My friend Tony came home from work, unlocked his door and saw his cat sitting by the refrigerator, not paying any attention to him as it usually did meeowing its greeting when he came in, but like an Egyptian statue, the silent cat looked straight ahead. Waiting for what? Tony thought walking into his living room where a boa constrictor was coiled into a ball on the floor. After a second, certain it wasn’t an hallucination, a call to 911 brought the cops who got the snake, a neighbor’s poor pet that had escaped from its cage and crawled through the wall to get away. Reality is easily explained, coincidence isn’t.
I tell my intermediate class the story and ask them, “Can you remember something that was such a surprise you couldn’t believe your eyes when you saw it?” I put them into groups of three to talk about it. Each student must tell the other two his or her story. I have to mix the languages up. In one group are a Spanish, French and Chinese speaker. If all spoke French, they’d soon resort to it. “Speak English!” I sometimes yell at them like a fear-mongered redneck.
A student couldn’t believe it when his wife told him she was pregnant; a student couldn’t believe it when Barack Obama was elected president; a student couldn’t believe it when her mother died; when she dialed 911 by mistake and the police knocked at her door; when she came to New York City and survived; when Edvard Munch’s Scream sold for 125 million dollars; when she got her first pay check; when she saw a car full of drunks crash into a wall right in front of her; when she fell in love with her husband talking to him for the first time on the phone for six hours; when she forgot her wallet this morning and couldn’t buy a coffee; when he found a beautiful antique jar at a garage sale; when he was taking a bath and an earthquake happened; when she came to New York and saw a cockroach, when she came to New York and saw dogs living with their owners in apartments, when she came to New York and saw people kissing in the street; when she opened a bag and a mouse jumped out.
Now with the vocabulary fresh in their heads, each student writes his or her story, at least a paragraph about it.
This morning, Friday, was snow, and then it was raining, and now it is snowing again. I took a walk, just a couple of blocks down to Avenue D toward Houston and then up to C again watching how people walked, and what was going on: lots of people shopping, some people walking dogs, and there was a couple arguing. The supermarket was packed; you’d think Hurricane Sandy was coming. I wanted to get some milk because I’m making hot cocoa tonight and all of the real milk was gone; I had to settle for some 1%. I looked at the whipped cream (Reddi Wip?) and it was $3.19 a can. A pint of heavy cream was $2.79, not that much cheaper, but it will taste many dollars better after I whip it up over some ice sprinkling in sugar and last but not least the vanilla. Hot cocoa with whipped cream tonight! When the blizzard after Hurricane Sandy happened, it was really bad because not only wasn’t there any electricity, there wasn’t any heat either. It was—I can see my breath—freezing. Akram, who is from Bangladesh, felt it to the bone and put on a cap and gloves with layers of sweaters; then into the blankets he tunneled, disappeared, was gone. The cold doesn’t bother me much. When I was growing up, my brother Scott and I had the bedroom over the garage; you could see your breath in our room. And the winter was the time Dad liked to clear land and cut down trees for firewood; the summer foliage was gone, making it easier to clean out the briars and burn all that brush. So I got used to the snow, the cold. We froze, got numb, but after that, with all the work, we warmed up again. Big flakes are falling now. Straight down. Let’s hope this doesn’t cause anyone real trouble. Enjoy the blizzard. Make popcorn. Make fudge. Make (fill in your own object here). Enjoy. Stay in. Catch up. Slow down. Relax. Have fun.
This morning, Saturday, at 7 the world is quiet. A few birds cross the horizon where the unfinished World Trade Center sticks its sharp points into the sky. Snow’s on all the roof tops. A plow has already gone up East 9th, but there is not one car passing by, not even on Avenue C. Quiet. The sidewalk bares many a footstep that has already tromped through it; but there’s no one but a man with a shovel over his shoulder walking west out for hire whose cigarette’s smoke looks cold drifting in the snow. What to do first? Or should I say next? I am writing this morning hello.
The first time Akram saw snow, he couldn’t believe his eyes, or more like it, his skin; it was just like in the movies except it was cold, snow flakes melted on his cheek and became water when he put them in his mouth. As much as Akram doesn’t like the cold, he likes snow. After breakfast, we went for a walk heading toward East River Park. The city was shoveling itself out, community gardeners cleaning their perimeters and the more self-interested digging out their cars. The promenade along the East River had already been plowed, much to our disappointment because we had wanted to walk in the snow for awhile. That being said, we probably walked a lot farther. Bikers biked, joggers jogged, dogs were walked and luckier happier ones ran up to their bellies through the driven athletic fields, a mommy and daddy showed their baby the snow, the baby squatting touching and holding some as daddy picked him up so he could throw it over the railing; the snow went falling and not the baby—yeah daddy!—into the river; and there was even a jogger wearing shorts—Talk about not believing your eyes. Under the Williamsburg Bridge, we turned around. There was laundry to do and it was almost noon. After we got to the laundromat and started washing, a deluge of others entered with laundry, some having to wander looking for an empty washer. It was a matter of minutes; we had done good.
I was born in the year of the bull, not the snake, although I do like snakes more than bulls. Snakes can startle you, they are so quiet, suddenly just there. That is what is so disconcerting about them. But snakes share this world with us and eat an awful lot of mice which more than pays for their keep. Mice cause a lot fires chewing through electric wires. More snakes, less fires. It is Sunday. I just chopped up and am marinating some chicken for curry tonight. Rice and dahl too, what do you think? Cleaning up. Just chopped two rotten bananas for the compost. Back home, Mom would hand you the garbage scraps, the uneaten leftovers and say, “Take it up to the field. Give it to the crows.” As I chop the bananas up, I think, “Well, I can’t give it to the crows, but at least I can give it to the compost.”
May the Year of the Snake be lovely, healthy and prosperous! Try not to be startled. And believe your eyes.
Yellow Snake by Akram.