Nanook of the North: The Village Idiot Takes a Stroll in the Blizzard of 2011
I am Nanook of the North. I am a polar bear without the white fur. I nap on ice floes. A blizzard is my friend. When it calls to me, I must go out in it. The colder, the windier, the snowier, the more slippery, the better.
Does this make me some kind of idiot? Lisa Walker, whom I see at the Donut Cafe only when there is a blizzard, implied as much, though innocently and unhurtfully. More on Lisa in a bit, though not to rant on her.
She may be right. Don't I ignore all those grim-faced TV newscasters warning us to "stay inside" and to "not go out unless it is an emergency and you absolutely must?"
My wife Barbara is accepting of my blizzard infatuation. But when I took off on foot at about 6 a.m. on the morning of the Blizzard of 2011, she had a look of impending doom on her face. She is a worrier. I am not.
"I'm worried," she said. "I don't want anything to happen to you. Please, please be careful. It's slippery out there. You could fall."
"Hey, I'm a hockey player. I'm at home on ice. I'm not going to fall."
"Just be careful, please, " she said with broken bones and emergency room written all over her face.
"I will," I lied, while looking forward to diving into a snowbank to avoid a sliding, out-of-control car. And out I went into my element.
Walking down the hill, I didn't see a living soul. Everything was white, pure, silent, breathtakingly beautiful -- and I had it all to myself. Imagine that. You walk out your front door and you are an audience of one for a masterpiece of nature, breathtaking in its power and beauty.
I was in my glory until, halfway down, I saw a car. A car? It's wheels were spinning as it crept up the hill ever so slowly, then stopped. A guy got out and pushed while a driver spun the wheels. Slowly, amazingly, the car made it up the hill. This early in the morning, I thought, this could only be dedicated deliverers of my New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
But I couldn't be sure. I resolved to pick up at least a Times at 7-11 where I was headed. Assuming the convenience store was open. And assuming the newspapers had been delivered. If anything is delivered in a blizzard, it will be newspapers. Though newspapers are generally seen as paper relics, there are still some die-hard newspaper addicts. I am one, while fully embracing the online world.
Without my Times in the morning, I get shaky.
The next thing that happened is that I fell on my ass. It happened like all falls do, suddenly when falling is the absolute last thing on your mind. I'm a hockey player, for God's sake. I don't fall unless an opposing player crunches me into the boards. And even then, I'm likely to stay on my feet.
Well, I stepped on ice hidden by the snow -- and flipped backward. I landed hard, on my behind. (I thought I would clean up my language.) But my hockey-player instincts broke the fall with my forearms and I was unhurt.
I keep referring to hockey because this is winter and winter to me means ice skating and hockey. Also, hockey is no longer past tense for me. This year I started playing hockey again in a group that my son Jon, 43, plays in. We play on the white-jersey team together against the dark jerseys. I suggested that we play on the same team.
"I don't want to encourage payback," I told him. I said I didn't want to deal with, "Remember what you said to me? Crunch. Remember what you did? Crunch."
Greg called me recently with shocking -- to him -- news on the aging front. "I just got my first senior discount," he said. "I stopped at Dunkin Donuts and on the way out I glanced at my receipt. The girl had automatically given me a senior discount. I was shocked!"
"She was probably about 16," I said.
"Welcome to old age, Greg."
After the fall, after brushing off the snow, after reassuring myself that I was still in one piece, I continued my adventure into winter wonderland. Again, it was just me and the blizzard which seemed only right to me. We are obviously meant for each other.
But then, upon reaching a main road, Chandler St. I saw an intruder -- a woman standing on the side of the road. What the hell was she doing there at this unholy hour -- it was still dark -- in a blizzard?
"What are you doing out here?" I called out to her from across the street.
"Have you seen the bus?" she replied.
"Bus? There are no buses in a blizzard."
"Oh, yes, there are. I've been getting the bus here for 25 years and it hasn't missed a day yet. Even during the blizzard of '78, the bus came."
"So what are you doing our here?," I asked. Since this was MY blizzard, since without HER it would be just the blizzard and ME, so I really wanted to know.
"I'm going to work."
"Oh," I said, my inquisitional tone fading amidst thoughts of public nuisance or harassment charges.
"Mind if I take your picture?"
"No!" she said immediately, turning her back. "I don't want my picture in the paper."
"I'm not a reporter."
"I don't care. I had my picture in the paper once and I didn't like it. Never again, I said. "
Here I am out to enjoy the blizzard and I get into an argument on the street. Why couldn't I just be left alone with my beautiful blizzard? I never met a blizzard I didn't love. I never got into an argument with a blizzard. Blizzards and I understand each other.
Now, however, with big plows out, along with a few cars driven by people who absolutely, positively had to be somewhere, the spell was beginning to break up. When I got to the 7-11 convenience store, and found it open, I was fully back in the real world.
Nothing like 24-7 cigarettes, lottery tickets, candy, snacks, and junk food to bring a blizzard lover down to earth. All I buy there is The New York Times, milk, and maybe a few bananas when they have them. In case my Times was not delivered, I bought a copy.
For Mahmudh, this is a temporary job. He is planning to move soon to Canada with his family. "There are more opportunities in Canada for me and my family," he said.
Now, with my beloved New York Times in hand, I head diagonally across the street to Donut Cafe. It is open and it is where I know I will encounter Lisa Walker whom I mentioned in the first paragraph.
When I walked in, she gave me a long look. It said, "You. And where have you been?"
"I know, I know,'" I said. "You only see me when there is a blizzard. Don't be mad at me."
She wasn't and we chatted along with two other customers, both men and both, by their presence, having no fear of the Blizzard of 2011.
Lisa had come in at 4 am, driven by a friend with a snowplow. He was going to pick her up at 12 when the shop was going to close, early because of the blizzard.
"There is nothing doing here," Lisa said. "Might as well go home."
I had coffee, raisin toast, read my New York Times, and we talked about the blizzard. As we did, we had front row seats to little blizzard dramas taking place in the intersection outside: huge plows chugging by... cars moving gingerly, making it ... other cars slipping and sliding ... one car got stuck in the parking lot, spinning its wheels for the longest time before inching its way onto the road ... a brave -- or foolish -- pedestrian.
"Look at that idiot walking out there," Lisa said.
As soon as she said it, she put her hand to her mouth and looked at me.
"Oh, so you're calling me an idiot," I said.
"No, he was walking in the middle of the road," she backtracked.
"She meant another idiot," one of the other customers said.
We all laughed.
On the way home, I went by side roads where the blizzard was still in its full, untouched natural glory and I reveled in it. Below, I make it home. Thank you Blizzard of 2011. I enjoyed our time together.
So long and keep moving.