Home alone for the holidays


They rolled over the central Maritimes, one after another, each a vast, white steamroller, each inevitable, inexorable, remorseless; and at some point on the day after my holiday haircut and before the last bag was packed, I knew the adventure was over before it had begun.

“We’re not going to make this happen, are we?” I quizzed my wife, already certain of her answer. She remained silent, but the look on her face said everything that needed to be said.

We had started planning the trip to New York City – a short, Christmastime sojourn in the Big Apple – last winter. It had made terrific sense. Our adult daughters would be gone with their families, enjoying the seasonal cheer this year with their husbands’ relations. We, in turn, would escape to Manhattan’s jazz clubs and Central Park and the Museum of Modern Art.

By early November we were ready: tickets bought, various admissions arranged, hotel reservations confirmed. Nothing would stop us. Nothing could go wrong. After all, we’d orchestrated a similar jaunt to London, England, only two Christmases ago, and it went off without a hitch.

Of course, December 2011 was not, as things transpired, December 2013.

The Canadian winter dominates the nation’s literary canon as Professor Moriarty did the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: capricious, diabolical, confounding. And so it was in the days before our scheduled great escape. Storm upon storm upon storm descended, bringing with them all the attending power outages and, more relevantly for us, flight delays and cancellations.

We had planned for every contingency except, naturally, the one for which there is none. Now, the battle turned indoors.

How exactly does one enjoy a merry Christmas when no halls had been decked, no mistletoe had been strung, no presents had been wrapped? Hell, no tree had been raised. Is any scene more pathetic than that of two 50-somethings huddled around the fireplace channel, crackling away on the tube? The packet of American bucks rested, inert, in the living room bureau drawer, feeling very sorry for itself, indeed.

Fortunately, my wife possesses a streak of resourcefulness wide enough to inspire a planeload of stranded passengers. With cheerful fortitude, she determined that if we could no longer go to New York then New York would come to us, and began to organize our leisure time accordingly.

Back issues of the New Yorker magazine were rescued from the recycle and placed prominently on the coffee table. Annie Hall, Manhattan, Broadway Danny Rose, and Bullets Over Broadway were stacked neatly beside the CD player, waiting only for the bagels and lox to be served.

In no time, quotes from the iconic New Yorker – Woody Allen, himself – danced through our heads. . .

This: “I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.”

And this: “It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

And this: “The lion and the calf shall lie down together, but the calf won’t get much sleep.”

And this: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

When we’d had our fill of that sort of wit, we turned to another, in form of The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 miles in the City by William B. Helmreich. The book, a gift from our daughter, fairly brims with a native’s good-natured observations about his home town:

“The conclusions drawn. . .are based. . .on the more than six thousand miles I walked through the streets and parks of New York City over a four-year period,” he writes. “I hung out on street corners, attended community meetings, sat in parks, went to concerts, danced in nightclubs, and spoke with hundreds of people from every walk of life. In truth, I’ve actually been walking this city since I was a young child, having been raised here.”

Meanwhile, storms continued on their punishing course and the planes stayed grounded, as did we – but in a good way, as we gorged on the promise of spring.

“What about New York in May,” I quipped. “Winter should be over by then.”

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