Picture of Author
Author Name
Photo (c) Jerry Bauer


From LAKE EFFECT:
I found an apartment in Greenwich Village on one of those narrow streets I had imagined in high school, when Jamie looked at my brother's photos and said, "New York, how can you beat that!" It was a fifth-floor walk-up on Grove Street with a skylight and a glancing view of Sheridan Square. In the winter, when it snowed, the tall buildings were hidden and the streets so quiet the city seemed to fall back into the nineteenth century. My friend Jim Albrecht hired a cabdriver to drag him (rope, skis) down the desolate storm-bound avenues. In spring, when the snow melted, the runoff seeped through the skylight and flooded my apartment. I got a bucket to catch the water. The super finally showed up. He looked at the ceiling and said, "I think you need a bigger bucket."

JIM ALBRECHT
"Skiing"

To the Alaskan in New York City, there is almost nothing as exhilarating as a thick blanket of snow. The expatriate Alaskan can only read this as something providential -- an inspiration, a call to action, an opportunity for glory that only he, of all the city's thronging humanity, can properly undertake.

So when I woke to find almost two feet of snow covering the streets and sidewalks of the West Village, a surge of adrenaline welled up inside me -- much like what an opera singer must feel when an acquaintance at dinner suggests a visit to the karaoke. Oh, sure, I could do a little singing, I could break the fucking windows in this place.

I learned about snow from my brother, who as child, practiced the art of "hookybobbing" as we called it there ("skitching to those of you from the Midwest"), and who a teenager, had himself towed around the neighborhood on skis and launched off of the high snow berms on the side of the road. With driver's licenses, we pulled everything we could get our hands on. Innertubes were a favorite: you could be reckless on an innertube. By the time we reached adulthood, we understood every option for snow entertainment man could devise, not because we were more gifted than others, but because we were kids -- and, indeed, American kids -- in a very snowy place.

We dug snow caves out of snow berms, built fortresses from blocks of hardened snow, jumped off the roof into deep piles of snow. We skied, and skied backwards, and skied on one ski. We pressured our more adventurous friends into doing back flips and taking enormous drops off of wind-blown cornices, then winced and laughed when they landed. In the summer, we skied on our running shoes, down long ravines filled with leftovers from the winter. In short, sliding on the snow had a very loose connection to actual ski resort facilities. Whatever you could negotiate directly with the snow was OK. That's what makes Alaska a true wilderness -- there's no middleman.

And in fact, that sense of all things being negotiable--you can ski any mountain you want, if you have the guts to climb up there -- is one of the few threads that unites life in Alaska to life in New York. It's something that an Alaskan feels at home with. There's nothing to stop you, for instance, from going up to a cab as it waddles to a stop in the deep snow, and, rope in hand, asking if you could get a ride -- from behind, so to speak. "No, no, no," the cabby might say, shaking his head, avoiding eye contact. But you could hail another cab, and maybe this time, you could say to the litany of no's, "I'll give you twice the meter," or even, met with silence, Three times the meter." And maybe at that point, the little mountain slope between the village and midtown becomes surmountable after all. At that point, banking turns against the parked cars, waving to pedestrians like they're high school friends waiting to see you to do something truly stupid, you're back home again, back up on top of the world.

Next essay