Bitter cold and a real snowstorm. NYC might get a foot of snow. I’m downtown thinking I should call Larry. I should be crawling in this.
At that moment Larry calls and leaves me a message in a slightly deranged sing-songy voice.
“I can’t help but think…you should be crawwwwwwling.”
No way I can do a day crawl. I’ve got real things to do. Responsibilities! But I’ve got no excuse for ducking a crawl tonight. And the storm is supposed to intensify.
Larry can do it… but not until 10 pm. It’s one of the things I always pictured, crawling at night in the snow. In a storm? Crawlng up to Columbus Circle from the Ed Sullivan Theatre? This must occur.
Arrangements are made. My son, Mason, hears me talking on the phone about it and he begs me not to go. Last week on a bright cold afternoon upstate I read him Jack London’s story, To Build A Fire. Now he knows one way a man can die in the cold. But London’s man “…lacked imagination…”
At least that’s what the narrator in the story tells us.
Mason reminds me of how the man’s feet froze solid.
“I’ll be fine. I won’t be alone. I’ll be careful. You remember why the guy died in To Build A Fire?”
“What did he lack?” I ask.
“Imagination?” Mason says, still sounding worried.
Blair doesn’t want me to go either but I explain to her that I must! By the time I leave the apartment Mason is asleep and he believes I am staying home tonight. I lied and said I probably wasn’t going. I lied to make him feel better. I didn’t want him to wake up and worry. What category of lie is that? Blair falls asleep snuggled up with him on his bed and I sneak out of the apartment as quietly as I can.
I get off the 1 train at 50th and walk north on Broadway to the spot across from the Ed Sullivan Theatre where I stopped last week. The snow is spinning in the lights, the streets are still a mess, traffic slow, sparse. Only a few hearty types lingering in the storm. The rest are moving fast to get to where they are going.
The cold is painful if you stand still for too long. The weightless snow is still falling, but not quite as heavy as earlier in the evening. A few state of the art snowblowers are able to clear their sidewalks down to bare dry concrete.
Once I start crawling I warm up. I am cheating, wearing a hat, a massive Alpaca hat that a friend gave me. It looks like I’ve got an overstuffed light brown fur chair on my head. I promised I would never wear a hat on this journey, just the suit, but it is down near zero and the cold is menacing. I’m okay with breaking another promise to myself if it means keeping my skull unfrozen. And the hat is kind of funny. I’m feeling like maybe the crawl could use a little levity.
The hat had two fuzzy decorative balls hanging down, one on each side, but I cut them off a few weeks ago. They kept blowing into my mouth and getting tangled together. The hat is much easier to deal with now.
Crawling in the snow. I get a good slide on the kneepads except where the anti slip salt stuff is scattered on the concrete. What this stuff is made of is anyone’s guess but it melts ice and tastes real bad. I slap my gloves together and somehow get a face and mouth full of a chemical salty mix and I gag and spit off to the side.
A few people around, tourists taking my picture, trying and failing to make snowballs with the powdery snow. A few friends of mine have come to watch. I ignore them. I only talk to strangers.
The roar of the plows on 57th Street makes the ground shake. They sound like arctic dinosaurs foraging, marking their territory, scraping the road like its some kind of mating call. When they are gone everything goes gentle again. The snow cover muffles the usual racket. The city feels safer, smaller, softer. A distant siren sounds less sharp, less urgent.
Cold and dry enough so there’s barely any wet slush. The snow is tapering off. Powder puffs up as my hands slide forward. I am leaving a trail that makes no sense. What animal is this? A hunter would be thrilled. I am big game. The only one left. Or maybe the first of many. I leave the mark of solitary migration. Two unbroken lines from the sliding of each knee and the dragging toe of each boot. The two lines run through my handprints. Mine is an easy track to follow, but one that will soon, quite suddenly, evolve into footprints. This will confuse the hunter.
The air is cracking cold, each inhale a fresh blast on my mouth, throat and lungs. My breath comes out in puffs of warmth from deep down in my core. I slow down and listen to the rhythm of my movement and my breathing as I crawl.
I’m not going far tonight. I thought my knees would hurt more than they do so soon after the last crawl. I was expecting more desolation, wind swept empty streets, snow drifts. But we’re too close to the heart of the city for that. There will be desolation up ahead, up above 125th street in the snow. Late at night. Maybe that’s where I’ll find it.
I cross the last wide street, at Columbus Circle, bound for the spire. I crawl as fast as I can when the sign says walk. Deep virgin powder on the three steps at the base of the spire. I climb them and turn around, sit back and let out a big plume of breath. I pull the alpaca hat off and feel steam rise off my sweaty head. A man bounds out of nowhere, in green lycra, dressed like a cyclist, with some kind of foreign accent. He rushes to me and hugs me.
“You have accomplished something!” he announces, happily.
I thank him and tell him I’m only halfway. He thought I was finished.
My visiting friends congratulate me, give me a hug, Larry too and Teddy has appeared. Everyone is shivering but me. I’m still warm, and a little bit giddy. We aim for the glow of a little Irish bar across the street. We are very much going to that bar. The night has just begun. I’m talking, answering someone’s question, and I nearly wander out into traffic and get run over. Someone from our group grabs my arm and pulls me back. Who was that? I must thank them again.