Tuesday, November 18, 2008


It was raining. I wasn't well and was counting the minutes until I could take a nap in the chair in my office. My son Justin and his friend Nathan and I were traveling the twenty-five miles from Arlington to their school in Framingham, by way of a customer's house in Weston where I was picking up some work.

I didn't quite fall asleep at the wheel; but my concentration slipped badly and I veered just far enough off the road to smash a tire against a rock. In my muddled condition, with darkest suburbia spreading for miles all around us, I couldn't come up with any better way of getting to a telephone than to drive into the center of Weston on the flat tire, certain damage notwithstanding. Justin protested: "Mom, don't do that, you'll wreck the tire. Me and Nathan'll go ask if we can use somebody's phone."

I looked at these two fourteen-year-olds with the heightened awareness that strikes when one's belongings are in danger of scrutiny by the world: their intense eyes -- Nathan's a striking green, Justin's warm brown under a thick uni-eyebrow (his word) -- their shoulder-blade-length hair, and their clothing.

Nathan was wearing a trench coat of his father's, a desirable item in its day, his mother maintained, but by that rainy morning it was shapeless and tired, the pockets awry somehow, the lining draggling in back. It would have gone around this lanky six-foot kid at least a couple of times. He wore it hanging open with the belt dangling. He would, as usual, have been wearing one of his collection of wolf T-shirts. "Wolves are nifty," Nathan maintained.

I mercifully don't remember what Justin was wearing. His footgear, then and long after, would make strong persons weep. Nathan's appearance was a fashion statement, I suppose. The only statement Justin's clothing ever made was, as he once matter-of-factly told his grandmother: "I look as if I don't care -- and I don't."

Even though they had both been in the car and were as dry as I was, there was an indefinable ambience of drowned-rat about them. I pictured this team knocking on doors of some of the most expensive real estate in Massachusetts, and settled myself down for a long nap.

Maybe five minutes later they were back: "Uh, Mom, we found somebody who'll bring the cordless phone down to the garage." I followed them to the nearest house, probably the first one they had tried. The homeowner was pleasant and affable, willing to give the benefit of the doubt to this mother in distress with her scraggly kids (people who didn't know us, and some who did, were apt to assume that Justin and Nathan were brothers). We called AAA and took our leave of the homeowner, with many thanks.

The AAA guy arrived and, in the phlegmatic way of tow-truck guys, changed the tire in the rain and accepted our thanks and my signature. I've made the acquaintance of a lot of tow-truck guys, and one tow-truck lady, but that's a bunch of other stories.

We were all outside the car, of course, during the changing of the tire. When I turned to get back in, Justin planted himself between me and the door, telling me I was in no condition to drive and that he was going to take us home.

He knew how to drive. From lessons in the family field and in cemeteries as soon as he could manage the pedals, he graduated to piloting us home from astronomy club meetings on back-ish roads in the middle of the night. The route from Weston to Medford lay along city and suburban streets in broad, albeit rainy, daylight. I expostulated as best I could, but Justin was adamant and in some sense clearly right: I had demonstrated a certain incapacity to keep us on the road.

I let him drive as far as Nathan's in Arlington, where they continued their agenda of self-education in the ways of computers. I continued another two miles home to Medford and went to bed.