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Tuesday, January 30, 2007
By Paul Ford
Walking home from the train we were so happy to see the snow, because there has been so little of it. “God,” said Mo. “It truly is amazing. Brooklyn is just this fantastic place for one—asshole.”
“That was trash-can snow,” I said. “It came off a garbage lid.” It was running down the side of her face. She pulled it off her cheek and shot it directly into my mouth.
“How,” she asked, “does that taste?”
“Truce?” I asked.
“Truce?” asked Mo, disbelieving.
“Truce,” I said.
“Truce,” she agreed.
Almost home, we stopped to look at the Gowanus Canal. “We met here,” Mo said, pushing snow off the railing into the dark water fifteen feet below. “Truce,” I said and pushed a good handful down her back. She turned and landed a pile of slush right above my nose.
We went upstairs and looked out the window. It was falling at 45 degrees, the wind whipping the flakes into straight lines. Sometimes a spare flake would leave the pack and dawdle past the window or land on the outer sill. “Maybe they'll cancel school,” I said. As a kid I would get up at six, turn on the radio, and listen for the list, in my pajamas, sitting directly above the radiator vent. It was the only time anyone cared about local AM stations, and the announcers would stretch out their 15 minutes of winter fame into a full hour, breaking the closings into multiple segments with ads in the middle. West Chester area school district was last alphabetically.
With a style that incorporated many pauses, the announcer (something alliterative and old-sounding: Don Dickles? Mike Mulrooney? Bernard Barton? Father Larry O'Larry?) would arrive at the “V”s then break into ads for car dealerships and beauty salons. The ads were more interesting to read than the closings, so he lingered over them. My hands were shaking; I was nine. Then, purposefully cruel, he played a song, old enough that the cylinder was in the public domain (so the station could avoid paying artists' fees)—some long-dead tenor sang, “Pennsylvania Tuuuuurnpike, how I love you!” The kids from Bishop Flanagan were already out pushing each other into drifts. I had a desperate need for information; I could not believe that it was possible for any organization, particularly WCAU AM 1520, to blithely shrug off its civic duty. Then, an hour after he began reading (first up: African Bethel Methodist Pre-School, closed), ten minutes before I would have been expected to stumble to the bus stop, he came to the end of the alphabet: “West Chester area school district, closed for the day.” I thanked Jesus and the other two. God knows in 24 hours I'd be back at Hillsdale Elementary having my phonics-hole stuffed. But respite for today.
I've still got toys and games—XBox, Tetris, DVD player, and cell phone (thanks, foreign child labor, for letting me stay a little boy forever), but the snow day is lost. To take time off is to impede the progress of my projects and thus myself. When not at work I should be writing; when not writing, at the gym; when not at the gym, doing the dishes, or figuring out ways to make more money. I know this is a strategy for ultimate failure and stress-related disease, but the best I can do right now is keep spinning and then burn out on the weekends. I promise myself on Friday night that I will write 20 pages, but instead I read about space orcs while eating 25-cent packages of misspelled food—Chipchaps, Salt Smackerz, Funcorn, Yeesty-Klair, Mintee Sourz, Chocoprong Cheezers, Kake Snax, and Yumchkins.
“I can still taste Brooklyn,” I said. Mo laughed, remembering the look of disgust as I tried to dig the snow out of my mouth with my fingers, and I thought: that laugh will only mean sadness when I am dead, which, given the mood I am in and the unkempt quality of my hair, will be very soon. Those sudden melodramatic thoughts come at the end of happy sentences, like deformed punctuation marks. We're teasing the cat with a string, laughing along, and I think, all of this will be gray ashes, or cancer lurks unbidden and inevitable. (My father used to say, “laughing ends up in crying,” but he didn't mean this. He meant, take that lit firecracker out of your ear, funny guy.) I have come to understand the meaning, the underlying message of these melancholy Morrisseyish moments of self-pity and desperation: it's naptime. I woke up out of the void this morning, and now I'm on my way to work. It's not a snow day, just white salt-shadows on the pavement and the asphalt.