 400 times the horsepower. It sent snow flying in a great white arc over the roof of our house. It could turn saplings to mulch if you strayed too close to the trees.

No indeed, my blower was not so mighty a machine. It was, however, definitely a step up from the mincing little electric snow shovel I had before, and which only moved the fluffiest of snow (and even then turned it into frozen mist that was blown back upon me).

Alas, as soon as I got the blower, that more or less assured us of a fairly mild winter. Now here it was--spring for Pete's sake--and I'd used my blower only three times.

So yeah, this freak snowstorm would probably be reduced to so many puddles in a few hours, but I got it in my head I ought to run the snow blower anyway. Wasn't as though I'd have many more opportunities this year. Plus, I needed something to do. Something that took my mind of things, yet didn't involve, you know, really hard work. Like shoveling an inch of heavy wet snow.

Instead, I set the Brownie and Thomas to do that, and they were only too happy to be out in the surprise snowfall. They ran off with their little kids' plastic shovels and proceeded to shovel the hell out of the porch and front walk. That they also occasionally shoveled away some sodden dirt from the front bed of Her Lovely Self's garden was an unfortunate, but acceptable occupational hazard.

Meanwhile, my heart quickened in anticipation as I strode to my snow blower. As I said, I've run it exactly three times since I got it. The first time was when I brought it home and cranked it up to make sure it worked.

The second time was when we got a meager dusting and I amused my neighbors by raising sparks off the mostly bare driveway while my snowblower sprayed the merest mist of snow like a giant sneeze across the yard (after that one, I was advised by many neighbors that I should probably save the snowblower for accumulations of more than half an inch).

The last time was when the wind was just right and I actually had drifts of up to three whole inches in my driveway. That was a fine day. Or rather, a fine 10 minutes, which, okay, was not fine so much as a bit anticlimactic. After all it took me longer to dress than to run the blower. I don't do things half-way, you know: I was in my full winter togs--layers of long underwear and sweatshirts and insulated pants under snowpants, plus a parka and a hat and one of those masky, hoody things whose name sounds like a Greek pastry. You know the one I mean. And last of all, I wore my final touch--my tinted ski goggles (If you're laughing, it's because you either own a pair of glasses OR a snow blower, but not both. Because if you did own both, you wouldn't laugh at my tinted ski goggles).

But that seemed so long ago now. Since then, the snowblower has been sitting in the garage with 3/4 of a tank of gas, just waiting for another chance to get out there and do its thing.

And here we were, already in spring, getting almost certainly the last snow of the year. And, I realized, as I stepped outside in my snowblower's costume (yes, including the goggles), the accumulation was actually barely an inch. Okay, a little less than that even.

Well, I didn't care if I was going to put on a light show for my neighbors. I'd just gotten over pneumonia and the snow was kind of heavy (mostly because it was already melting to slush), so why not let the snow blower take care of it, even if it meant throwing a few sparks? And if my neighbors made some smart remark, I'd just think of something even more cutting to say.

Balaclava. That's the masky hoody thing I was thinking of.

Anyway, there I was, in my winter togs, the kids already out and making a snowy wreckage of the front entrance. I moved the blower to the garage doorway, opened the choke, pumped the primer, pulled the start...


I hunkered down and checked the spark plug. Unaccustomed to weight of by winter clothes while in the hunkered position, I lost my balance, slipped back and landed on my butt on wet floor of the garage. While I was down there, I was more or less eye level with other essential doodads on the blowers, so I checked them, stood up, brushed myself off, pulled again...


Finally I did the obvious: opened the gas cap. The tank was bone-dry. What the hell? I may not be able to remember what a balaclava is, but I sure remembered I had more than half a tank of gas in here.

I sighed and grabbed the gas can from the shelf where I keep it. As I poured more gas in, it occurred to me that Her Lovely Self might have cranked it up and taken it for a spin, just to see what it was like. She's grown rather fond of gas-powered machinery, ever since she got her own little roto-tiller last summer. I'd ask her later.

The tank filled once more, I pumped the primer again, pulled the cord and she started up like a dream.

God, I love snowblowing. I don't know why I didn't get one of these sooner. So easy on your back (especially if you have a bad one, like me), and it's such a contemplative act, much like mowing the lawn. You're in your cocoon of sound and you almost enter a meditative state, watching the machine throw heaps of snow (okay, not heaps, but clumps at least), clearing the driveway. I found myself slipping into the zone, where everything on my mind slowly melted away. It was nice to set my burdens aside for the moment.

As I made my first short pass in front of the garage, I whirled the blower around and now was pointed towards the front door. The kids were alternately throwing snow at each other and eating it. The Brownie looked up at me, snow in her mouth and waved. I waved back.

