How the World Works

As most everyone is aware, here in New York we had some snow recently. (Yeah, DC, we know – not as much as you had.) For some reason, this particular storm was talked up to a wild extent: school closings for Wednesday were announced on Tuesday, and the Powers That Be also warned of closing the Lincoln Tunnel and the LIRR. In the past, it has seemed that preemptive school closings have jinxed the expected amount of snow, and everyone ends up trying to go sledding when there are only two inches out there, but in this case, the snow – about 10 inches – arrived on time and fell as promised. (Hey, the weathermen – excuse me, weatherpeople – have to be right SOMETIMES.) And most miraculous of all, our office was closed, and we had a snow day!

Let me repeat that: WE HAD. A SNOW DAY. Our office has never been closed for weather-related reasons, and I know there have been bigger storms than this since I’ve worked here. Not that I am complaining AT ALL, because snow days are, if not the best thing in the world, then definitely somewhere on the top ten list.

I celebrated by staying in bed a couple hours later than usual, eating birthday cake for breakfast, and watching the movie Snatch for the 182nd time. It was a good day.

The real world intruded on my happy little snow paradise yesterday, in that I had to go to work as usual, then race home in order to do laundry before the laundromat closed, and, while I was waiting for the laundry, dig out the car. So I trundled my bag of laundry to the laundromat three blocks away, and asked the man there if it would be all right if I borrowed one of their snow shovels (most businesses here keep a shovel handy for clearing their patch of sidewalk). He said that was fine, so I took a big plastic shovel and went to work.

I should have taken before-and-after pictures, but I didn’t have my camera with me. It really wouldn’t have been that bad – the snow was deep, but light and fluffy – if I hadn’t been plowed in, but of course that’s what happens with street parking. There’s a wall of snow up to your thigh and two or three feet wide, and the  bottom six inches (at least) are pretty much solid ice. At least after last time I knew which spots I had to concentrate on clearing; I dug for forty minutes, returned to the laundromat to move clothes from the washer to the dryer, then went back to digging.

About half an hour into Round Two, a man who had been clearing his steps across the street came over with a metal shovel and a small sharp blade attached to a stick. (I’m sure this has a name too, and I’d know it if I grew up somewhere where chopping ice was required on a regular basis, but as it is I’m going to go with “blade on a stick.”) He started in chopping up that base layer of ice, while I cleared away the chunks with my shovel, thanking him profusely all the while. Soon enough there was enough space to get out, but we stood and talked for a moment. I asked him his name and introduced myself, and thanked him again, and then he gave this little monologue in accented English about how helping each other is what makes America – “or any country” – great, and how he had a daughter my age and maybe somewhere out there someone would help her. “That’s how it works,” he said.

I was blown away. Is there someone like this on every street in Brooklyn, or am I just lucky? I don’t know. I do know that “Random Acts of Kindness” is in Chicken Soup for the Soul stories and on bumper stickers and is considered cliche – but sometimes cliches exist for a reason, no? This man was so sincere, and I was, again, so grateful. It made me think of the movie Pay It Forward (2000), and how seemingly small acts can have such a large effect on one’s mood, one’s day, how one goes forth into the world to interact with others.

What I’m reading: Karma and Other Stories, Rishi Reddi; The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross; Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke
What I’m listening to: Stateside, Andrew Norsworthy; Reconstruction Site, the Weakerthans

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