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If you have never seen the movie “Turner & Hooch,” you may not “get” this reference, but I am presently in the midst of a writer’s crisis, which is to say that there’s something on my mind that troubles me so deeply that I’m having great difficulty organizing my thoughts in just the right way to present my case in a way that is productive, meaningful, and thought-provoking for readers to consider. It is genuinely keeping me up at night, tossing and turning, as so many iterations are competing with each other to convince me of the right way to proceed. What does that have to do with Turner and Hooch, you ask?

In the movie, the main character (Scott Turner/ Tom Hanks) is losing his shit, trying to figure out what he’s missing in his investigation of a local murder. Early in a new relationship, his new girlfriend (Town vet Emily Carson/ Mare Winningham) suggests that he think about something altogether different and unrelated… It’s what she always does when she can’t collect her thoughts… And that it will come to him out of nowhere. I’ll leave it to you to figure out what she talks him into doing to distract himself, but it ultimately works, and he figures it out. By the way… This is one of my top five favorite movies, and I highly recommend it if you haven’t already seen it. The upside of watching it is you’ll get a chance to flush your tear ducts.

Anyway, having finished and sent a lengthy reply to a dear friend and ongoing penpal (having mentioned my current writing conundrum to her in that reply), I was thinking about a story she had told me in her earlier message, and it reminded me of something I had done similarly many years ago, so the story I bring forward in this piece is my way of doing a Scott Turner self-distraction hoping it might break the ice Jam in my head.

I grew up in the Maryland suburbs of the nation’s capital. A little shy of my 20th birthday, I got it in my head that I was sick of that town and, because my brother was an alumnus of UNH (and a member of one of the fraternities), and I had been there many times over the years he was in school, I’d give New Hampshire a go since I would know someone once I got settled.

Like any dumbass 19-year-old, incapable of thinking ahead or doing any planning, I spent the weekend drunk and stoned and partying with my childhood friends to celebrate my going away and spreading my wings. My childhood best friend and I overslept, of course, but we set out late morning on Monday, February 6th, 1978, and headed up 95 out of DC toward the great Northeast. We flipped coins for who would drive first (I won, settled in the passenger seat, and got stoned using a pipe I had bought with an oversized bowl and a suction cup attached to the face of the stereo with clear plastic tubes coming out for driver and passenger), filled up the gas tank in my 74 Camaro, stocked up on soda and junk food, and headed out for our first big Thelma and Louise Adventure.

DC to Delaware, and over the Delaware Memorial Bridge, was easy peasy. We hit the Jersey Turnpike, stopped at that first rest stop to top off the tank, empty our bladders, and kept on truckin’. Life was amazing; Zeppelin was keeping us company, and we were having the times of our lives. About 2/3 of the way up the turnpike, snowflakes starting to fly, and the god-awful stench of the refineries just south of New York, we began to notice the weather was taking a pretty rapid and very harsh turn for the worse. Once we hit the”Welcome to New York, give us all your money” toll booth to get across the GW Bridge, shit was getting real.

By the time we were on the home stretch, just crossing the Massachusetts line, with several hours still to go (under normal driving conditions), the snow accumulation was already so incredibly bad that we were driving 20 miles an hour, staying far enough away from the car in front of us that we had time to skid- stop if we had to, without causing any damage. Completely sober, freaking the hell out, white knuckle grip with both hands on the steering wheel, we finally made it to campus after what should have been a 10-hour Drive that was actually more like 20. We were greeted warmly, a beer handed to each of us (as I remember, it took three or four to get the heart rate back to normal), and we were each given Sub-Zero polar sleeping bags and sent off to bed “up on Deck”.

As I said earlier, I had been to that place quite a few times over the years after my brother moved out and went to college. I had slept on the deck quite a few times, but I had only done so in spring, summer, or fall seasons… Never in the winter. I always thought the deck was a pretty cool idea the room was roughly 20ft wide by 30ft long, had a few widely spaced small windows on either wall, no climate control, and the windows were always mostly opened year-round. On each wall, there was a row of bunk beds with the heads of the beds up against the outside walls and an aisle between the two rows wide enough to walk up and down to bed or to the exit door without getting in each other’s way.

When we walked into that room… “got on Deck”, to be precise… There were no overhead lights by Design; what little lighting there was came indirectly from the street lights quite a distance away. It was fucking freezing in that room. The only difference between the deck and standing out in the middle of the street was that there was less wind and, therefore less wind chill (as well as no blowing snow), and all you could see was the plumes of hot air coming out of the mouths of the fraternity Brothers, laying flat on their back every inch of their skin covered except for their face, snoring like the drunk Frat Boys they were, and – remembering it now in my mind’s eye – the only way to describe it would be to suggest that it looked like two columns of miniature geysers letting off plumes of steam,

The Blizzard of 78 dumped over 4 ft of snow where I was, and everything everywhere was closed for ten days. I happened to be on a college campus, and the “Packy” (package store for those of you unfamiliar with this term) stayed open the entire time. All the roads were closed, but you could walk down to the store, which we took turns doing, sleds and toboggans in tow, to restock the beer supply. Once the snow stopped, one of the alumni borrowed the front-end loader from the company he worked for and pushed all the snow into what became a 10 ft tall snowbank where we each took a folding metal chair, picked our spot on the snow mountain built for us (six-pack in hand), and sat there watching the neighboring snow bunny sorority sisters come and go until our fingers were numb or we ran out of beer… And when the day was done, we got back on Deck to warm up and get ready for the next day ahead.

We shall see soon enough whether this has loosened the ice Jam in my head, but remembering those days has certainly widened the smile on my face.


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