Then the Brownie was frozen in mid-wave, her mouth open so wide, the snow fell out. She tugged at her brother's sleeve. He turned, glanced at me, turned back to his job, then did a double take and started shouting.

"Hi!" I hollered. But the snowblower engine was very loud and we couldn't hear each other.

At that moment, I realized the snowblower engine wasn't just loud. It was smelly, like something was going bad inside. Was there enough oil in there? What the heck?

And then I looked down and saw something odd. The snowblower looked kind of...wavy.

That's when I took off my tinted ski goggles and realized the snowblower wasn't wavy.

It was on fire. That was the wavy part.

I shut the thing down instantly, beating the flames with my gloves. My first thought was that I'd spilled a little excess gas on the exterior and something must have ignited it. Something like sparks on a partially bare driveway.

The weird thing was, the fire wasn't going out. In fact, now my gloves were on fire.

And then I heard what Thomas was shouting, just to clarify things: "DAD! YOU'RE ON FIRE!"

He wasn't talking about my gloves either. I looked all around me, stopping half-turned to look at my own backside. I looked exactly like that little girl from the old Coppertone ads. Except instead of being a little girl in a bathing suit, I was a sweaty 37-year-old man in 3 layers of winter clothing. Instead of having a sunburn, I was being actually burned. And instead of having some rakish dog yanking on the bottom of my bathing suit, I had flames--genuine flames, on the cement behind me, running straight up the back of my snowpants and licking my ass.

But besides that, yeah, exactly like that Coppertone kid...

GREAT entry... my first since subscribing to your blog through Hawesome Nickerson, and I have to say, I laughed my butt off. :) Kudos.
Oh, my, MM. I assume that since you typed this out that you weren't burned seriously...but can't you ever just have a safe, dull weekend? I know, what fun would THAT be?
Are you sure your real name isn't Tim Taylor? Well, if a distraction is what you wanted this weekend, sounds like you got it.
This is just the sort of thing to happen to you, isn't it?


Sounds like yon snowblower's got a gas leak. (Was there a puddle or stain in the garage?)
Ack! Drop and roll, MM! Geez you're going to give me a heart attack one of these days, I just know it.
THIS is why I don't operate gas-powered machinery. I'd catch on fire every single time...can't wait to see how you get out of this one! ;)
They say that fire is a cleansing. How'd that work out for ya?
stuff just always seems to happen to you...another terrific post. I just found it hard to get past the part about a foot of snow just barely getting a mention on the news. I cannot imagine. I can't even conjure up an image of you with the snowblower as I have never seen one. Except in the movies. Here in south Texas, if the weather should even hint at a possibility of ice flurries (in the air, not of course, on the ground) in the dead of winter, it causes streets, schools and banks to close. Just trying to imagine a white spring day...or a white winter day, for that matter.
I hope your family is doing well. Glad to see that even in darker times, you life is still a comedy of errors!
I suppose you'll look at this as validation for wearing 3 layers of winter clothing now. Stop. Drop. Roll. If you did it in the driveway, I bet it would take care of all the snow too.
I really enjoy your blog! I have wasted a bunch of my employers time reading it. I first found it through your son's blog, who seems to love dinosaurs and lizards as much as my own son.
I'm sorry to hear of your loss. Having gone though the same thing twice, I know how devistated you must feel...

PS I was born at elliot hospital too. Small world.
I can just imagine The Brownie and Mr. Lad staring at you for a moment, saying, "The old man did it again." I would think that, save their love for you, they would really enjoy your escapades, as though they had their very own private theatre of the absurd.

Stop, drop, and roll is *right*!! Of course I can guess that the reason you detailed what you were wearing was because all of that layering saved you from a right scorching.
Being in Mass., my dad has the saplings-to-mulch brand of snowblower. Hence it makes me laugh to hear you describe snowblowing as "so easy on your back". By the time my dad's done wrestling that beast up and down the driveway a few times he's pretty much on his butt for the next day or two.
omg... obviously you were ok...

I tell ya I can always depend on ya for a laugh...
Jeez, dude. I officially pass my Weirdness Magnet Crown to you. I am astounded.

Never a dull moment somewhere on the masthead...

OK, so this is ... what? Your version of getting back to the routine. *shakes his head in bewilderment* Oh boy, here we go ...MM rides again, yee haw!
ok, my Dad and I have had some things blow up on us, but neither of us has ever set ourselves on fire. And I agree with Heather, you're lucky you didn't set a trail of gas back to the garage and raze the whole house!
Hello, I've never commented here before, but came across your blog a while ago through Ryan at

I've just read this post and those under the side bar category "The Ones Everyone Asks About" - which are by turns amusing and sad, I love reading your blog.



PS, I hope you don't mind me linking you from my blog.
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