Winter…was a purifying engine that ran unhindered over city and country, alerting the stars to sparkle violently and shower their silver light into the arms of bare upreaching trees. It was a mad and beautiful thing that scoured raw the souls of animals and man, driving them before it until they loved to run. – Mark Helprin, Winters Tale
I am swimming through March like a hulking creature trapped under a layer of ice. During this annual period of prolonged hibernation, I only move towards food and light. I am restless, irritable and discontent. If a scientist espousing the irrefutable evidence of global warming were to cross my cantankerous path, I would beat him with my snow shovel and bury him in a shallow grave filled with rock salt.
Each weekend, I don my running gear, desperate for exercise and dopamine. On this particular Saturday, weak sunshine courses through the family room windows suggesting that spring has indeed arrived on the wings of red-breasted robins and lavender crocus
I open the front door to a blast of Alberta air that slashes my face and causes the dog to retreat into the foyer. Brody, my fearless Aussie, looks up at me to gauge my resolve to exercise. He seems to be suggesting that we stay home and forage for leftovers. As it stands, we are already likely to be last to die in a famine.
It is 30F with a wind chill that has reduced the sun to a useless dead apricot in the sky. It seems to have lost much of its potency after a prolonged stay in the Southern Hemisphere. Clouds course overhead casting frigid shadows as they rush to the Northeast to deposit more snow. The bloated pirate Winter mocks us, declaring us summer landlubbers, unfit for the brittle day that hangs like an icicle. Screw it. We are going outside – even if one of us has to eat the other. We brave four miles of northern wind and frozen inkblot ponds. Not a robin or crocus in sight.
We later retreat indoors while the persistent wind claws at our windows. Heat courses out a decade of unattended cracks, broken weather stripping and an attic that could double as a meat locker. My front hallway has more cold spots than a haunted house. Growing up in in Los Angeles, we opened the windows for air conditioning and closed them for heat. It now costs me $100 a month for each precious degree I wish above 55F.
At this time of year, the dividends of four-season living elude me. I don’t really mind the snow but temperatures under 20F really piss me off. As a native Californian I know I have a choice to live here but my home state has changed. I am not sure I am attractive enough now to live in California. I left the Golden State a svelte thirty-eight year old and now resemble a friendly manatee – a work out video’s permanent “before” photograph.
It hurts to know it is 80F in LA. Despite its fiscal woes, a recent 4.7 earthquake (we call these baby tremblers “jello-jigglers”), a 100-year drought and a few mudslides, it still looks pretty damn good.
I recall almost succumbing to the early March Lion just walking five blocks up 10th Avenue after a cab driver dropped me prematurely in ten-degree weather. During my right-angle walk into a fierce headwind, I tried to speak to a mummified pedestrian who sounded like Kenny from South Park. I needed the shelter of a coffee shop.
The faceless bundle of laundry pointed toward a brown awning whipping in the north wind. I exploded into to the coffee shop on a jet stream of angry wind. The pierced, tattooed girl behind the counter considered me with classic militant disdain. She looked uninterested as I struggled to recover the use of my face.
I sat in a corner and considered this subzero moment. The City was now a clenched fist – - rigid, fighting to hold on to everything much like a hoarder refuses to part with any possession. It will not release heat in the summer and clutches to its infertile chill in the winter. We lunge down its streets and cut through its passages, tightening into pill bug pedestrians that hobble between cars and plumes of frozen air.
I enter the lobby of a building on Madison Avenue as a bitter gust courses through the revolving doors. I take the elevator to my client’s floor. It is now like a Native American sweat lodge. I may soon discover my spirit animal as I almost pass out from the ninety-degree heat. In the client’s foyer, I have a heat stroke vision of the great white manatee. The aquatic behemoth moves nimbly under the water, twisting as he scours the ocean floor for turtle grass. He turns and grins with his bizarre prehensile upper lip. He has my eyes. Opal blue optimism shines as he jerks to one side and disappears under a dust devil of underwater sand.
The winter daylight seems to last less than four hours before a purple twilight canopy is cloaked over the frigid boulevards. I exit the office to catch the 6:09 train only to slip on an agate piece of ice that causes my foot to shoot into the side of a fire hydrant. I can almost hear the salt pulverizing the leather of my shoes as I hop on one foot across 38th Street and stumble toward Grand Central.
A bike messenger screams at me as he tears through a red light dressed only in a cotton shirt and spandex pants. He will most likely be dead in one hour but I respect his sartorial protest. He probably thinks he is a snow leopard. I am uplifted by his refusal to allow this frozen season to defeat him. He yells into my face and races toward a different fate.
I am suddenly exhausted and crave caffeine, and carbohydrates. I cannot think too far into the future. I have already overdrawn my bank account of thoughts of warmer days and French jazz spilling out on to a café on the Champs D’Elysse. I am frozen and pissed off. It’s March, for God’s sake. Until May, I will be crowded in a shadowed glen of denuded trees that slowly push buds toward the arching Southern light. Spring cannot arrive too soon. This manatee needs sun, warm water and a little turtle grass.
As I walk across 42nd , I am approached by a gray, shaggy oracle. He greets me in mid-sentence as if we are picking up on a conversation that had been cut short. He is speaking a strange frozen gutter dialect. We are having a NY moment. Crazy always finds crazy.
This prophet speaks to me about the cold weather through a gray tangle of hair, inebriation and filth. He is either asking me for some money or informing me that a group of trolls will begin hunting me tonight. I have violated my Mother’s golden rule of never making eye contact with the insane. Our senses lock and he continues his three-tooth soliloquy that is unlike any language I have ever heard. I am transfixed. He senses my winter lunacy. He has found a soul mate and I’m going to miss my train. I hand him a sawbuck and tumble inside the station.
Two things stay certain: it is still winter and crazy always finds crazy.