It goes from a little blustery with some flurries floating around to complete whiteout conditions in a frighteningly short amount of time. Snow blasts against the windows and howls down the street, the uninsulated walls of the building where we work suddenly freeze, and I notice that about halfway up the giant window of our booth it is actually snowing inside - faintly, but definitely snowing.
I convince a market manager to put her hand up to feel, and she acknowledges that yes, it is in fact snowing, and then she just leaves.
She turns around as she’s going and says, “We’re you expecting more of a reaction?"
The collie-something mix lying on the floor of the PetcCo as I walk in gives me the saddest look I’ve ever seen - just heartbreaking depths of despair and sorrow - while her owner stands over her with his hands on his hips and an expression of disgust.
“Oh, you’re doing really well,” I tell the dog encouragingly.
“No she’s not. She doesn’t want to leave, so she’s pouting,” her owner says, and his dog sighs a long-suffering sigh.
We start to accelerate in the tunnel, the steady hum of the wheels on the tracks ratcheting up to a rumble, then a roar.
I wonder if this time we’ll finally manage to hit warp speed. If the light that illuminates the orange B on every car, the gray aquarium light of the interior of the train pouring out of the windows and car doors, will streak out in long trails behind us, then flatten and smear into imaginary colors as we hit the event-horizon of light and shoot out of the ground up into space.
But of course we slow down and pull into Grand Street station, doors open, stand clear.
His father reaches down and places one hand on top of his head, like the man is palming a basketball, and with that hand, he guides the small child through the crowds getting off the L train to the stairs.
At the stairs, however, he changes tactics, and, instead of palming the child's head, he begins walking up the stairs behind him, sort of herding him with his legs as the child, slowly and deliberately, begins climbing the stairs.
The father doesn’t look bored or impatient, or even mildly put out by having to do this with his kid. He reaches down at the top of the stairs and, once again, steers the child through the crowds.
“So I spent years,” he continues, still holding his boyfriend’s hand, “I spent years as a little kid looking for a blue crayon that matched that color,” pointing to a blue morpho butterfly shimmering on the shelf.
“You know the story about that color though, right?” I tell him. "The wings are covered in millions and millions of tiny, clear scales that are so close together that they act like prisms, and only the blue light escapes.”
“So the color isn’t in the wings at all - it’s what happens in the light between the wings and your eyes."
The band is blasting out nostalgic hard-rocks hits, the floor is packed, the mezzanine is packed, the bar is packed, and the stairs from the mezzanine to the floor are also packed, so I’ve shotgunned my beer to avoid spilling it on anyone as people jostle me to get by, and now I’m stuck at the top of the stairs trying to get back to my friend on the floor.
A woman in front of me bobs and weaves a little, jockeying for just the right moment to get down the stairs, and I shout to her, “If you make a break for it, I’ll back you up.”
“Oh, are you trying to get to my husband too?” she yells back, and we both laugh.
But a few minutes later, she makes it through the crowd down to the bottom of the stairs, and I do follow her to my friend, and when she catches my eye, I shrug and shout, “I told you so."
I’m midway down the block when a pretty woman rounding the corner of the music conservatory leans down to her young child and motions for him to look up, and the two of them break into huge smiles.
When I get past them I turn around to look in the direction they were looking, already knowing what I’ll see, and sure enough a rainbow stretches across the clearing sky shot with rose- and salmon-tinted clouds.
I turn back to my route home down 7th Avenue with a big grin on my face, and an older woman coming out of a restaurant across the street sees me, seeing her, and she smiles.
My smile gets bigger, and she swings her long hair and lifts a cigarette to her mouth, and a car crosses between us, the clean air is like polished bronze, and even though winter isn’t over, we still have a moment, just to breathe.
The tray beneath the spigots on the water cooler (emphatically labeled “NOT A DRAIN”) is completely full of water, and the floor is covered in puddles.
I gently pull out the tray, carefully lifting it so as not to add to the general carnage of wet on the tiles, and carry it over to dump it out in the sink, all the while thinking about the innumerable, similar times in my life where, by trying to be careful, I’ve tensed up and made a mess of things.
I feel a certain pride that now, firmly on my way to middle age, I’ve finally figured out how not to be so worried about being careful that I make things worse.
I grab a nearby mop, swipe a couple of quick times over the puddles to dry them out, and return the mop to it’s bucket, where it lands with a satisfied plop.
“We’re from Miami,” the woman adds as I wrap up her purchase.
