By Laura Cella
It was my twentieth wedding anniversary a few Thursdays ago and my husband Jamie and I went out to dinner. I went with two of his sisters to a restaurant in Manhattan and he joined his cousin and her husband at their house in Santa Monica. He flies home every Friday night and, like a 36-hour clock precisely wound, returns to Los Angeles on Sunday evening.
Sometimes I wonder if the ceramic bride and groom on our wedding cake were accidentally placed facing in opposite directions. While living in the same place at the same time has sometimes proved difficult, our marriage only became a cross-country relay event three years ago, when he became the President and CEO of The Culver Studios, known throughout the movie-going world as the big, white house seen in the introductory frame of every David O. Selznick film.
While living simultaneous lives on opposite coasts can be Hell, it also comes with unexpected moments of incomparable sweetness that I don’t think would be there if we were together all the time. Sometimes these moments are simultaneous. Sometimes they involve snow.
I really only like snow from a distance, like when Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney are singing as they walk through it, arm in arm. When I am faced with the reality of it, I hate it. It was on my mind from the moment Jamie accepted the job at Culver.
“What’ll I do when it snows?” I had asked in October, as he packed linen clothes for sunny L.A.
“We have that huge new snow blower. “
“I don’t know how to use it.”
“I’ll write it out. You’ll be fine.”
One day last February snow was forecast, a lot of snow, the kind of snowfall that made my student’s noses quiver with delight, as though, like rabbits, they could feel it coming. They were right, because at five a. m. it announced its arrival by a ringing phone.
“Laura, it’s Pam from the snow chain. We have a snow day today.”
I awakened a couple of hours later to a world smothered in snow. Enough snow for a day off is good, but what was piled outside my bedroom window was overkill. And it was still coming, tiny, crispy, little crystalline flakes floating happily to the ground covering trees, bushes, and trellises. It seemed as if a giant Martha Stewart had gotten carried away with the sugar shaker.
Staring at it dolefully didn’t make it go away, so I decided to blow it. I didn’t want to spend the entire day and night marooned. How hard could it be? All manner of confidence-boosting mantras burbled in my brain as I dressed in multiple layers of sweatpants. Then I dialed our house in Santa Monica, the house near the beach where it doesn’t snow. I woke him.
“I’m going to snow blow so I don’t have to stay here all day.”
“Is it hard?”
“No, it’s pretty easy. It’s self-propelled, after all.”
Outside, actually standing next to it, the snow blower looked a lot bigger than it had when that nice man had delivered it from Wyckoff Power Equipment. I pulled off the note Jamie had taped to it. “Plug it in. Push the orange lever forward. Press the black button. It’s electric start so you’ll be fine.”
Like the diligent student I’ve always been, I followed the directions to the letter. Vrooooom! It roared to life. I had planned to aim the Zamboni-sized monstrosity up the hill toward the road, but I couldn’t move it. It weighed two tons. Thinking the self-propulsion would help, I squeezed the handle and gave it gas. Pow! It jumped and dragged me into the garage wall. This was harder than I thought. Inch by inch I turned the snow blower until it pointed mostly uphill toward the road, definitely away from the garage. Squeezing the gas handle again and holding on tight simultaneously proved to be the key. It chugged up the hill projectile-vomiting all the snow in its path. It was huge, though, and heavy, and despite the self-propulsion or maybe because of it, I ended up with a really crooked furrow. Regardless of what propelled it, it still had to be pushed low to the ground and guided. It looked like a nearsighted groundhog with faulty GPS had tried to burrow uphill in the dark. My confidence ebbed. One badly plowed trough in the snow wasn’t going to solve the driveway problem. At the top of the hill, I let off the gas and, again, inched it into the correct position. By now I was sweating profusely in my down jacket so I ripped it off and tossed it over the stone pillar that frames my driveway and continued in my sweats. Downhill was easier (the self-propulsion, again) but since it was downhill and I am just over 100 pounds, I lost control of the machine and it thumped along with me clinging to it. Nearing the end of the hill, and trying to hold onto it, I forgot to stop squeezing the gas lever and crashed into the garage wall again.
My spirit of adventure left as I landed on my butt in the cold, steadily deepening snow. My ego was completely deflated. Obviously, I couldn’t do this. There was too much snow, it was snowing too hard still, and I was just not big or strong enough to handle the machine. I began to feel sorry for myself. My rotten husband went to Los Angeles and left me here in the Arctic. My nose started to dribble and fat, hot tears welled in my eyes. Too stubborn to surrender, I tugged on the giant machine until it faced uphill again. I began a new channel next to the previous one. Suddenly it got harder to push the machine and it looked like less snow was being churned up and spewed out. I released the gas and shoved the lever into Park. Crouching in front of the behemoth I saw that one of the churning blades, the far left one, was spinning lazily. I touched it. It twirled like a Texas cheerleader’s baton. It was broken. Something had broken it. Pushing away the caked snow I saw that a twig stuck out at a weird angle, like a broken arm. I realized exactly what was wrong because it had happened before. The rigid twig had jammed the blades causing the shear bolt to snap.
Fury crashed over me like a tidal wave. I stumbled through the slippery mess into the garage and grabbed the extension phone. Wiping my nose with my left sweatshirt sleeve, I dialed L.A. with my right hand. Jamie answered.
“It’s broken!” I sobbed.
“It’s broken. The damn snow blower is broken. The snow is so heavy it snapped a little branch from the maple tree near the well house and it’s still snowing so it got buried by the snow and I didn’t see it so I ran over it and it wedged in the blade and broke the shear bolt again and now the stupid thing’s broken and I’m stuck here in eight inches of snow all by myself and it’s seventy-five degrees where you are and you left me here all alone and I want a divorce.”
Silence. Then, “I’ll call you back.”
Heaving with sobs at life’s unfairness and the relentless snow and my husband’s selfishness and, truth be told, my own incompetence, I stomped into the house, kicked off my boots and threw myself onto the kitchen window seat to cry. After about twenty minutes I felt a bit better and decided to make a cup of tea. I unfolded my legs to rise from the seat, and a red SUV appeared at the top of my driveway. “Oh, great. He’s broken down right there so even if I could get someone to plow he’d be blocking the driveway,” I mumbled. Just as I was about to pull on my boots to go back outside I realized whose car it was. It was Jamie’s friend Kurt. He strode down the driveway. The snow seemed to part in front of his 6’4’ frame.
I opened the back door.
“Hey, Jamie called me from California and said you needed help with the snow blower so I brought an extra bolt from my house. Those darn things break so easily, don’t they?”
Kurt fixed the snow blower and cleaned the entire driveway. Then he had a cup of hot tea with me in the warm kitchen and drove to his own house. I had a clean driveway and didn’t have to stay home all day if I didn’t want to. I didn’t go anywhere, though, once the driveway was plowed. I snuggled on the couch with the dog and watched Turner Classic Movies. And it’s a good thing because if I had, I might not have been there to open the door when the truck arrived from The Little Flower Shoppe in Ridgewood bringing a dozen snow colored roses. The card read “Happy Snow Day. Your worthless husband.”