Sunday, January 7, 2018

New York, Winter, 1979

It snowed in New York all that Saturday night.  It snowed heroically.  Some flakes were so large they seemed like little rafts floating waywardly down.  The snow didn’t stop.  It continued hour after hour.  I went to sleep watching it through my curtainless window.

The next morning, it was still snowing heavily.  I got up and got dressed.  It was still early.  I  opened the door to my loft building and walked outside.  I was living in Soho at the time.  The neighborhood had been painted with a vast white brush.  The sidewalk, and even the cobblestones, were puffy white versions of themselves.  Everything was doubled.  This was the great advantage of it snowing on a Saturday or Sunday.  People never emerged that early in New York on the weekend.   It wouldn’t last long, though.  There were no trees in Soho like there were in Greenwich Village.  There was no shrubbery, no plants, except on rooftops, no eye-level window sills, no cast iron gates protecting small plots of earth, nothing to catch or hold the snow, except cars and the street.  There was nothing upon which the snow could make soft white sculptures and remain on display all day.  This kind of perfection was transitory in Soho, since it was presented on the cobblestones, on sidewalks.  That’s why when it snowed significantly, I always returned to my province in Greenwich Village.  It was the most stirring New York snow experience.

That day I walked north, crossed Houston and went west to Seventh Avenue.  The sharp damp air woke me.  There were only a few people trudging along in the swirl.  I crossed Seventh Avenue and arrived at my destination: West Fourth Street.  When most people think of snow, they probably have a Robert Frost-like image of easy wind and downy flakes.  I think of West Fourth Street in New York in just a brief length, between Seventh Avenue and West Twelfth Street.  It passes by lovely, ancient brownstones and crosses some of the city’s most memorable streets: Bank, Charles, Perry, West 11th.  It’s quiet.  It’s fairly narrow.  Trees line both its sides.  It’s heaven in the snow.

I walked along, my footsteps muffled, my progress slowed, my legs breaking trail.  Just a few cars had gone by leaving perfect parallel trenches.  It was so quiet.  I could smell the snow.  I could almost hear it.  As I walked I looked into huge brownstone windows to see life stirring inside.  Some windows had curtains, some did not.  I saw a woman in her robe pass by one window inside.  A cat stared at me from the windowsill, its eyes following my every move.  I could feel its warm inside comfort.  I crossed Perry.  I was tempted to turn and go down that street.  Every street was tempting.  The snow was stacked on grates and plants and sconces to the very brim, waiting for that one bit of snow that would force it to tumble.  But that hadn’t happened yet.  Everything was soft white perfection.  I didn’t want Vermont, I thought.  I didn’t want Robert Frost.  He could have his woods, lovely dark and deep.  I wanted this.  I wanted New York. 

Then I saw Clara.  She was part of my writers group.  We were all trying hard to write, to be the person we believed we should be.  She was walking toward me.  She was dressed snugly, a big scarf wrapped around her neck up to her lower lip.  She had a camera.  I went and stood in front of her and blocked her way.  The snow made it hard for her to see.  She had that typical New York reaction, What-the-hell-do-you-think-you’re-doing, before she looked closely.

“Fancy meeting you here,” I said, my lips moving turgidly in the cold.

“Yes, it is,” she said and then laughed that beautiful laugh of hers.  Her bangs peeked out from a knitted cap.  They were flecked with snow.

“Taking some snaps?”

“Oh, well you know, if I see something,” she said.

“Want to grab some coffee at the Bonbonniere?”


We both stood there for a minute or so letting the snow fall on us, reluctant to leave the white perfection.  Then we turned and walked away together toward the grimy familiar coffee shop on Hudson.  The place was nearly empty.  There were just a few customers at the counter and Nick the owner.  We stomped our feet on the floor, found a table against the window and sat down.  The place smelled of fried eggs, coffee, bacon and grease.  There was nothing to recommend it except that it was ours.  We loved it.  Clara asked for tea.  I said coffee.  We sat facing one another as the snow fell outside.  We are so seldom aware of the preciousness of our experience.  It’s only later that we remember and assess and sigh at its beauty, now gone.  But I knew then.  I knew that I was young, and strong, and capable and living exactly where I should be living.  I had no doubt. The coffee came, and I inhaled deeply the fragrant smoke rising from the cup.