I celebrated the first day of winter by riding my bike to McCarren Park to do t'ai chi, then to the gym, and finally to my friend Luis' new shop and café, only to find out afterward that I'd been misinformed, that the solstice won't actually occur for another 8 1/2 hours, at 1:08 this morning.
Oh, well, close enough. Today looked suitably wintry and bleak enough, and after all, beginning tomorrow, the days get longer and brighter. Why, a mere three months from now the trees will budding and the flowers will be poking their tender heads through the still half-frozen soil and the peace and quiet of McCarren Park in midwinter will be but a distant memory as thousands of hipsters and children and long-suffering old-timers come flocking at the first hint of a balmy breeze.
And what's three months, anyway? Remember how quickly last summer came and went? Before we even had a chance to do one tenth the things we'd planned to do? Regardless of what it might it seem like at times, winter is just as brief, just as fleeting, and just as likely to be gone long before we've really got going on that list of things to accomplish before spring.
But today, bundled up tightly enough to keep warm but loosely enough to allow me to do the series of jumps and kicks that constitute my t'ai chi set, I caught myself willing the winter to speed quickly to its conclusion only to have another part of me protest, "Not so fast! You've only got a finite number of winters and summers left, and that number is getting all the more finite with the passage of time."
Young people often protest when I engage in what seem to them like morbid thoughts, but which to me are only realistic: I can't help wondering, for example, how many more years I'll be able to ride my bike to the park, or even do t'ai chi, though legend has it that Master Guo, who was the teacher of my teacher, celebrated his 90th birthday by getting a little tipsy at a party in his honor and then leaping up to knock a pesky housefly out of the air with a deftly executed scissors kick.
Speaking of masters, yesterday a schoolkid shouted, "What kind of martial art is that?" as he walked past. "Tai ji quan," I said, giving it its full Chinese name and pronunciation, "It means 'Great ultimate fist.'" (It does, too.)
"Cool," he said. "Are you a master?"
I thought about that for a minute. "No, not really. Far from it, in fact."
"So how long you been doing it, then?"
"30 years? Thirty?"
"Yep." He walked on, shaking his head at the crazy white dude who's been doing kung fu for twice as long as he's been alive and still hasn't mastered it. If he'd been inclined to stick around for a couple more minutes, I would have explained that this wasn't the sort of thing you ever mastered, that much like life itself, the practice and the process were more important than any end result," but when you're 15 and are mainly interested in how it takes before you're ready to murdalyze someone, you don't really want to hear philosophical disquisition on why the dao that can be told is not the eternal dao.
The day grew quiet again, except for the car alarm that went off every time a heavy car or truck went by, and the Mexicans high atop some scaffolding putting the finishing touches on those high rise apartments across the park, who would whistle loudly and insistently whenever anyone looking remotely female walked by. It was the last couple hours of the Friday before Christmas, and nobody seemed interested in working particularly hard. The women mostly ignored them, but that hardly discouraged them; they just whistled all the louder.
Later on, as it was getting dark, I headed into the city. I had some business to take care of in Chelsea, and by the time I was finished, a chilly wind was blowing in off the Hudson. Without the wind, it would have been a reasonably comfortable evening, but with it... well, it was just enough to keep people stepping along rather than lolling about chatting on street corners.
I was enjoying the lights and sounds and smells of the city more than usual, especially when I caught a glimpse of the Empire State Building lit up for the holidays in red, white and green (I suppose it could also have been in commemoration of something Italian or Mexican, but I'm pretty sure it was about Christmas.) I was strolling along in an extraordinarily benign and contented state of mind when, as I crossed 8th Avenue, a chain reaction collision sent a stopped taxi flying forward into the crosswalk, just a few feet ahead of me. If I'd been walking at my normal fast and furious pace, I probably would have been right in the line of fire.
That shook me up a bit, or at least took me temporarily out of my zone of tranquility for the next block or two. Then, on an impulse, I hopped the 1 train up to Columbus Circle, thinking I'd have a look at the Christmas decorations up in that end of town.
