Whirring wind, the whistling of asthmatic ghosts, the clinks of cans and other detritus thrown out windows by careless neighbors and left to pick up in an unpredictable gust. Spooky and grandiloquent gestures in lieu of snow. The slush well melted. Two inch puddles evaporating before tomorrow morning. Footfalls beyond walls. Eight days before the unfulfilled promise of a wintry wonderland. Mere weeks before year’s end. Party poppers and streamers and the clinks of champagne flutes, but not today. The phones are dead at this zero hour, batteries left to expire and the monitors dissolving into screensavers. Everyone is shaking. Jittery souls packed in thick soles, stampeding through powdery barricades. The other half packed inside clinging to lovers and protective blankets. Times Square half-deserted, the heavy credit card swiping primed for the robust nor’easter of Penn Station procrastinators. Subways chug and conductors repeat MTA warnings. They are the lonely drivers of this city, saturating these barely populated cars with lonely chatter. The rest ride silent in cabs because it beats shivering in shelters.
The smarter and richer ones have fled to warmer places, to friends and families, to wintering — although they’ll never use that gerund. There are still places that pulse with life. Warm tableaus where everybody seems mystified that the holiday hasn’t come to pass. Which explains the reliance upon safe tunes that everybody knows like the Beatles blasted over speakers, defacing the silence and filling in for the thirty-seventh version of “Jingle Bell Rock.”
Daylight’s at a premium and everyone knows it. In particular, the nine-to-fivers are sad because they’re inside when the sun stabs through the clouds. It’s hard to smile, but jokes come easier. And sometimes there’s the prospect of a shared flask. Conversations are quieter, subjects less scintillating. It’s as if we’re all part of a mandatory Secret Santa operation. Brain cells dwindle, fires kindle. But cats and dogs jump on laps and are walked around blocks, whether sun or sleet. Kids bristle with energy and anticipation. The haul might be pretty good or anticlimactic. The alone hole up with big bottles and are left alone.