Tuesday, December 16, 2008

To me snow is bread mold growing on albino tree frogs.

"New York gets godawful cold in the winter but there's a whacky comradeship somewhere in some streets. LA is a jungle."-Kerouac, from On the Road

I'm walking to the train stop--the faraway half mile to get there one, not the three block away one--on wide Eastern Parkway with the rows of trees now bare so they look like giant brooms stuck upside down in the ground, and the sky's all gray and dismal and it's not really cold but you can see your breath anyway (I had joked earlier to Olivia that this was a day that made our surroundings look like /The Road/, which if you haven't read it is more or less about after the end of the human world with only a few survivors, constant nuclear winter and what not), and next thing there's ripped up toilet paper all around me. But wait--that's not Charmin, that's not charmin at all--someone wasn't yanking my chain: it was snow! Big ploppy wet snow that fell down in raggedy clumps and when I looked at it on the ground close seemed to be bread mold. Really fluffy soon melted stuff. And it's just started, and I'm walking, and I'm walking, and I'm not even to the three stops away train stop when it's like the whole environment, the buildings and the people with big bags full of Christmas gifts and their big ugg boots and even the cars and honking buses and emergency vehicles, all got wrapped up in this swirling whiteout. It looked and felt like a silent gentle apocalypse, like a plague of snowflakes (only I could equate giant snowflake clumps with tiny albino frogs falling from the sky).

Needless to say, I got my ass underground at the near stop and went on my way. When I popped up out of the Borough Hall stop, though, it was like magic: the big tree they have set up next to the fountain made its blue ornaments more twinkly in the soft light and the pine boughs wrapped around the pillars of the Hall were all frosted and glisteny. Today happens to be a market day, and the farmers at the stands I guess misjudged the weather or something, because they only had in most cases part of their vegetables and other things they're selling covered up. So you got these ultra shiny yellow and orange carrots and broccoli with snow tucked into its florets. Crazy stuff, looked like a field forgotten by harvest. And I'm bouncing around and really digging it because I'm still kind of romantic about snow since moving back east from california and only seeing a couple real snow storms here in New York, noticing how one stand left all its wreaths and boughs and assorted evergreen decorations and pinecone wares out in the snow and how perfect a picture it made, how much sense it made to see the needles all flecked with what was quickly becoming transparent water from opaque white snow, and opening up again the spaces between the branches and needles to air rather than a visible and palpable network of plant and snow matter, then moving down the line to Barnes and Noble and stopping to watch as a complicated human architecture coordinates itself at the front door to allow for a stroller and an old man more horizontal and vertical in a walker get respective out and into the store, and me participating, too, and finding a role somehow, making myself a cog, among all the shaken out hair and wet dripping umbrellas and everyone just getting through, so that even the normally terrifying flourescence and obscene volume of BN's interior (that for horror effect must be experienced alongside the silent efficiency of cashiers not talking to customers, and customers not talking to each other, and everyone just kind of solitary and flipping and not in a warm browsing way but somehow mutated by the surroundings into these pale parasitic ravenous shoppers, desperate to get Uncle Fred's or cousin Annie's bratty twin children out of the way and crossed off the list, no matter how many elbows they have to throw to get there)--even my normal gut reaction of recoil subsides and I can wade through it all like a proud masthead in the arctic fog that hides icebergs.

Then I check out, and the guy--I think his name was "Greg" although it was hard to see his nametag from behind his sagging droopy chin--doesn't acknowledge me, and I go to Trader Joe's, and an old lady bites my heels with her cart, and the same thing happens at the checkout, except the dude sort of acknowledges me with a slight nod, then I get to the little gourmet place across the street and this time not only does the Polish lady cashier ignore me as anything but something to be processed, but doesn't miss a beat in her conversation being held in Polish with the guy on the side of the counter who I practically have to maul with excuses me to get past and out the door.

And I'm outside and the snow has slaked, and stops, and all that's left is trash running into storm drains from the streamcurrent of filthy slop water glowing with the rainbow of chemical runoff. But there's still a hush in that air as I walk back to the subway. And the smells: something about snow in the air punctuates smells for me. The turmeric coming out of the halal food huts jabs my attention--I see a tall man under an umbrella on hold on his cell phone walk up, "What's up, man? Yeah, I'll have a chicken and lamb with rice"--just in time to see the guy inside the cart disappear behind a sudden gushing cloud of steam as you hear whooosh! Of chicken going on the flat grill. Then I get the charcoal and the crusty smell of the pretzels and the kind of gross but also weirdly appealing aroma of the steam that collects under the storage tray for the hot dogs--that unmistakable whiff of boiled tight pigskin. I'm not even that hungry, either; it's just overwhelming in this particular atmospheric condition. I raft back home on the smells rather than the empty milk containers and cigarette packs that remind me to be careful where I step if I don't want soggy feet and think to myself how it just goes to show you: New York's the kind of place where in the morning you can praise with abandon the mass transit and other public services and find out by that night on the local news that a sanitation worker had been shot a block and a half from your apartment and a bus driver stabbed to death in your old neighborhood for trying to collect a fare from a rider. Now /that's/ America!

No comments: