On Sunday came the big blizzard that howled through the city all day and all night. At about six or seven o’clock I went out in it, down to the corner of 21st and 7th, to see what the Empire State Building was doing. It had disappeared entirely, like a magic trick. But it was not a gentle, magic snowfall. The snowflakes were like sharp glass shavings flying around from every direction at once. Trash bags went bouncing down 7th Avenue full of trash, the sky flashed like a strobe and then came a very ominous rumble of thunder, which is something I had never before experienced in a snowstorm. I went back inside and got into bed to listen to the pipes banging and the wind howling at the windows, which glazed over with ice.
In the morning, the storm had passed and the sky was blue. I read in the Daily News about hundreds of people stranded on the A Train all night long out by Aqueduct Racetrack, and I felt very lucky to have been safely home listening to the snowplows grinding through the furious wind. Imagining being stuck on the subway with no heat and no escape momentarily erased the swarm of little worries flying around my head; What if not enough jobs turn up to pay the rent in the months to come? What if the slum next to my building gets torn down and this old building is damaged in the process and is condemned and we all get turned out? And what about the bigger, much more terrible worries plaguing the whole world? There are those to worry about!
I counted my blessings: For now the rent is paid, the heat works in my old tenement building even though it snows over the toilet from the skylight, and for the moment, all is well. There had been Christmas parties with sweets and no trouble. In front of one of the parties, I saw my friend Debbie’s long, white 1971 Chevrolet parked on the dark, cobbled street with its blue Jersey plates, and I remembered being in it on a particular day years ago. She pulled into a spot somewhere downtown, across the street from an old building being demolished. Two big workmen with sledgehammers stopped what they were doing to admire the car, and when we got out, one of them said, “You know, up where I live, in the Bronx, people would steal just that car, over and over again. You come up to Hunt's Point with that car, you only gonna have it a few minutes. On my block, people just gonna steal that car, and who steals it, he gonna get it stole from him, and on and on.” And Debbie said, “Really? I feel so flattered.” And after the party, walking through Thompson Street on my way home, I passed by the little shop called Stella Dallas, still there after many years of selling vintage party dresses with its windows all aglow. A man and woman who looked to be in their mid sixties, all bundled up against the chill, stood admiring the mannequins in their finery. I heard the woman say, “Now these dresses are going back to our parents’ day.” And in a quiet voice that made the little moment feel to me like something I was privileged to witness, the man answered, “Mm hmmm, that’s right.” I thought of my old friend Emmy Caporale who sends me a Christmas card every year, this one included, and how much she's always loved party dresses. Every so often she would treat herself to one from Stella Dallas. Many years ago she wore one of them to a party we both attended, a dazzling black and white polka dot fanfare from the 1950s that looked like something Marilyn Monroe might have worn in a movie. And at the party, Emmy told me that she had come on the subway, and that she had bumped into a great big, angry lady on the platform who said to her, “Watch yourself girl, or I’ll knock those dots right off that dress.”
With the blizzard over yesterday, I waded through the snow to the grocery store. There were hardly any customers, and in the produce department I found the shelves almost empty. There was not a single zucchini, and almost no potatoes. I put two Floridian blood oranges in my basket, and a few feet away a big, tall lady of about seventy, wearing a long fur coat and a fur hat, held up a bunch of bananas and said, “Do you know what kind of bananas these are?” I thought she really wanted to know, but then she said, “I’ll tell you what they are. These are cooking bananas. And these here, these are for eating.” She leaned forward and looked over her glasses at the bananas. “Come over here and look,” she said. So I did. She showed me the different bananas on display, and said, “Look at the different shapes. See how these have corners? And these do not. You see?” I looked, and I could see the difference when she pointed it out. “You must wonder why I know so much about bananas,” she said. I told her I did, but what I really wondered was why she was telling me about them. “I’m Jamaican, and bananas is what we do,” she said. “It’s ALL we do.” She smiled at me and pushed her cart off towards the fish department, where I heard her exclaim something there in the same friendly voice. She was just a very chatty lady.
I waded back home with my bag of groceries. On every corner were people with shovels. I could hear someone whistling. The side streets were fields of perfectly undisturbed snow, and the cars looked like long rows of tremendous marshmallows. And I saw that the Empire State Building was back in the usual place, as if nothing had happened.
28 December 2010