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S’no Thank You January 24, 2016

Posted by The Typist in Fargo, literature, The Journey, The Narrative, The Typist.
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I was in DC in January ’87 and remember the wonder of my first sled ride  a few weeks after my arrival just after New Year’s. I left New Orleans New Year’s eve for the three day drive, knowing an early start New Year’s morning not very likely.  The first city-closing snow a fellow roomie and I stole our hostesses clothes moving boxes for rude sleds and trudged to the other Washington Monument, the Masonic one, and tried to slide. Children took pity on us to learn we had grown well into our twenties without ever having sledded down a hill,  and cheerfully lent us sleds and disks for  turn or two. As we trudged home we watched a lone police car struggling along, and first heard the sound of snow chains.

My only prior experience of winter was a trip to Western Massachusetts with my girlfriend one year, driving the turnpike through a fresh snow wonderland, rural houses back up toward the low mountains along the road with their great stacks of wood and smoke threading up from their chimneys, that turnpike verse of James Taylor’ Sweet  Baby James ringing in my head, the idealized winter of nonsectarian holiday cards. Somehow in the years between then and my arrival in D.C. I had forgotten the lesson of being blown off my feet on an steep and icy Boston sidewalk.

That memory came back to me in the terror of the Washington, D.C. Super Bowl Day storm that first year. We rode the train in from Arlington and walked and slid on the prior storms melt ice  slick from Union Station to the park at the far end of East Capitol in our Southerners’ idea of winter coats (a lined London Fog is not a winter coat) and regular shoes, sneakers chosen for traction, but without so much as rubber mucklucks to put over them.   We preceeded to drink much beer throughout the hours of the Super Bowl party as the storm rolled through, dumping a massive slush of most unfluffy wet snow. We proceeded to try to walk back to the station in the howling dark, wading through the wet cold stuff which quickly soaked our shoes and everything exposed below the knee. There was not another soul or a moving vehicle in sight. As we began to lose all feeling in our feet and consider whether we would actually make it to the station alive and if pounding on doors begging admittance might  be our only hope of survival, a heaven-sent DC Metro bus came slip sliding sometimes side to side  but mostly forward down East Capitol, struggling to get back to the garage, which picked us up and took us to the station.

By the time I arrived in NW Minnesota for the horrific winter that in melting drowned Grand Forks (whose officials rushed to New Orleans’ aid with their experience in ’05) I had learned winter’s lesson well. “Been in the ditch yet?” was a common question, but I could always answer, “nope.” Detroit Lakes was small enough I could have snow-shoed to work in a pinch, and I remembered my first nerve wracking drive back to the airport from my future in-laws small North Dakota  town through a ground blizzard. A ground blizzard is something like what we southerners know as a ground fog, if that ground fog were being run to ground  by the hounds of hell. The invisible road was a matter of long pratice, muscle memory and the steel posts with reflectors that marked the shoulders. I  had no intention of going that native, although later I was required by the local work ethic to venture out and wind up in fear of my life more than once. When in Nome…but here is a fine line between dogged and stupid, as deadly hazardous as driffing over the highway’s center line, as a few proud and hardy northerners learn every year in spite of the winter survival kits in their cars. Thankfully I survived my few crossings over that boundary into white-blind peril.

When people asked why I would take my family to a disaster zone and risk future hurricanes, I reminded them that people went back and lived Grand Forks, where the Red River of the North–not much of river to the eyes of anyone from south of the Delta–is bound behind dikes as massive as those that front the Mississippi in New Orleans to contain Spring floods. And  that in North Dakota the weather can (and routinely does) kill folk–most often for stupidity–six months out of the year, not once in a generation.

I have fond memories of that idyllic drive through the wedding cake Berkshires, of snow shoeing in old fashioned beavertails the woods along the Red River on  a perfectly windless and sunny ten degree Dakota day , mastering the yogic art of turning around in the brush in those beautiful,  clumsy things and discovering the mystic beauty of an ice whorl on the river, and taking my children sledding down those massive river dikes along The Red of the North.  Still, from now on I’ll take my Blizzards far out on Airline Highway in one of New Orleans’ few Dairy Queens. With lots of crushed Oreos, putting out of my mind the resemblance of that muddy gray treat to the exhaust-blasted sides of a suburban D.C. street in February.

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A Star in the Beast December 7, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, Xmas, Yule.
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The rain falls in a dismal Oregon mist, a drizzle so fine my Fargo-raised son says it feels like snow. It is not. It is only in the low fifties out, and it is raining, the steady, penetrating damp of New Orleans winter.

It drives Northerners nuts. Before moving here she said: I’ll never get to where my sweaters, looking at that hope chest full of good Norwegian wool. Yes, you will, I answered. They come from the north expecting palms and balmy breezes and instead get a cold so bleak I wonder if this is how Ernest Shackelton’s men felt marooned on Elephant Island. I expect to pass a restaurant chalkboard and see Booby Soup featured.

