Never Wise Up a Chump

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:52

    It didn't look as bad as all that outside to me. The snowstorm hadn't been nearly so wicked as promised. I'd seen much worse. I remember being shown pictures, as a child, of the snowdrift that (quite literally) buried my family's house in upper Michigan in 1967. Now there's something to get breathless about.

    I went about my morning business, ignoring the mild hangover, put my shoes and coat on and headed out.

    My neighbors?some of them at least?were out already, scraping the sidewalks. God bless them for that?but only to a certain degree. Because while they were making narrow paths in the sidewalk, which is of priceless help to a man who can't see?they were proceeding to pile all the snow at the street corners. And just on the other side of the small mountains they were creating, wide, deep puddles of half-frozen water awaited me. It was an act of civic kindness undermined by whispered treachery. Each corner became like a ride?but a ride with no safety features. Goddamn them all.

    Down in the subway, a garbled voice over the p.a. announced, "Instances move momentarily." I thought about that, then jotted it down in my notebook, vowing to think about it some more later, as I continued to wait.

    The train came, eventually, and it was packed. I found a narrow spot in the aisle and grabbed a pole. At the next stop, after more people had crowded on board, and just as the doors were about to close, a woman's voice on the platform bellowed, "Hold the doors!"

    Thirty seconds later, she grunted up the stairs, finally?a large woman, maybe in her 40s, with an academic haircut. She gave the motorman a jaunty wave as she slammed into the car, forcing her way through the crowd to a spot opposite me, clinging to the same pole.

    The doors closed, and we moved again, as this woman stood her ground, much too close, huffing her disease all over my hand. There was no room to move my hand on the pole. There was no room to move anywhere as she continued to breathe on me. I turned my head away and let her go about her filthy business, making a mental note to wash that hand thoroughly as soon as I got into the office. I'm not an obsessive-compulsive or anything like that?at least not too much?I just don't like being breathed on.

    I got off the train, only to soak my feet (again) in one of those ankle-deep camouflaged puddles. My socks smelled bad enough as it was; this would only make things worse. Three blocks later, while holding my breath, hoping to make it beneath a blocklong stretch of scaffolding without running into anyone or anything, a 2-pound chunk of ice broke loose and caromed off my head. Thank God for the hat. Now I know why I hold my breath so much these days. There wasn't even any relief when I finally made it to the coffee cart, bruised and soaked and cold and gloveless.

    "Hey," I said.

    "Hey brother," he replied, since that's how he always replied.

    "How are you doing?" I asked, as he filled the large paper cup with black coffee. I didn't even have to ask for it anymore. He just knows what I want.

    "I'm okay," he said, "but what do you do? You need to work. You need every nickel. What do you do?"

    Normally he tells me he's "great" and "super" and "wonderful." This was not a good sign. He sounded almost panicky. I put my change on the counter, grabbed my coffee, and went on into Special Class, where my dying and hopeless machine was sighing its last.

    I did what I could with it over the course of the day, then gave up. After a few hours, there was nothing more I could do. I met up with Morgan, and the two of us went to the tavern to have a few and watch the horse races.

    Afterward, she walked me to the subway station. We'd both had a few more than we had expected or realized. At least it felt that way. Once underground, my legs were unsteady, my feet numb, the platform crowded. Never a good combination of circumstances. But I got on the train all right, even if it wasn't the one I wanted, and headed back into Brooklyn. I knew I'd have to get a little straighter along the way before trying to make that walk home. It was going to be tricky?as I've pointed out Lord knows how many times before, canes simply don't work in the snow.

    There had been a bit on the television the night before, I remembered, some sort of show involving people doing stupid things. I've always liked shows like that. But I knew there was going to be trouble when the segment with the blind guy came on. He'd lost his sight when he was 13 years old, we were informed. He explained that his retinas had simply "unraveled." But did that stop him? Oh, of course not?he's on the television.

    Turns out that since he went blind, he's taken up rock climbing. "I think rock climbing is a great thing for blind people to do," he said.

    "Oh, it is not," I snapped at the screen. "Big dummy."

    I have a bad habit of talking to my television like that.

    If he wants death-defying blind adventure, he should try getting home drunk along snow- and ice-covered Brooklyn sidewalks.


    I hit the top of the stairs and let the cane flop open, screwed a cigarette into the corner of my mouth and headed out. I soon discovered that my conscientious neighbors had cleared a path approximately 18 inches wide. Each tap of the cane to either side of me ended up buried and stuck. With each step, I had to stop to yank the cane free from the filthy gray snow before taking another.

    Complicating matters was the growing line of some of my other fine neighbors behind me, none of whom dared sully their fancy, shiny leather boots by actually stepping off the path and into the snow in order to get around me. No, instead I had to step off the path to let them all pass. And I did it, because I'm one fucking good guy.

    At each street corner, I had no choice but to stop using the cane altogether, holding it aloft as I tromped through snow piles of unknown depth until I had something solid beneath me again (which usually meant that I was in the middle of the street). Then I had to prepare to do the same thing on the other side of the street.

    But I made it. Made it home damp and cold and frustrated, but reasonably, and surprisingly, unscathed. I opened the front gate, and began tapping my way up the steps, breathing almost as hard as that woman had on the train this morning.

    "Hello," a voice said as I neared the top, scaring the hell out of me.


    "I'm sorry?did I startle you?"

    "Yes, yes I'm afraid you did."

    "I'm sorry." It was a young woman's voice. I presumed that she was a member of the extended family who live on the first floor. I didn't know her name. She was just standing there at the top of the steps in the cold.

    "That's okay," I told her, as I pulled out my keys and felt for the third one. "You coming in or going out?" I asked.

    "Oh, I'm just out here smoking a cigarette." I always feel bad for people who are forced outside to smoke.

    "Okay then," I told her, as I unlocked the door and pushed it open. "You enjoy that cigarette."

    "Thanks," she said. "Goodnight."