The Christmas blizzard of 2010

by Brian Clarey

Scene: On Christmas Day, up in New Jersey, my Uncle Tom, a sort-of retired school superintendent, indulges in his love/fear of adverse weather by clicking away from the holiday sporting events and losing himself in the Weather Channel’s breathless revue of storm porn. Every few minutes he hops from the couch to update us on the forecasted severity of the oncoming blizzard.

“They’re getting 14 inches in Raleigh,” he says.

It’s the most alive he’s looked all day.

Tom would like nothing better, I think, than to witness the Storm of the Century, a pounding of the elements replete with power outages and, hopefully, some looting, forcing him and his family into his well larded basement to survive for days on his hoard of canned goods, toilet paper and condiments that has been waiting for an opportunity like this for more than 20 years.

It will also allow him to spend more time with his daughter, my cousin Lizzy, who is scheduled to make the jaunt down Interstate 95 to her home in Greensboro Monday morning.

The rest of us, who are used to these fantasies of his, unaffectedly finish our dessert of homemade Italian Christmas cookies and play board games with the kids.

Scene: Amid what will come to be known as the Christmas Blizzard of 2010, I’m driving down Hilton Avenue in Garden City, NY, the place where I grew up. The snow, coming down in lacy snowflake curtains, is beginning to gather in drifts right here in the middle of the street, and my car, unaccustomed to this kind of abuse, spins its wheels in the icy dust.

I’m moving at perhaps 20 miles an hour, which any other time in the New York metropolitan area would attract aggressive horn blows and extended middle fingers, but tonight I’m alone on these suburban streets save for a few stray travelers looking for a place to ride out this mess and the snowplows, which have been sweeping the roads for the last few hours, even though the blizzard itself is not set to abate until morning or so, in an effort to mitigate tomorrow’s load.

I’ve got a book reading slated for tomorrow night here in my hometown, and I’m coming off a rehearsal with my very old friend Andy Falco, who has agreed to be my musical accompaniment for the event. I’ve known Falco since he was a tiny kid, watched his musical chops grow since he was playing gigs in high school cafeterias, and I’m not the least bit surprised that he, along with his band the Infamous Stringdusters, have been nominated for a Grammy this year for Best Acoustic Country Song, for a number called “Magic No. 9,” which, though I have yet to hear, I am confident is a brilliant display of my friend’s talented fingers.

He’s spending the season here in Garden City at his parents’ house, exercising his creative genius in an attic bedroom while waiting for his next world tour. My situation is somewhat similar, though he’s better at what he does than I will ever be at anything.

We’ve got a pretty good bit worked up for tomorrow night, and if these snow-dusted gusts ever stop blowing maybe we can entice a decent-sized crowd to come in from the cold to listen.

After our rehearsal, I make my way through the freezing spray to a bar in downtown Garden City, where I suck down a couple beers as the New York Giants make a mockery of my allegiance to their football team in their inept performance against the Green Bay Packers. The game is as terrible as the company is magnificent: Nicky Lucchesi, whose restaurant, the Upper Crust Café, will be the site of my reading tomorrow; the gregarious Johnny Rocker, who I have not laid eyes on in at least 10 years, and who, I hope, will be tickled by this mention of his name in this column; and one of the Mikes. A lot of my New York friends are named Mike.

The beers wear off immediately when I hit the blizzard-ravaged streets, and I make it almost all the way to my parents’ apartment. About four feet from my safe parking spot in the drive my car spins itself out and I have to wrench my father — an old Albany, NY boy who knows the ways of driving in deep snow — from his new easy chair to usher my Jetta in from the street.

Scene: The wind howls, howls like a whispering monster and blows the snow in waves against my parents’ apartment, ferocious enough to cause peaked drifts against our cars, on the stoop, off the curb. There is even a snowdrift on the small ledge of the doorbell, something I have never, ever seen before, and I am a man who has seen much winter mayhem.

I can hear the wind right now, pushing against the windows of the back bedroom, whipping through the fenced-in yards, shearing hills and valleys into the new-driven footage.

Makes me shiver. But I can also hear the very human sounds of my family, three generations of it, cavorting up front. My sisters dote upon my oldest son.

My wife lets loose an easy laugh. And though I know it’s not possible, I think I can hear my parents smile, even from all the way back here.

It’s cold outside. But it’s warm in here. And that, I think, is the point.