Harry, despite all the recent cold weather, cannot for the life of him understand why anyone wouldn’t like winter. Nothing is biting or stinging, your underwear doesn’t stick, poison ivy and the immortal deer tick lay buried in the snow. Sleep is better. There’s the electric blanket to warm the sheets or a dark cavern of covers under which to hibernate for eight hours. And how can anyone compare the romantic glow of evening by the fireplace to…air conditioning?
But the best thing about winter, at least in Harry’s mind, is soup.
It’s hard to louse up soup. If you can chop vegetables and pour water into a pot, you can make soup. But there is one kind of soup that Harry, for everlasting reasons, will not go near: pea soup.
The last time Harry had pea soup was in January 1978. Interest rates were soaring, disco hedonism had replaced hippie hedonism. And the idea that Harry’s generation would “change” the world had come and gone.
That depressed Harry. But even more depressing were his marital problems. His wife, Mimi, had recently thrown a glass at his head. If he hadn’t ducked, Harry was reminded by the hole in the sheetrock near where he sat for dinner, he’d probably be dead, or at least facing life with brain damage. His wife’s murderous rage had left him sorrowful, sore and depressed.
Depression can at least be mitigated. Move! Do something. Get in a car and drive 75 mph, take a walk in the woods, jump out of an airplane (don’t forget the parachute).
When his depression became too much to bear, Harry took train rides. Watching the scenery speed past, the soothing clickety-clack, the mild vertigo produced by locomotion (the best word in the English language) helped get him out of the rut that we call ourselves.
So, Harry boarded the 11:20 at Brewster and arrived at Grand Central with just enough time to flag a taxi and catch Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe playing tennis at the Garden. After the matches, he walked across Eighth Avenue to have a cocktail and something to eat. The restaurant had a food buffet and Harry decided to take a chance on the pea soup, which happened to be the cause of his current marital difficulties.
“Get the ham hocks, smoked ones,” Harry had requested of Mimi, who was attempting to make pea soup for the first time. Mimi was just learning to cook. Picture the queen of England in an apron. That’s how Mimi looked. She’d been the product of some fussy breeding, her genes uppity. But in that first year of marriage, she’d wanted to please Harry, to cook hearty dishes, work in the garden with him and get a few calluses on her pampered hands. But all the while what Mimi truly loved doing was ballroom dancing. Harry promised to give it a try, but first things first: The husband gets the food. The wife cooks it, right?
Right, Harry was a jerk.
Mimi’s pea soup didn’t compare to “Mama’s.” For one thing, she’d used a bland piece of boiled ham instead of the ham hocks; it’d turned out too thin, an insipid, pond-scummy green.
Mimi was rinsing dishes, her back toward Harry, who sat at the kitchen table eating her soup, his disappointment growing with every spoonful. Love and hate often mingle closely in marriage, especially when it comes to a man’s palate. Mimi, impatient, finally turned to face Harry. “So, how is it?”
“You forgot the ham hocks. I have to be honest, Mimi. It’s a travesty!”
Mimi held a glass in her hand. She threw straight and true, aiming at Harry’s head. If he hadn’t ducked, this column might be a murder story. The hole the glass left behind was large enough to fit a wall safe.
The pea soup at the buffet, as it turned out, was worse than Mimi’s. Once on the train, Harry went directly to the bar car for a gin and tonic. He drank one and carried another back to his seat. He started falling asleep but suddenly felt a pressure in the pit of his stomach, which swelled upward into his chest and finally to the opening of his throat. Something had to come up.
“Oh, Jesus, God,” Harry said out loud when the door to the tiny bathroom opened. He’d been in there for 30 minutes, on his knees, retching, hugging the toilet for dear life.
“Next stop, Brewster!” the conductor hollered.
The hole in the wall had stayed for weeks. Harry kept it there to remind Mimi that she’d almost killed him. But after being poisoned by the pea soup at the buffet, the hole looked different to Harry. No one escapes their just deserts.
We will end here, but it may please the reader to know that, after fleeing Harry, Mimi turned into a great ballroom dancer. And Harry? He had to learn how to cook for himself.