Snowed in with the Lizard Man

Mar 31, 2013 by

 

For Tara and her family

The frigid breeze was sharply pointed needles lightly brushing back and forth across my face.  It was the reality of being in New Jersey on a February.  We departed Newark Airport and headed west on Interstate 78.  It started to snow.

Northwestern New Jersey isn’t much different than what you would find throughout rural America – farm houses sitting on acres of flat open plains, the occasional deer sighting, long stretched out country roads and the town’s gas station serving as the top producer for the local economy.  The area represents a simple remote lifestyle thousands of miles from anything urban, even though New York City is only 90 miles away.

As we made our way out of Newark towards the New Jersey countryside the sights from the car window became boringly predictable.  For mile after mile, a passenger took in a tree lined highway covered liberally with fast falling snow.  The view of the landscape was drawn using black and white colors.  As we approached the exit off I78, closer to our destination, marked the only time I noticed an actual building. It appeared out of place for such a desolate area.  Nestled in with the thick wooded landscape, almost hidden from view, were these large pharmaceutical companies’ manufacturing plants. It felt like they moved their operations out to the area to begin serving time in some corporate witness protection program.  However, I am certain to most; these pharmaceutical companies are not off the grid by any means. Their secret location was anything but, especially amongst the many customers needing these large corporations to pump out the latest pill to satisfy their fix.

We made a right then a left and I believe another right before reaching our final destination.  With the Pennsylvania boarder less than 15 miles away, I stepped out of the vehicle and looked around at my surroundings.  It appeared to me that we were transported to a small western Massachusetts community.  It was the home of my wife’s college roommate and close friend who had invited us up to spend the weekend with her family.  We gathered up our belongings and walked inside.

My wife and her college roommate continued their close friendship after college.  They speak on the phone regularly, and they’ve both made it a priority to see each other on a regular basis. Over the years, and before kids, my wife and I along with her good friend and husband traveled together on some.   We’ve been to each other’s weddings, spent five crazy days together out of our minds on an island deep in the Caribbean, and together experienced a disastrous casino weekend[i] many years ago in Connecticut.

Our families both have two children, all around the same ages, so it’s always great for them to stay busy playing with each other as the adults catch up and do adult things.

Reports were calling for a massive snow storm for most of the Northeast, with some parts of New England predicting up to 30 or more inches.  Miles and miles away in his Massachusetts home, my father sat expressionless in front of the television watching the weather channel’s continuous coverage of the winter storm.  We basically did the same thing my father was doing.  The four adults were seated in the living room to watch the local station’s meteorologist bear the elements so to best explain to everyone watching that it was indeed snowing outside.  The kids ran around the house completely oblivious to what was occurring outside.   The entire Northeast by nights fall would be covered with a blanket of snow, but to those four children playing with each other was priority number one.  Plus there was a birthday party happening in a few hours to prepare for with a very special guest planning to attend.

It was reminiscent of any family birthday party I attended growing up in Massachusetts.  Tonight’s was for our friend’s oldest son who would be turning six on Sunday.  The weather became more of an issue for those traveling longer distances to attend the birthday party, it was an hour before the party was set to kickoff and we were unsure who would show up, if anyone.

The doors flew open and through them came family members, long time friends of the family, children and parents from the local elementary school and neighbors with their children.  In their grasp were birthday presents, trays of food, wine and beer.  I stood in the kitchen to get a glimpse of what was to be served at tonight’s party.  Only in the Northeast – for about twelve adults and a small gathering of young children there was enough food to feed everyone in for a week.

Trays stacked with deli style sandwich offerings from the very best cold cuts to eggplant.  Bowls of freshly made salads, large rectangular tin trays of Italian sausages and peppers and more fried chicken than one could possibly dream; all carefully displayed on the kitchen countertops.  With a show of constraint so as not to be rude, I waited for someone to signal the okay to sample before dinner.

Besides my family, what I miss most about living in the Northeast are feasts like this.  Not only did I continue to eat eggplant sandwiches and fried chicken well after the actual dinner had concluded; we ate the leftovers at almost every meal through the weekend.  I was happy.

Then he arrived.   I overheard conversations throughout the party but the details were scarce at best.  I received contradictory answers to where this person came from, what he did for a living, and how he was invited to this party as the night’s headlining entertainer.

His appearance resembled an Italian chef, stocky built with dark features, sporting a graying beard.  He wore a broken-in brown leather brimmed hat, like something Indiana Jones would wear when dealing with Nazi’s or digging up some prized artifact.  He swiftly walked through the house carrying an enormous plastic storage bin container (which I have only seen when used for storing Christmas decorations) asking anyone along the way where to set up.  He removed his camouflage jacket in the room used mostly as an office, and told the children to gather around.  The Lizard Man had arrived.

