New York is disgusting after rain, but it’s far worse after snow. Snow blankets the city beautifully until traffic and plows smear it black with soot and grit. Worst of all are March snows. Snow in December hangs around. Ice piles on the roadsides, grimier by the day. New snow dusts it white again. Drifts corrode incrementally as temperatures inch to 3 or 4 or 5 degrees above freezing and sun peeks around the clouds. March snow is different. It piles up on curbs and sidewalks at night and, by the afternoon, clouds break, sun beats down, and the air is 45 degrees or warmer. Drifts and mounds of ice melt at once and the city becomes a frigid swamp.
At the northwest corner of West 27th Street and Madison Avenue, ice melt can be 6 inches deep, an enormous lake sprawling 20 feet from the curb all the way around. To get from one side to the other, I hop to the south side of 27th, cross Madison, and then cross back to the north when I get to Fifth. Otherwise, I walk 20 feet up the block to cross between cars where I’m clear of the lagoon. It was after a snow early this month, in sweeping around that enormous puddle and dodging countless puddles smaller, that I had an odd thought.
I’m not particularly sentimental, though I do collect things and I occasionally have a hard time throwing away baubles and trinkets. My shelves are filled with half-filled notebooks that I’ve abandoned; quotes, lists of books I’ve read, lists of ideas I’d like to write about, old practice journals, writing exercises and all sorts of mental detritus. They gather dust and I hesitate to purge them. But that stems more from forward-looking anxiety than from nostalgia. My college diploma is buried somewhere in my old room at my parents’ house in Orange. Or at least I think it is. Truth be told, I can’t be sure. I don’t sit looking at the bookshelf overflowing with old college music books, pondering the good times. I sit looking at the bookshelf overflowing with old college music books, thinking of how I might need them later. Maybe. Probably.
The result sometimes looks the same–boxes of junk and papers, shelves of books, notebooks filled with weird ideas – but the cause is different. Junk remains but other bits of sentimentality don’t. An anxious mind has no use for them. One such bit of sentimentality is the impulse to marvel over the passage of time.
Mom and Dad came to visit recently. At lunch one day, I tried to pin some event or another in time by mentioning that it happened right after I moved to New York—six years ago. “Wow. Really? Six years ” Mom was surprised and Dad shook his head. But six years feels about right to me. I’m coming up on 10 years from high school graduation and don’t find that surprising. It feels exactly like a third of my life has passed since I left the Orange County Public Schools.
(Further evidence that I’m not terribly sentimental: I won’t be attending a reunion and don’t even know if and when such a thing might take place.) In general, I don’t look at myself in the mirror, glassy-eyed, contemplating the passage of time.
My, how you’ve grown.
But I do sometimes notice changes; odd changes, insignificant changes, tenuous connections, new circuits, blips that echo. Which brings me back to the puddle on the northwest corner of West 27th Street and Madison Avenue.
I walked around the puddle like I always do. The only difference being that I noticed I was walking around the puddle. When I was little, my parents would put my sisters and me in rubber boots and raincoats and take us down the street in the rain. We grew up at the bottom of a huge hill, about a mile long. It started at Main Street, descended past our house to a little basin and, after a third of a mile, began the big climb to the top. After a good rain, that low stretch was a maze of puddles, brown and shallow with worms and frogs. Mom and Dad got us properly bundled and then winced as we ran full-tilt for the biggest puddles we could find and jumped in with both feet.
I wrote a few weeks ago that the photograph on my learner’s permit looked so unlike me 10 years later that the bank would no longer accept it as photo I.D. But I’ve never once looked in the mirror and thought about the long march of time or the toll of years or whatever. That thought, brief though it was, came as I scrunched up my face at the sight of the lake on Madison Avenue and threaded between the bumpers of two parked cars to avoid soaking my shoes. I thought about rain boots and a time that, to my parents’ chagrin, I would’ve jumped into it with both feet.
My how you’ve grown.
For better or worse.
Peter is a native of Orange County and the son of an English teacher and a librarian with freakishly eclectic musical tastes. He studied music in college and subsequently moved to New York City where he works, performs, explores, and writes about it.