In Richfield, winters are in their own way, as bad as summer. The sky is as gray as ashes and the dying land is littered with brown leaves as dry as dust. The plants and trees are brittle skeletons that dance in the bitter winds. As the days grown ever darker, a dankness sets in. First comes the cold rain, then the sleet. The gloom is palpable.
Sales of alcoholic beverages go through the roof.
The previous year, Ma had become a volunteer; she was helping pimp the upcoming Tyrone Guthrie Theater. A worthy undertaking that got her out of the house and away from me a good part of the week. She’d hop the bus up on Portland Avenue and head to an office somewhere on Hennepin Avenue where she worked a phone bank, calling all the local swells and hitting them up for money. Because money was involved, Ma took to the work like a glutton takes to food. On this cold winter’s afternoon, she was down at the office, ten miles and a two hour bus ride away from me. I had the house to myself.
What to do, what to do?
I went to the desk in my bedroom at took a stab at the chemistry book and its page of homework. Deadly dull. Like a shot of Novocain in the brain. I soon cast it aside. Back in the living room, I turned on the TV; only thing on was Howdy Doody. Crap.
I sat on the couch trying to think of some way to kill the hours until Ma returned and we could engage in another battle over my sloth and indolence. “Listen, Buster,” she’d growl, “All you do is flunk your courses and sit around like an old woman. You’ll never amount to anything. Your poor father works like a dog to provide for you and all the thanks he gets are your failures. You’ll be a drag on society. Honestly.” Other times she browbeat me about the salutary effects of Tang, the ghastly drink of the Astronauts: “If you drank more Tang, you might become like them and not the wastrel you are. Honestly.”
I sat alone in the silence looking out the front window at the dreary world. I had all this free time and couldn’t think of a thing to do.
Ah, but wait! An idea began to form.
Against the living room’s far wall sat the Hi-Fi. Dad picked it up the previous summer and Ma, with her pretensions to art, had a acquired a whole stack of albums; mostly long-plays, but some 78’s as well. One of the 78’s was Ravel’s ‘Bolero”. It was Ma’s favorite. Well now.
What if I taped a darning needle to the front of the phonograph’s tone arm? What if I taped a half-dollar on top of the tone arm? What if I put “Bolero” on the turntable, powered up the Hi-Fi and when the turntable reached 78 RPM, I carefully set the darning needle-cum-tone arm down into the lead groove? YESSSSS!
As the turntable spun, the darning needle plowed out great curls of the record’s material. The record was ruined for good and all. I blew off all the chunks and curls, removed the darning needle and half-dollar, returned the tone arm to its resting place and carefully placed the disk back in its jacket and returned the album to its place in the stack. Bingo!
It took about a week before Ma decided to listen to the sweet, burgeoning strains of “Bolero” but when she did, out came naught but squawks, squeals, hoots and crunches “What happened to my record?” she bellowed. “It’s ruined,” she all but wept. Her face turning red with fury, Ma turned to me: “It was you, wasn’t it?” she hissed. “I knew it,” she spat, “I knew it. I can never have anything I want but that you ruin it!” Ma was jerking and lurching around the living room so I decided it was time to get out of the house. Bundled up against the elements, I headed for Dave’s place where we played Monopoly until dinner was called and his mom shooed me home.
As I came in the door, I heard Ma giving Dad a screed of particulars about her delinquent son, ungrateful lout that I was.
“Jesus Christ, Peach*” said Dad, “Don’t blow a gasket. I’ll pick up another copy tomorrow.”
We ate dinner in awkward silence. Another blow had been struck for freedom and right-thinking.
*PS: Peach was Ma’s life-long appellation. She explained to my friend, Paul, that Grandma Hazel gave it to her because, as Ma put it, “I have skin like a peach.” I couldn’t resist; “Yeah, Paul, that’s because it’s yellow, fuzzy and full of pits.”