Harlem Snow Day / “It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road.”
The kids went outside first. They know how to take advantage of a good thing.
I lay in my bed, belly down, elbows propped, watching boys collecting the midnight offering off the stones, the stoops, and roofs of cars. Two pretty young girls in fur-lined coats and knee high boots prance by aristocratically, unaware they’ve been delivered into enemy territory. Balls of slush propelled from all sides, mostly hitting their mark and the two girls shriek and rush off, their shrill voices hanging in the air as homage to the winter warriors.
I promised to spend my snow day in bed, reading with Holden Caufield and drinking Peppermint tea, but after 30 minutes, I’m restless, anxious. I find my gloves.
I like the way the snow covers up mistakes. Bundles up insecurities. The snow blankets the sidewalk and fills in the cracks. Everything is made equal. The city the virgin. In her pristine presence, everyone covers themselves to the point of suffocation. Children sweating and overheating like small vocal radiatiors. Begging their mothers to let them take of their hoods, their scarves, their sweaters. Mothers pull strings tighter, tuck corners deeper. It’s too warm for this weather. The rain and the snow fall together like cousins. Dancing some incestuous dance, they slop on my cheeks, her hands, his hat. There are men pushing the slush around, away from their doorsteps, with red shovels and plastic bags tied over their knotted hands.
I’m feeling mighty and defiant. I could fill my emptiness with soggy wanderlust, fill in my vacanices with snowy vagaries. My boots are the champions of the day, staunch and brown and determined. Let us march they say. Let us.
Block after block, the scenery stays the same. Fifth Avenue is as ugly as the rest in this sort of storm. Some of the people are outside, but nobody is rushing. All of us are taking advantage of the opportunity to be late, and wet, and sour. To blame it on the weather. Communal worship. We don’t even make eye contact. Such modesty.
It’s treacherous, this holy wonderland. There are vast oceanic puddles the slate gray of the concrete, disguising themselves to the weary traveler. Under the newest down there is old black ice that’s been around for hours and learned the tricks of the trade. City streets are not for dancing. After hours of trudging, my face stings like fire and my hands stiffen like ice. My boots are darker, wetter, stronger. A certain gust of wind blows me into a blue and white cafe, where I immediately pull off my hat and gloves, and take a seat, wondering if I might pull off my boots in public. I am approached by a waitress who looks warm and pale and lovely. I ask for coffee and an egg. She brings me both, and a bagel, and some fried potates. “House Special” she says, and I wonder how I so often elicit others pity, even my own. Here I am again, feeling sorry for myself. I deserve to be out in the rain with such soggy setimentality still filling my thoughts.
If it has stopped snowing, I can’t tell for the wind. It’s too hard to open my eyes, and through my squinting I can see the street lamps have come on to illuminate the shapeless, shifting gray. There is a woman in a puddle outside the Louis Vuitton glass front. Just laying there, eyes wide open in a goddamn puddle like a frozen duck. She has a dark gray blanket and no hat. I notice she has no hat because someone else noticed it first, and he was busy pulling his own hat off his head and jamming it down over the ears of this sad lonely duck in the pond.
Someone sometime on the radio had said if you call 311 in New York city, they’ll come pick up people with nowhere else to be. I couldn’t help but think about the ducks, and the fish, frozen there, protected by “God” till spring. All the while, I’m just standing and she’s just looking. The man I love decides to call me just then, just for that moment, and any sort of self-pitying I may or may not have been engaged in seemed foreign and unnatural. I can’t even tell him about it, and he’s the one I tell. I call the number, and after 30 minutes of robotic redirection and tacky hold music, there is a bright, kind voice on the other end. Says they’ll be right there, they have a lot of beds in the womens shelter. Never thought maybe I was jumping to conclusions, until I hung up the phone. Maybe she didn’t want to be picked up? But she was just lying there. Other people were starting to get the same idea, stopping to ask her if she needed a ride. I got to thinking she was awfully brave, making all these uncomfortable people so uncomfortable.
The whole time she never takes her eyes off me. I don’t know what to say to her, I couldn’t think of anything at all. It all sounded stupid in my head, so I just try to smile some gray, winter smile, and then I walk off. I think she may have smiled too, or maybe her teeth were chattering. I’m no hero. I don’t know.
I was gonna go home, but I was all soggy in the brain, so I went down into a subway station to finish the book. Not even a train passed by. “I was the only one left in the tomb then. I sort of liked it, in a way. It was so nice and peaceful.”