When the land’s dry and flat and I’m not wearing heels, I’m dangerous. When it’s snowing and icy — as it is in Boston today — I’m a catastrophe looking for an opportune place to happen. I’m hoping this doesn’t matter too much, since I’m unrecognizable — swathed in coat, scarf, gloves, hat. I hurtle past other pedestrians and cars with authority, trying to look tough and litigious. I shield my face with a today’s copy of The New York Times, which, I believe, indicates I’m being protected by the First Amendment.
“If this snow were going on in Texas,” I tell people, “the whole town would have already closed down. Meteorologists would be on TV, schools and businesses would have shut down. Everybody’d be crowding the grocery stores and liquor joints, buying up everything.”
They smile politely. They think I’m kidding. Why do people aways think I’m kidding when I’m only telling the truth?
“Don’t worry about missing your flight,” a woman in the hotel elevator told me. “These people” — Bostonians — “know how to handle snow.”
Well, I’m glad somebody does.
With all this encouragement going on, I went to a couple of my daughter’s classes today at the Kennedy School in Cambridge. Heard about running a political campaign and courting the media. Learned about the machinations and intricacies of high-level negotiations like the recent Middle East gathering in Annapolis.
“I like going to this school,” one of her classmates told me. “But sometimes, the Harvard-esque business gets a little thick.”
Which I can understand. I’m torn, myself, between the glamour and legend of the place (look around, I tell myself. Some of the smartest people in the world are walking past me) and a defensive, middle-American disdain for its elitism and smugness (didn’t Alberto Gonzales go to law school here? Why, yes, he did.) That part of me wants somebody to ask me what first comes to mind when I think of Harvard, so I can say that, “Oh! Wasn’t Love Story filmed here?”
So, obviously, I have a problem with East Coast status, which is probably what happens to you when you’re born in Ponca City, Oklahoma. I love it, I hate it, I can’t help noticing it, I’m enthralled by it, I hate myself for being enthralled by it, I teeter on the ice, I try to look sophisticated, but I’m dressed like a wool-clad mummy, so who cares?
In the meantime, I have more immediate problems. After being out of school more than 30 years, I’m still afflicted by nightmares of the class I haven’t attended all semester, which I have a test in tomorrow (or is it a big paper due?). I realize this indicates I have deep emotional problems, but there you go.
I can only imagine what sitting in on a couple of classes at Harvard has done for me. The snow might not get me, but the nightmares will.
(Copyright 2007 by Ruth Pennebaker)