I'm not normally much of a mall person, but I wandered into the Time Warner Center, as much to get out of the cold as anything, and in the lobby was treated to a spectacular view of giant illuminated snowflakes constantly changing colors in time to piped-in Christmas music, and this against the backdrop of the several stories high windows looking out onto the Circle and the lights and traffic of Central Park South. I don't mind saying I was awestruck, and I was far from the only one; a couple dozen people were gaping and gawping along with me. There are times when it's easy to take New York City for granted, but this was not one of them.
With the last of my Christmas shopping safe in hand, I headed downtown once more for the closest thing to a PPMB Christmas party we were likely to see. Bill Florio's eight or ten or however many-piece Lost Locker Combo, clad in matching Santa hats and spraying liquid snow on anyone unwise enough to stand up front, opened what was a more or less secret show for MC Chris in the basement of the Ludlow Street's Cake Shop. Most of the PPMB crew were there - we missed Grath McGrath and Michelle Shirelle - and nearly all in uproarious good humor, although perennial wiseacre Jonny Whoa Oh rather sternly took me to task for wearing my "I'm A Viking On The PPMB" t-shirt, a rather convoluted in-joke that's too, well, convoluted to try and explain here.
Following the band/rapper, a fellow from the Hold Steady took over as DJ and there was much goofy dancing, this also to the chagrin of Mr. Whoa Oh, who insisted that he was focusing "like a laser" on "talking business" when Stephanie, Mikey Erg and I surrounded and enveloped him with our dancing fool-ness. Stephanie kept flipping the tassel on his Santa hat (not part of J Whoa Oh's normally quite dapper attire, but he's a member of the LLC and was still in costume following his performance), but even that was not enough to sway from his laser-like concentration on being serious.
Better results were achieved with the normally reticent Joe III and Chris Grivet, both of whom busted out some rather funky moves (that Grivet is a surprisingly slick dancer, I must say) to the delight of Chadd Derkins, who sat, Buddha-like and wreathed in holiday delight. Kelly Lynn came floating in looking positively radiant (she'd just come from seeing the Lemonheads, who for some reason she adores) and left an hour later wearing a string of silver tinsel (and the rest of her clothes, too), looking more spectacular still.
Crystal Jettrocks, just back from Hollywood, put in an appearance, as did Danny Momac and Oliver Poopsounds, Chris A. and P. Smith, Colin Challenged and Rob Suss. Even Charles In Charge, who normally shows up for these things no more than once or twice a year, was in full effect. The only sour note - well, there were two, actually: on the the way to the club, while crossing the Bowery, I saw a bicyclist get hit head on by a car. He went flying over the hood and hit the pavement with a sickening thud - thank God he was wearing a helmet - but then got up and, when asked if he was all right, said, "I think so." That spooked me, though it having been the second traffic accident in as many hours to unfold right in front of me.
I also found myself thinking, okay, these things come in threes, don't they? Which probably means the next horrible thing is going to happen to me. And it almost did, thanks in no small part to Oliver Poopsounds, who as were standing on the sidewalk out front decided it would be fun to pick a fight with a drunken American supporter of Chelsea Football Club. Only Oliver's version of fun involved picking the fight on my behalf, basically saying every rude thing he'd ever heard English football supporters say and then pointing at me as if to suggest he was speaking on my behalf.
It didn't help, of course, that my team, Fulham, is a longtime arch-rival of Chelsea, even though I have no interest in this rivalry and kind of actually like Chelsea. It also didn't help that, when the drunk put his arm around me and sang an abusive Chelsea song about Fulham in my ear but mistakenly referred to "Fulham UFC," I had to correct him and point out that it was "FFC." At that point he shoved me rather roughly and I almost fell into a parked car before deciding this was a good time to take my leave.
So was that enough of a mishap to round out the day's trio of misfortunes? If not, I then remembered another one: on the way to McCarren Park earlier today, a guy stepped out from between two parked trucks and I very nearly ran him down with my bicycle. If I had hit him, it probably would have done me more damage than him, as I almost certainly would have gone flying, and I wasn't wearing a helmet. A bad habit of mine which I'm going to have think seriously about changing.
I got home from the city at 2:30 and as I finish writing this it's coming up on 5 am. It's officially winter now, and the year's longest night is crawling to a conclusion. Apart from the occasional bits of unpleasantness mentioned above, it's been a good one. A good night, a good year, a good life, for that matter. I feel almost alarmingly content with everything.