“The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.” — Henry Van Dyke
Maine 2014: I thought by now, this first day of spring, that I would be eating takeout on a bench in the park, tossing bits of my Big Mac to the squirrels, or at least dancing in the rain like Gene Kelly.
It’s almost April. What possibly could go wrong?
My linen jackets are lined up in the closet in anticipation of the arrival of spring. But I am fortune’s fool and alas, I stand here by the window feeling like Dostoyevsky’s Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov, the poor, depressed student in “Crime and Punishment.” Of course, I had to look it up. Not that I read all of “Crime and Punishment,” or all of any of Dostoyevsky’s works.
New York 1957: Martha, I only remember that her last name ended with a “vitch,” a Russian emigre ballet dancer, gave me my first copy of the book when I was sharing an apartment with her and five others in Manhattan, in Martha’s rent controlled apartment overlooking Verdi Square in midtown, and I remember standing at the frosted window with a hot cup of tea, looking out at the statue of Verdi, covered with snow that covered the pigeon poop.
I recall that the Lipton tea bag I was using had been shared with four others previously. There was Robert Corea, a comic book artist who was depressed because he was only employed as an inker by a more famous comic book artist.
There was big Bob Bostwick, an unemployed stage hand, and his girlfriend Ellen from Seattle. Ellen played the guitar, and Charlie Clausen from Williston, N.D., who delighted us all with his amazing recipe for fried chicken livers.
The cast of this apartment was constantly changing. Martha seemed always to be picking up strangers among the vast ocean of unemployed theater people.
This fifth floor dwelling constantly smelled of stale beer, cabbage and potatoes, cat litter from Martha’s cat and wet wool from the pile of coats by the door. Consider all of this and think how lucky you are to suffer the delights of the first spring day in Maine.
I remember that it was five or six days past the first day of spring, and the garbage cans were covered with snow. I was about to start my theatrical career playing Konstantin in Chekov’s “The Seagull,” Off Broadway, in a theater so far off Broadway it seemed like New Jersey, and in a theater so small, you had to go outside to change your mind.
OK, I stole that from the great Milton Berle, but he’s dead and that theater is probably part of the West Side Highway. So there.
She, who was always employed in New York, either as an actress or saleswoman or dancer/waitress in a small very private night club, seemed oblivious to the snow and cold.
“It’s always like this in the winter where I come from,” she’d say as she kicked her way through the snow in her big woolen coat, chirping like an early robin. I remember thinking to myself, she’s either a drunk or an angel. Of course it worked out well for me.
One day long ago, we went to California to work in the movies. We discovered that Los Angeles weather is divided into two parts: delicious spring and African summer, the latter being the longest.
For 28 springs and summers, we wiped the memory of winter, of slush and snow, cherry pink ears and noses, from our minds. Twenty-eight years of never seeing snow, or a real autumn.
Bob Bostwick, who went on to a successful Broadway career as stage manager, is probably dead, and his Emily, 10 years younger, may be a grandmother in Seattle. Charlie Clausen and his chicken livers are back in North Dakota, Bob Corea was never heard from again, and Martha “Vitch” may still be in that rent controlled apartment overlooking Verdi Square.
Maine 2014: She, who now regrets her love of kicking around the snow, is over in her warm classroom with her students. I stand at the window in my too tight linen jacket, watching the sun struggle through the mist, while sipping a cup of hot tea from a fresh tea bag I don’t have to share with anyone.
Goodnight, my old comrades, wherever you are. I hope to see you all on the other side. Bring your own tea bags.
J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.