The snow was swirling around everywhere and everything that Pittsfield, Massachusetts had to offer. I was a student at a boarding school over in neighboring Lee, but it was closed for the Christmas holidays. There was a skeleton crew over there, a single houseparent to watch over the few students whose family situation didn’t allow for them to spend the holidays at home. I was a somewhat short train ride away from Darien, Connecticut, my home down the New Haven line, but I was staying an extra night before taking the five hour journey. I was staying an extra night because I’d finally talked Nancy-Jean into sneaking me into her house on a night her parents were out late. Nancy-Jean lived in Pittsfield and I had a terrible crush on her. For almost a month I had been making my way into town on Saturdays and Sundays to see her, spending money to take her to the movies and to buy her burgers or sliced pizza. She was lovely, with hazel eyes and dark brown hair framing a pretty face. She was –maturing– well and had an enticing look to her. She was my first real love, not a puppy dog crush of a little kid, but the heart’s desire of a mature sixteen year old. I just had that feeling that I was going to get to first base at last; what woman could turn down a man who gave up a day of Christmas holidays just to be in her stunning presence? Well, as it turned out, Nancy-Jean could and so I was cast adrift some twenty miles from Lee.
There was no way I would get a ride back to school. Nothing was going my way at midnight on a snowy weekday night. My personal wealth consisted of eighty-nine cents; the change left over from buying a pair of slices of pizza at Pizza By The Slice. I had purchased a sumptuous feast for myself and my beloved before I learned that while Nancy-Jean thought highly of the pizza I bought, she thought more of her football playing boyfriend than she did me. I had gotten to meet the immense side of beef within seconds of Nancy-Jeans last bite of pizza. The introduction was short and sweet. Nancy greeted him warmly and introduced me as “this guy she met at Pizza By The Slice” and he punched me in the eye and told me to keep away from his woman. Then the couple strolled arm-in-arm out into the night while I tried not to look embarrassed in front of the collection of Pittsfield High School students tittering at my plight.
I hung around the pizza place for another hour, hoping to run into someone who could give me a lift back to Lee. The school was a mere five blocks from the train station, so that leg of the journey from school to home would be a simple one, and I had a choice of three trains to choose from. 7:30am, 11:30am and 3:00pm. All were destined for New York’s Grand Central, but I would get off in Darien, CT, my home town. It was 9pm and Pizza By The Slice was closing and I was shown the door along with a few other hangers on. Unlike me, they had somewhere to go and went there. I, on the other hand, strolled around town looking for someone I knew in hopes of a ride. The snow began at 10pm and by the time 11pm rolled around, I was cold and snow covered and wading through about five inches of wet snow that the wind would drift up to a foot.
I found a phone booth and used it as an office from which to plan my next move. All I had to do was think of what that next move was. While the booth offered a little shelter, it was like a refrigerator in there and I was dressed in preppy fall attire, not expecting a load of snow. My thin wind breaker wasn’t cutting the mustard and my Bass Weejun loafers were soaked through with frigid water. Catty-corner from me was the Pittsfield Hotel and it looked awfully inviting. I didn’t have money for a room, but perhaps they wouldn’t object if I sat in their lobby, a comfortable room with couches, chairs and a large fireplace. I crossed the street and ducked into the building and went straight to the lobby. The reception desk was actually in what I’d call an entrance hall, its large counter facing the front door. There was no one at the desk and so I made it to the lobby unchallenged.
The thing is, most of Pittsfield didn’t much like we out of towners from Lee. I’m not sure why, but it was known lore at the school to avoid the local police. We had a permitted zone that included the town theater, the bus and train station, the drug store soda fountain and Pizza By The Slice. Other than that, we were cautioned to look at Pittsfield in the same way Dorothy should view Oz while under the watchful eye of the Wicked Witch of the West. The place was out to get us and our little dog too. So making it to the lobby unobserved was a boon. I sat myself on a love seat tucked back into a shadowed corner and leaned back to relax. Almost instantly a beak nosed and swarthy looking scarecrow appeared and started screeching at me. Who was I, what did I want, how did I get in there?.. the questions came rapidly and venomously. Before I could answer, he grabbed my arm and wrenched me to my feet and began shoving me out of the lobby toward the door.
Back on the curb I looked back through the double glass doors of the hotel and sighed. I hadn’t even had the chance to warm up. But fearing that the clerk had called the police, I decided to beat feet and took off down the street. Glowing through the snow flecked gloom was the Trailways Bus sign, so I headed to the terminal. Certainly they wouldn’t care if someone sat in the terminal area. As it turned out I was right. The single ticket clerk paid me no mind at all as I found a chair and flopped into it and picked up a magazine left on a table by another traveler. It was a Reader’s Digest and I had just started on the Humor in Uniform section when a member of Pittsfield’s finest loomed over me. While he wasn’t breathing brimstone and reeking of sulphur, he was still pretty intimidating as he told me I needed to find myself on a bus or somewhere out of town before he came back, lest I would be spending a night in jail. He swaggered out the door and left me trying to figure out what t try next. The only place left was the train station, so I made my way through the still falling snow. I was shivering violently when I got there, only to find it closed and locked up.
I was in a fix, and so I did the only thing I could think of. I went back to the bus station. After scouting it to make sure that the cop wasn’t in evidence, I crept in and went straight to the men’s room. Entering a stall, I lifted my feet and rested them on the stall door in front of me so that anyone glancing under the stalls wouldn’t see me. I took off my windbreaker and folded it into a small cushion that I put between my spine and the flush valve that stuck up from the back of the toilet and leaned my head back on the wall. It wasn’t the most comfortable I’d ever been, but I was tired enough that I fell asleep quickly. I stayed there through the night, not waking once in five hours. It was actually 5:30 in the morning when I blinked myself awake. I was sore and stiff, feeling like I’d been run down in a cattle stampede, but I wasn’t so tired and at least I was warm.
A trucker driving a box van gave me a lift all the way to the gates at Lee Academy. I went up to my room and collected my suitcase and train tickets and made my way down to the station where I caught the 7:30am train. I saw none of the pleasant scenery along the tracks. I slept all the way to Darien where the conductor shook me awake to tell me it was my stop.
It was a nice enough Christmas, but the time went too quickly and too soon it was time to take the train back up to school. When the first weekend came, my roommate asked me if I was going to go into Pittsfield to see Nancy-Jean. My thoughts reeled back and played scene after scene of my last attempt at female foraging before I figured out how to explain it.
I hit him.