Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, January 03, 2008



It could have been worse, of course--I mean, winter, at least so far. It could have started somewhere around Thanksgiving already instead of waiting until mid-December. We could have had early season snowfalls that brought down tree branches still full of leaves: such things happen. I'm not complaining.


So last week, when we were in Wisconsin, nine inches of heavy snow falls over the city descending over tree and dale like a rich thick white mink stole. It was--honestly--perfectly gorgeous.

Afflicted by terminal insomnia once the clock passes about five, I get up the next morning, actually put my shoes on outside our rented room in the old folks home, grab my camera and computer, pull on my gloves, my hat, zip up my heavy winter coat around me (winter makes such incredible demands), and tiptoe outside. It can be deathly quiet in a place like that, which is, I know, an regretful use of words.

The car doors are frozen shut. I walk over to a path in the snow and put down the camera and computer bags, then, with my fleece gloves, attempt to pull the ice from between the door and car frame. There's a scraper about a foot away, of course, but inside the frozen doors. Ain't we got fun.

I'm mad. I jerk on the door, hoping to force it open and the handle sort of mysteriously gives way but the door doesn't open. I'm even more mad. I go from door to door to door, working at each of them, jerking and pulling while liberally emitting a vulgarity commonly used to refer to barnyard excrement.

It's pitch dark, of course. and I'm fifty feet at best from the front windows of some of home's residents, bedrooms probably too, so when somehow--I still don't know how--I set off the car's alarm--that patterned honking that drives even saints to vulgarity--I'm sure forty residents will collectively be dialing 911 and soon enough half the Sheboygan Police Department--even some not on duty--will be showing up right here, lights flashing, the SWAT team edging their rifles from around snowy corners.

Somehow--I still don't know how--I stop the bleating, blankety-blank horn. An act of grace, one of few.

I keep jerking until finally--again, I don't know how--the rear driver's side door nudges open. Something from Handel's Messiah begins playing in my head.

I climb in, figuring that if I start up the car and let it run for awhile maybe all the doors will open. I've got two hours at least before dawn, and I wasn't going to do anything anyway just then but show up at Starbucks, drink the morning's special, and mooch wi-fi.

From the back seat, I start the car, then--I'm not Tinkerbelle--back out like a rhino and shut the door behind me.

I retrieve the camera and computer bags, lug them all back inside the home, and sit in the breezeway of the front door because I don't have a clue about the code I need to know to gain entrance to the place.

Ten minutes pass, and I walk back out. What I didn't know about this new car--my mother's, in fact--is that somewhere there's a line in a Buick book that says, "Thou shalt not leave this car running under danger of the doors locking." It's a commandment I never read.

I can't get back in.

I've got only one alternative. Perhaps my wife, in her wisdom, lugged along another set of keys to Wisconsin. I look down at my watch. I could call her on the cell, but it's almost six so I figure I'll try the front door, whose code I don't know. When I come up close, it opens. Another act of mercy. There were few.

There's an old man sitting at a table awaiting a breakfast that won't come for another two hours. He looks at me, startled. I would be too. I'm sure I look like a chrome-domed abominable snowman.

I take the el upstairs, fiddle with the keys (the locks require a physicist), and finally my wife, sleep-laden opens the stupid door. "By any chance?" I say. She shakes her head.

I go back downstairs, where the man awaiting breakfast is still alive and head for the "we-need-a-bit-more care" part of the home, where there are nurses or whatever on duty, human beings at least. I ask for a phone book from a young lady who can't be much out of high school. She directs me to a phone, expresses her horror at my situation, then pushes a cart full of dishware off to the dining room, leaning over to reveal a huge Harley Davidson tatoo on her upper butt.

I call the number that paid for the big yellow pages ad, and the only answer I get is a message that says "Your memory is full." I'm not sure what of, but maybe it's this story.

Ms. Harley Davidson comes back, sweetly, and asks whether I've had any luck. When my horror is frozen on my face, she says that probably none of the guys are in the shop yet. She has countenance of someone who would know such things.

So I go into the home's spacious party room--for the aging residents, the party room is more important as a concept than a reality, I suppose--and watch CNN for a half hour on the gigantic but fuzzy TV screen, big as a wall. A half-hour later, I call another number from the list I've written down--maybe the guys are in the shop now--and a sleepy woman answers, asks me what kind of Buick this one is--"I don't know," I say, "a big one, a really big one"--and says a guy will show up in twenty minutes or a half hour.

He does. "This is that big Buick Nancy was telling me," he says laughing. He puts this balloon-like thing between the door and the frame, gives it a couple handfuls of air, and a crevice appears, something wide enough for his wire, which he uses to finagle the window opener, which opens the window easily, and he reaches in and unlocks the door. Five minutes, at best. Takes longer to fill out the form, a ritual during which we sit in his truck.

He's a nice guy. Cusses a ton, so much I don't have to. Says he wants to go home quick because the trees out back of his place are absolutely gorgeous and he wants to take pictures--and immediately I try to remember where I left my camera.

"Oh," he says, "you're handle's busted. You must have gotten mean." He says it's a problem that doesn't amount to much, really, and it happens all the time.

At this point, I don't care. I'm in the Buick.

Chapter Two.

If my wife isn't along, I have to crawl through the passenger door to reach the driver's side. It's not pretty. So as soon as we get back to Iowa, I call the garage and tell them. A nice guy on the other end says they've got the part on hand, but it's going to have to be painted because GM doesn't feel like doing two dozen different colored door handles or whatever. He says he's got to bring it to Northside Auto Body to get it painted, and that'll cost $50 or so. The part, he says, is another $60.

I'm not good with figures, but I'll spare you the toil. It cost me $65 to get the locksmith out, plus another $11o to replace the blasted handle--and that's without labor. I figure I'm lucky if I get out of this a buck or two less than 200 bucks.

This morning I'm bringing the Buick in for what amounts to a half-hour job.
Last Saturday morning in Wisconsin, I wasn't in the mood for pictures--as you can clearly see. Winter can be gorgeous, but that morning was pure barnyard excrement.

That image up on top of the story? That's something akin to what the old man saw coming in the front door at an unearthly time last Saturday morning. I think he lived to tell the tale.

I'm not so sure about me.

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