When I lived up North the great moment of vernal excitement was when “the ice was off the lakes.” It then commenced to rain instead of snow, the icy rain of clouds off the North Pacific riding polar air masses south, on days cold enough to wear a sweater even if the sun were shining. This they called Spring. For someone from New Orleans, it was a second winter, more depressing than six months in an igloo, a winter without the pristine joy of fresh snow still a wonder to a Southern boy after a decade.

Granted that here in New Orleans we all might be swimming in Grandma’s pool come Christmas Day, but December is one of the city’s cloudiest months, and near the top for rainfall. This is the month when I remember and wonder: we almost moved to Portland, attracted by an guaranteed job with the company I worked for. My Portland-based boss and co-workers would have been pleased if we had come. I had looked at houses on the Internet, studied the tide tables of the Columbia River thinking of sailing on strongly tidal waters. Then I thought of endless drizzle and clouds. Then the Flood came, and all other plans were off. I was coming home.

I stood in a bar last Saturday, and fell into conversation with a group of Canadians. The day’s high had reached into the fifties but begun to fall outside. They all wore light fleece, the sort of thing one wears in “Spring” or in the warming house in the north. I have had this conversation two dozen times before: would we trade 50 and drizzle for a clear and windless 10 degree day, the sound of snow shows biting through the crust, the swoosh of cross-country skis?

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Tuesday was another gloomy evening of drizzle. As I turned to take my shortcut through City Park along Roosevelt Mall to get to Esplanade–car heater blasting like Satan’s chimney, blessed seat warmers up on high–I was greeted with the sight of a new set of Christmas lights in the park: an avenue of blue stars with white comet tails hanging from the oaks. I took my foot off the gas and let the car slowly roll beneath them. I was struck with the wonder I felt as a child visiting the Centanni House on Canal Street, oblivious to the weather, crunching into a candy apple from the several vendors who gathered there. When Salvador “Sam” Centanni died, king of over-the-top Christmas lights Al Copeland sent a lighted Christmas wreath instead of flowers, addressed to “The real King of Christmas.”

Once the children abandon Santa the way you left the church behind years ago, Christmas is a strange season: dinner at the in-laws stretched from hours to days, an obligatory Mass where you hope no one notices that you don’t even bother to mumble anymore to the Apostles Creed. Catholics are rotten singers but there was still something about midnight mass, waiting impatiently to bellow at the end Gloria in Ecelsis Deo over the woebegon Catholic pioneers around you. There was a ballooning joy in seeing the children’s faces when they opened their presents on Chritsmas Eve but I never quite got over the idea that presents belonged to Christmas morning. For half my life Christmas Eve was a time for parties and visiting neighbors, my father and my uncle drunkenly assembling a bicycle after midnight. But the great pleasure of the season wherever I lived was the mid-winter carnival of lights.

When I first got home to Mid-City, I would drive down City Park Avenue and look at the tangle of torn wires in the oak trees, all that remained of the Celebration in the Oaks. Over the years it has slowly recovered, and the site of the chase-light candy cane tunnel over the miniature train tracks no longer leads to my slamming on the breaks at Marconi. I am sad they moved the dragon far back into the lagoons and replaced it with the swans at Wisner and City Park. That dragon blown akimbo by the storm and left in the lagoon for seasons was for me not just a a memory but a promise, that mythical creatures still have meaning, manifest themselves in our lives if only by the magic of lights strung on a wire frame.

I don’t believe in a star in the east, but I do believe in the power of a hundred thousand glowing bulbs–the CO2 soaked atmosphere be damned for a month or so–to lift the cold-soaked soul toward the heavens.

Ice Dreams January 16, 2009

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA.
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“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

— One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

34, Ice, 34, Ice, 34, Ice. The little display in my car’s rear view mirror was incessant today, as if I didn’t know it was very cold, warning me of Ice. I had not seen it flash that warning in three years, since I had last driven it on the streets of Fargo, North Dakota. Thirty-four degrees Fahrenheit would be a nice day that far north, where the weather frequently turns aggressively arctic, dropping “below the donut” as the iconic local weatherman “Too Tall Tom” loved to say when it dropped below zero.

In New Orleans its an Odd thing to be so cold. Winter here is so much gentler than it was during my decade a little more than halfway to the North Pole. Perhaps it is to gentle; not assertive enough . Summer is liable to show up again and again on winter’s stoop like a bad old boyfriend, insisting they get back to the old times, to 85 and humid and January be damned…

Read the rest on Humid City.

Winter in New Orleans February 8, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, Rebirth, Toulouse Street.
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Winter in New Orleans


Red Against Blue

The small azalea, potted
on my porch, draped
in wilted clippings ripped
from neighbors nearly killed
by that frost insists
on budding, perhaps mourning
the red ribbon removed
on Twelfth Night. Bloom
I whisper and chase
these winter blues away.