“Can we do something outside now?” her friend whines. “It’s just, we came to New York and we’ve been inside the whole time.”
I turn away as they continue their conversation, and out the window behind us the sun sets the color of molten gold through the lattice of the trees, and I can feel a chill through the glass as the temperature on the street begins to drop.
The enormous Frenchman manning the door at the restaurant feigns surprise, then terror when he sees Katie. He playfully retreats towards the back of the back of the restaurant as Katie sings out, “Oh my God - you’re still here?”
He pretends to hide behind his lapel as I say, sotto voce, “Didn’t they fire that dude after you stopped working here?”
Katie’s smile remains fixed as she whispers back, “For being a drunk, yeah?"
“You know, in English you have, what, one-point-five million words?” he says vaguely as he stares at Katies sculptures. “In Hebrew we only have seventy-thousand,” he adds, raising his index finger as if he is making a very important point.
“But you have no separate word for the plural you,” he says, shaking his head, as if this is the most absurd thing he has ever had the misfortune to hear.
I cross the street between the two cars after looking both ways, and even though I’m perfectly safe, in the middle of the far lane, the image of a woman being hit by a car flashes through my mind. She wasn’t hit particularly hard, and the car wasn’t going very fast.
It was weeks ago, but the memory still shocks me. I walk down the street, carefully stopping at each corner, and I wonder how she’s doing, and if her back healed up okay.
“Okay, so we’ve got a list of, like, five things to get at the grocery store, so we can just get them and get out,” I say as I lock the door on our way out. Katie gives me the most pitying look, as if to say, I love this man, but I clearly have married a mental deficient.
“I like all the choices,” she says by way of explanation at the bottom of the stairs. “Marry your opposite!” she adds.
The old man slips into the vestibule of the storage space right behind me, and who can blame him? It’s absolute balls-cold outside, and I don’t begrudge a man taking some shelter from the wind for a minute to make a phone call, which is what he proceeds to do.
After a few minutes winding his way through the automatic answering system of whatever labyrinthine governmental agency he’s currently fighting with, he finally gets to a person and asks about having lost his New York street vendors’ license.
“No, you don’t need to send the police down... why would you... I didn’t say it got stolen, I just lost it!” he replies with increasing agitation.
We pull up in the U-Haul parking lot to drop off our rental truck after a long day of loading in for a new market. The location is ostensibly still open, but the lot looks conspicuously empty, with only one other truck parked in the returns area under a frigid, empty sky.
We come alongside the only other truck, Katie laughs, and I see, in the cab of the other truck, two guys in heavy coats huddled together against the cold. The one nearest us rolls down his window with a smile, motions me to do the same, and says, “Leave the key in there, and I’ll send you the receipt."
I was only in Nevada for four days, two of those traveling, and yet walking seems way more difficult than before I left. Just walking home from the subway, my legs seem reluctant to do what I ask, to walk the pace at which I need them to walk.
A woman tap-tap-taps past me, her heels clicking on the sidewalk, and I grit my teeth at my slowness. I hike my bag up on my shoulder and force myself to walk faster, and my heart pounds in protest.
In the taxi coming home from the airport, hoping for a nice, quiet ride after a long flight, but instead, the driver zooms in and out of traffic, speeding up and slowing down and speeding back up again, like a ship out in choppy seas.
“Remember how I said the driver who took us to the airport drove like my grandma?” I ask Katie. “Well this is my punishment for that.”
“Are you really suffering though?” she replies, her face a sickly green.
The volume in this movie theater is loud enough to cause me actual pain during the explosive battle scenes, to the point that I roll up napkins and shove them into my ears in an attempt to save my hearing.
Later, during a quieter scene, my dad comments sarcastically on a particularly poor choice made by the main character, and my mom vocally agrees. I worry for just a second if we’re being too loud, after all, somebody near us did move during the previews.
Then the robots start fighting again and I stop worrying about it.
“Dawn [my sister - SLW] was about four, and your mother and I were at a restaurant in Chicago celebrating something, and the guy who ran the bus company that did all the buses for the school district I worked for was at the same restaurant,” my dad says as he wipes his hands on his napkin after his surf and turf birthday meal. “He asked us to sit at his table, and at some point he found out that I had never tasted lobster, so he made sure to give me about a quarter of his, and that was the first time I ever ate lobster.”
“Did you like it?”
“I loved it!” he replies, as if the even asking the question was kind of odd.
“I think we have a couple people over here who are going to steal your dog,” my dad announces to the other table. The beautiful border collie mix sitting at their feet (allowed in the restaurant because he’s a “therapy dog,” though none of us really buys that) doesn’t even look up, but his people laugh nervously.