My top five fears in no particular order:

  1. Heights
  2. My 2nd grade teacher
  3. Roller Coasters
  4. Office birthday parties

And

  1. Reptiles – with snakes being most fearful in this particular class of animals.

He sat down on the chair and leaned in just ever so slightly towards the children, who were seated semi-circle and staring ahead with wide eyes, a sense of the unexpected falling over them.  My daughter and I opted to stay in the back, far removed from the other children.  We wanted to be ready for any incidents of poisonous reptiles escaping from the confines of the plastic storage bin.  At least that is why I remained far from the Lizard Man.  The Lizard Man then began to speak.  I am not sure what he said verbatim, however, it had something to do with the rules of the night.  I tuned out,  I respect my fears and plan to live by own set of rules regarding reptiles – stay the fuck away from anything coming from the Lizard Man’s plastic storage bin.

He removed the top and pulled out a cinched linen bag.  He untied it, reached down into it and removed our first reptile of the night.  My anxiety picked up some as the albino snake curled its body around his forearm.  I tried like hell to suppress everything I felt so to put on a false front of fearlessness with my daughter.  She saw right through me.

For the next two hours Lizard Man pulled out fucking snakes, turtles, and strange bugs, all types of lizards for children to touch and learn about.  My daughter had grown tired of me acting like a pussy so she left me to join the other children gathered within feet of the Lizard Man.

For the encore, he pulled out an eight foot yellow and white scaled Burmese Python.  My daughter walked right up to the front and the Lizard Man put the snake around her neck.  It’s possible she is not of my blood.

The Lizard Man packed up the snake and shortly thereafter was out the door to head home.  A sense of relief came over me.

The remainder of the night continued with children playing and adults drinking.  I would pass through the kitchen every fifteen minutes to pick on the tray of sausage and peppers even though I was beyond full.  Many in attendance, including the maternal grandparents of the birthday boy, had made the trip from the Jersey coast.  It was less than four months since Hurricane Sandy and many had witnessed the destruction of the horrendous storm in late October of 2012.  I listened intently to story after story of the havoc Sandy caused to so many residents of New Jersey.  It was only then Hurricane Sandy became very real to me.  It was only then I could see the true hurt and pain in the eyes of those who suffered through it.  It was only then I felt true sadness for those who lost so much.  It was only then I remembered the Northeast are a resilient people.

We gathered around the dining room table to sing and watch our friend’s son blow out six candles.  The night wound down quickly, by 11:00 PM I was fast asleep on the living room couch.

I awoke the next morning and it was still snowing.

I have to admit, I truly enjoy being snowed in.  All plans of leaving the house were scrapped.  The day would be spent stretched out on the couch with left over stuffed faces.  For me, the circumstances were ideal, nothing to do and no one to answer to.  After a long January of work stresses and family sickness, I along with my wife just needed to get out of town and hang out with good friends.  I loved there was no agenda for the weekend and the peace I felt was refreshing and very much needed.

Many of my desires have drastically changed in a relatively short period of time.  I remember not too long ago, before the kids, when traveling to see good friends, we would pack in a full agenda of sightseeing, bar hopping, attending concerts or just taking in the city offerings well into the night.  Today I want to do nothing.

Usually, about three days before leaving for a trip of any kind, I simply don’t want to leave.  The feeling eventually subsides and more times than not I have fun.  This trip felt different.  No anxiety came over me in the days leading up to us leaving; I was actually anticipating getting out of Dodge even if it were for a few days.  Maybe, like visiting my parents, hanging out with our friends from New Jersey renders familiarity and comfort.   Children, careers and maybe even age all play factors in seeking out this rarest of time to be able to just sit and take in a conversation.  Maybe I was overworked, tired from watching the kids when Caroline was out of town for work, or maybe the anticipation of being snowed in without a place to go appealed to me.  Whatever the reason, I wanted to go to New Jersey.

Throughout Saturday and into Sunday we never left the confines of the house.  The kids all got along so well and were content playing with each other every single minute of the weekend.   I saw the children infrequently, catching them on the occasional lap around the house as they belted out primal screams for no apparent reason.  We watched episodes four, five, and six of the Star Wars trilogy, revisiting the films of my youth only elevated my fandom.

We took the kids out to the backyard for a snowball fight and to sled down some hills, quickly returning to the couch with a plate of food.  I wished for the weekend to be extended; hoping for the snow to continue falling.  The adults sat pain free in the living room locked in to conversations about past travels and the people we encountered along the way.  We were so content with what we were doing (or rather not doing) that our friend dismissed all calls to her phone from those wanting to express birthday wishes to her. Her birthday fell on this particular Saturday and she was more or less burdened by anyone wishing to recognize it.  I could relate.

My wish wasn’t granted, our perfect little enclave couldn’t continue, so we made sure to appreciate every moment before returning to the real world of flight delays, cranky kids and the relentless beat of another work week.  The trip home was as you would expect, the work week the same as always, and the days continue to churn on at their petty pace.  It’s helpful to know when I’m buried in paperwork or dealing with one crisis or other, that friends like Tara and James are out there, even if the Lizard Man is somewhere close by.

 



[i] When I am granted permission by all parties involved this story will be told.  I have visions of turning it into an off Broadway play

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