Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Snow Day

I heard it was a snow day in NY yesterday. Last night I heard a program on Talk of the Nation about snow days; People who worked for newspapers who said they don’t get them - ever. People remembering blizzards in Michigan in ’72, in Oklahoma in the 1950s. Floridians trying to suggest their hurricane days were like snow days. And a guy in central California who said in the summer if the A/C didn’t work they’d have days off because it was over 100 degrees and unsafe to come to school in that weather.

But those aren’t real snow days. I passed by someone reading the NYT in my Spot Café this morning and the front cover had a picture of kids sledding in The City. When you can shut New York down, that’s a snow day.

I remember two blizzards in NY while I lived there.

One was the winter of 1995. I was working at Harper Collins in a boring temp job as I finished orchestrating my first big opera at night. I was the guy who requested IMBD numbers from the Library of Congress and then assigned one to each and every book HC published. Yes, there’s a person who does that. That’s what a Princeton education will get you these days. It was pure Kafka in my little veal fattening pen. A living “Brazil”. All I was missing were those pneumatic tubes. I so would have dug a pneumatic tube. And there’re all over NY, they just don’t use them any more which I consider just a willful act of anti-playfulness.

I knew it was snowing the night before, but I didn’t know we’d had over a foot by morning. I was woken by the most extraordinary silence. I was so accustomed to the honking outside my window as my alarm clock, that the quiet was almost eerie. A damper descended over the entire town - like God had lined the streets in velvet overnight.

I wondered if I could turn on the news and hear about work closings, but I didn’t even have a radio, much less a TV in that 5th floor walk-up with an actual water closet in the hall for a bathroom. Hey, it was $450 a month on Columbus & 74th. - what more did I need than the location? I’d walk home from work some nights and just pop into the Met, grab a $10 standing room ticket to Boheme and waltz back to my pad after a gourmet pit-stop at Gray’s Papaya. Life was good.

I didn’t think you could get snow days from work, but the absence of all vehicles made me think I might have to walk to work, so I bundled up and went downstairs to discover what had happened to my world.

Few people were on the streets. Cars and trucks were in hibernation and as I walked to The Park – now a life-sized snow globe - I tasted the snow every block or two. I became quite the connoisseur when I was a child. While it was still fresh and free of salt, dirt and dog piss, I could lightly cup a mouthful and bring the scoop to my tongue to test the density of the snowfall. The metallic accent of this confection thrilled me. This was some seriously fine snow. Good for sledding as well as snow balls. I hadn’t sampled such an excellent vintage since the blizzard of 1977. A real doozy of a storm. It was so viscous a winter, that my brother and I were able to build an igloo - an actual igloo in our front driveway that we could crawl into and stand up inside of. We made it with packed snow bricks formed in a plastic cube meant for such a job. It was crazy cool. The thing stayed up for weeks and I was an Eskimo for the rest of that winter the moment I burrowed my way inside.

Back in the city, more people emerged from their holes as I got to the park. On the East side I saw a guy on skis being pulled by his dog going the wrong way up Fifth Avenue - joy emanating from the man as much as from the dogs. People smiled at each other like they were children and it was all of our birthdays on the same day. It was a “we” day instead of an “us” and “them” day. It wasn’t like Christmas where people come downstairs early with expectations of reward. Instead, it was a sheer, wide-eyed wonderment. We smiled at each other the way a 2 year-old just wandered up to me in this café and smiled. His natural inclination is to smile at me to see if I smile back. I did and the smiling game begins. Hopefully his dad doesn’t think I’m some creepy old guy. But that day in NY no fathers thought anyone was a creepy old guy and it wouldn’t have occurred to me that someone might think that about me. The snow made even the most jaded, cynical, spiritually eviscerated city dweller into a perfect and simple smile machine. It destroyed our learned suspicions. It decimated our resistance. It brought out the Christly love as I imagine things might be should the Messiach ever show up…or return.

God, that would be heaven. Instead of 72 virgins. Instead of enough riches to make Daffy Duck’s head spin. Instead of getting to live out the happy-ending, loving version of my entire life with every ex-girlfriend I truly loved. Instead of starting into God’s holy face, playing with seraphim and wings and things, I want my heaven to be a city snow day every day. And better even than a child’s snow day where you know if it’s bad enough out there you will get the day off, I want an adult’s snow day, where you never expect YOU’LL get the day off because you’re too mature and they don’t allow for such things. I want a grown-up’s snow day where men in their 60s are transformed to glowing children – each and every one reunited with their Rosebud.

True, if I had that every day for eternity I’d lose perspective on the transformation, so I might have to switch one day on and one day off – first going to a hateful temp job (with working pneumatic tubes though!) and then waking up the next morning to a magical silent world of knowing sharing stranger’s smiles.

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