After everyone awkwardly returns to their meals, Katie and I gently chide dad for blowing up our scene by telling everybody our plan to steal this dude’s obviously fake (but clearly wonderful) therapy dog, but he waves us off.
“If I tell them you’re going to steal their dog, they won’t expect it when you actually do steal their dog,” he says sagely.
At the mall, I walk up the escalator (on the left, natch) as far as I can go, until I reach people standing two across, left and right side, blocking my way.
Up ahead of them, a couple other people are standing, too, and I just don’t have the energy to interact with two sets of folks, so I step to the right and stand the rest of the way up.
After I finish my errands, I go down the escalator, only to encounter the same problem again, and I realize, looking at both the down and the up sides, that nobody is walking on the escalators.
Suddenly everything is in perspective, and I am no longer annoyed: I am in a foreign culture, and my standards do not apply, so I meekly stand on the right (though it doesn’t matter where I stand), and try to figure out what the rules are in this brave new world.
I dump the frozen contents of the plastic bag into the compost bin: tea leaves, coffee grounds, egg shells, onion skins, avocado pits and skins, broccoli ends and cauliflower leaves, lemon rinds - all sorts of stuff. The man who works the composting drop-off for the city walks over and taps my contribution down into the bin while I stoop to pick up a eucalyptus branch that didn’t make it in.
Seeing me do this, a woman dropping off her her own compost apparently mistakes me for one of the city workers and, smiling brightly, says, “Thanks for being here today!” which is something I say to the workers, too.
“Sure!” I reply, but I wonder if I sound as fake and odd when I say it as she does, mistakenly or not.
After searching the self-serve IKEA computers proves fruitless, I go to the help counter where the large, friendly man assures me I did nothing wrong.
“Those computers are retarded,” he says, shaking his head as he types in my search query. His use of the term “retarded” raises an eyebrow with me, but I don’t feel like getting into it, so I let it slide.
“There you go,” he says finally, and directs me to the aisle and bin I need with a smile and a wave.
Making a deposit at the bank with a fat stack of cash makes me feel like a baller-slash-drug dealer or like Uncle Billy in It’s a Wonderful Life, either way like something awful is about to befall me. So when I get up to the bored teller on a Thursday afternoon, I’m already a little on edge.
She takes one look at my stash, my wad, my racks, my stacks, and her mask of boredom tightens into bland irritation as she says, “It’ll take a second for you to unfold it, so go ahead and step over there and do that while I take care of the customers behind you.”
“It won’t take that long, but okay,” I reply testily, but she actually manages to get through the entire line before I finish and sheepishly make my way back up to her window.
By the time I get to pulling staples out of the fourth shelving unit, I’ve entered a sort of “flow” state, where everything seems to be almost effortless. We stapled all sorts of greenery onto these shelves to decorate them while were selling Katie’s work at the holiday market, but now it’s time to tidy everything up. Since we were always a little rushed when we set things up over the past year, there are multiple staples in everything, all over the place, and some of them are easier to get out than others, but every time I do get one of the shelves completely cleaned of staples, I feel a little thrill of accomplishment.
One of the deeper staples requires a little muscle to remove, and I strain against it for a moment until it comes free of the wood with a satisfying creak of protest.
Based on our conversation yesterday, Katie has convinced me to watch a movie from the late 90’s called “Dante’s Peak,” which is about Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton recreating the movie “Jaws” but with, you know, an exploding mountain.
Rotten Tomatoes, a movie rating website you might have heard of, puts it at 24%, but Katie has given me the secret to enjoying this particular film, which is to root for the volcano.
The world spinning logo of the Universal Film company fades to black followed by a silhouette of a mountain which then, naturally, explodes, and Katie nods in approval. “Always introduce your main character first,” she says.
While we wait for the clock to turn over midnight and pivot from one year into the next, I pull up YouTube on the tv and search for one of the topics of conversation of the night.
“Live Volcanoes,” I speak into the microphone, and up on the screen pops a video entitled “Happy New Year! Live Stream Volcanoes Around the World.”
Katie, John and I are thrilled at this perfect synchronicity with our earlier discussion and I eagerly click only to be greeted by a split screen showing the silhouettes of several hills and mountains against various skies. Quiet mountains, simmering beneath, perhaps, but all of them still and silent as the planet continues to spin through space, geology completely unaware of our arbitrary transitions that remain meaningful to us, despite everything.