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The Truth, Mainly - 02/12/1996

Open letter to a man whose windshield I kicked snow on

An open letter to the white-haired gentleman on whose windshield I kicked snow while he was stopped at 48th and St. Paul at 4:43 p.m. on Feb. 1, 1996:

It wasn't entirely my fault.

You probably assume that the act of kicking snow on someone else's windshield is, prima facie, de jure and de facto, wrong, wrong, wrong. Right?

How often we jump to such conclusions when we don't consider all the facts.

First, you may remember, sir, that I was wearing a snappy little Greek seaman's cap pulled down rakishly over my right eye. It was a birthday gift; I had to wear it. When I put it on, I felt Mediterranean and Zorbaesque, not at all myself. Who could hold me responsible for anything I'd do wearing a cap like that?

Second, you may also remember, I had just come out of Kaufman's Furniture at the corner where you were waiting for the traffic light. The problem was not with the store (I often come out of there without kicking snow on windshields) but with my reason for being there.

It was because just the night before, I set my recliner on fire. Well, not on fire actually. There wasn't a flame, just a dull red glow and lots of smoke.

I first smelled it while I was reclining and watching the 6 o'clock news.

"Are you cooking supper tonight, m'love?" I asked my wife. "I smell smoke."

In our division-of-labor arrangement, I put down the toilet seat and cook the supper; she does everything else. If I forget to start supper soon enough, she sometimes puts things in the skillet and burns them to remind me.

"Perhaps a neighbor has a malodorous log on the fire," she said.

"Well," I said, "I certainly hope it doesn't get any stronger."

I reclined in my recliner again. It got stronger.

"When I recline in my recliner," I said, "it gets stronger."

"That's because," she observed, "your recliner is smoking."

"Hah?" I rejoined.

"You are a boob," she said. "You've reclined your recliner right into the hot lightbulb of the reading lamp. There is the beginning of a serious conflagration three inches from your left ear."

"Like fun," I said.

"If I weren't here to notice things for you," she said, "you'd recline in your recliner smelling smoke until the firemen chopped a hole in the roof. Now we're going to have to buy a new chair."

I looked. Sure enough, there was a smoldering hole in the top of the back of the recliner three inches from my left ear. But it wasn't a large smoldering hole.

"The hole is only as big as a light bulb," I said, "and if we spray water on it, the chair will be as good as new."

"No," she said, "it will never be as good as new. It wasn't as good as new even when it was new. If you don't replace the recliner with an expensive and tasteful new one, I believe I shall run off with the milkman."

The Truth, Mainly


"Hah," I said. "We have no milkman. We've had no milkman since 1962."

"The postman then," she said. "If you don't go out and buy a costly new recliner tomorrow, I'll run off with the postman."

We have a postman.

So I agreed to Look Around for a new recliner. But not happily.

And I wasn't happy when I came out of Kaufman's where I'd been Looking Around. I saw you stopped for your red light at 48th and St. Paul, looking as if you'd never burned a hole in your recliner by reclining it right into a hot lamp.

I don't mean to be accusatory, sir, but you also had the gall to be driving a wine-colored car, the same color that a friend of mine drives. You had the effrontery to have white hair and a white mustache just like that very friend has. And you must have heard in the barber shop of the legendary witty jokes this friend and I often play on each other—like kicking snow on one another's windshield.

I thought you were in fact that friend—who only an hour earlier had wittily asked me which piece of furniture I intended to burn today.

That mistaken identity, my distress over having to choose between buying a new recliner and having my wife run off with the postman, my new Greek seaman's cap pulled down rakishly over my right eye—they all came together in irresistible convergance.

I admit that in the split second after I kicked the snow, soccer-style, toward your windshield and before it splatted a few inches in front of your nose, I saw that you had not only white hair and a white mustache, but also a white goatee.

My friend has no goatee. And I had an awful thought: there might be more than one wine-colored car in Lincoln.

That's why you saw me look at my watch and walk briskly back into Kaufman's. I knew they had a back exit.

That's the best case I can make. I suspect that Newt Gingrich is somehow involved—in ways so devious they may not come to light for several more elections. In the meantime, I admit to a certain amount of guilt. I apologize.


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage meaning from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.


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