Snow Shovel and Baguette

In the morning, expecting an oncoming snowstorm, I switched on The Weather Channel. Jim Cantore stood in the middle of a city street in Old Town Philadelphia. Some hundred miles South of here, he confirmed my expectations.

– “Yes, a storm was rapidly approaching.”

– “Yes, we could expect up to a foot of snow.”

– “Yes, I am standing in the middle of a city street, dodging traffic, to deliver this expected news.” (He didn’t actually say that.)

My first inclination was to drink a glass of seltzer, so I did just that, retrieving the seltzer bottle I got last Christmas, filling it with water, then injecting a cartridge of carbonation into the bottle. It’s not a usual reaction to the news of an oncoming blizzard; I was just thirsty.

Meteorologist Jim Cantore continued.

– “The Eagles game was canceled.”

– “All end of Christmas weekend flights were canceled.”

– “Don’t drive.”

None of his news directly impacted me, except that I would soon become one of many enduring a blizzard in the Jersey City area. And for the time being, the snow had not yet begun to fall. So I asked myself if there was anything I actually needed to make the approaching storm easier on myself. And I decided on two things: a snow shovel, and since I was about to venture out, a baguette.

I dressed warm, grabbed my bike and pedaled down Newark Ave., with a strong wind at my back. It was the morning after Christmas, and life in downtown had not yet come alive, sans a few city maintenance workers sitting in warm snow plows on the side of the street, preparing for the long day and night ahead.

Inside Tender Shoot Farms, where I went to buy bread, customers spoke of the approaching storm.

– “I hear they’re canceling football.”

– “It’s nothing compared to the Crippler of ’96.”

I bought bread, a Bosc pear, some Watercress and a sponge. Outside, I unlocked my bike and walked the 50-feet down to the hardware store, baguette in hand.

– “Ay papi, shovels selling fast today.”

– “My damn wife needs two bags of salt.”

I bought a ten-dollar shovel, big farewell to the cashier, and started pedaling back home, riding one-handed into the wind, with my free hand holding the shovel and baguette. By now, the snow had begun to fall, and the street had become more alive as people scrambled in all directions for snowstorm necessities, much like myself.

Withing a few blocks, I had dismounted my bike because of the wind, and was walking; past the music store, past the pho restaurant, past the one of three tattoo shops within a mile radius of downtown. When I rounded Second St., the men outside the Latin Lounge (yes, a bar was open at 10:45 a.m. the day after Christmas) were grumbling about the storm.

– “This wind sucks.”

– “Start saving your parking space now!”

I continued on, climbing my apartment stairs into a warm apartment, where I ate fresh bread and drank seltzer as I watched more of Jim Cantore and The Weather Channel.

– “This just in, the Eagles/Vikings game has been canceled.”

A Christmas Memory

“I wanna go to fucking New York,” screamed the drunken man at the bus stop across the street from my childhood home.

I can remember waking up, climbing out of bed and peering out the window in the direction of the disturbance. Still screaming, the man threw his bag down, marched into the middle of the street, raised his arms in the air and asked to be transported back to New York. I thought it was funny because he was using the F-word repeatedly, not yet realizing that I was witnessing drunken rage for the first time in my life.

The man was middle-aged, with a beard, a nylon jacket and a tote bag. If I had to describe him back then, I would’ve retreated to my father’s record collection, and looked for the Rupert Holmes album, “Partners in Crime.” I would’ve pointed at Rupert Holmes wiping his glasses clean on the record sleeve, and said, “That’s the man that got angry in front of our house on Christmas.”

The noise stirred my parents, and my brothers, and neighbors. Within minutes, outdoor lights flickered on around the screaming man at the bus stop. My father wondered aloud if he should confront the man, but my mother argued against it. “He could have a gun, you don’t know,” she said. It was an argument she still uses to this day. Don’t approach or engage anyone: they could have a gun.

By now, my brothers had gathered in the window next to me, giggling at the drunken man’s choice of words. My father, becoming more and more irritated by the interruption, on top of three kids awake late at night on Christmas Eve, decided to call the police and report the disturbance.

The police station, located a 1/2 mile down the road, dispatched a car to the bus stop almost immediately. As the car approached, the drunken man raised his arms again and marched at the oncoming police cruiser.

“Oh, now you’re gonna try to keep me from going to New York,” he screamed at the police.

What started as a loud drunken rage now turned into aggression aimed at the police. The officers emerged from the car, cuffed the man and placed him in the back of the police car. And within seconds, the street was quiet again.

The man’s bag remained at the bus stop, untouched by the police. Slowly, the neighbor’s outdoor lights flickered off, and the street returned to normalcy, shrouded in Christmas lights, neatly lined fences and stillness.

My father asked me to go back to bed, but I was fully awake. Santa Claus had yet to come (I had checked), a crazy man wanted to go to fucking New York and our family was awake. Still, my father put me back in my bed and sat with me for a few minutes. I asked him what was the matter with the crazy man at the bus stop, and he phrased his answer in perfect 8-year-old speak: “Some people just want to be with their families really bad,” he told me.

Satisfied with the idea that everyone wants to return home for Christmas despite the circumstances, I drifted off back to sleep, surrounded by my mother, father and two brothers in the house we shared, anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus.

I don’t remember that Christmas Eve or that Christmas day, but I remember my family together that night, peering out the window at a drunken man standing at a bus stop and screaming that he wanted to get back to New York.

And to this day, I can still say, “I wanna go to fucking New York” to any of my immediate family members, and they will know what I’m talking about.