The Sounds of Silence

New York City got hit by a blizzard over the weekend that left nearly thirty inches of snow on the ground. They’re calling it the second worst storm in the city’s history and have named it “Winter Storm Jonas.” I think they’re pulling names for storms from Scripture now, which is all right by me. Can’t wait for Jeroboam, who followed “evil ways” as king of Israel (1 Kgs 13:33). Should be a doozy.

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I donned my gay apparel and went for a walk around Arthur Avenue, my home turf in the Bronx. I posted some of the photos on Facebook, which normally I would not do, because it encourages people to communicate. I am all for communication as long as other people do it. I would rather sit in silence (unless I’ve had a few drinks), which is why I like snow. It covers everything in silence. Think of all the poetry about winter’s white mantle of peace.

Of course, two guys got up at 5:00 am on Saturday to shovel snow directly below my window. I don’t know why. It snowed the rest of the day. Still, they decided to be industrious and went scrape-scrape-scraping for two hours before stopping. They might have been CrossFit members and this was their way to make up for a missed workout. That makes the most sense.

Then came the back-up beeps of snow plows, dump trucks seeding the streets with eco-friendly rock salt, the chugging of gas-powered snowblowers, and the sirens of emergency vehicles. Do you know what it’s like to have a fire engine barrel through your fourth-floor apartment?

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The white mantle was ripped, and the sounds of the city rushed through the opening like a punctured balloon. I, too, felt deflated. Good-bye, silence.

In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that as the European settlers in the New World pushed farther west, they displaced the Indians, who were not used to, nor could they stand, “the continuous sounds of European labor” (Democracy in America, p. 338). The constant building, expanding, and consolidating literally drove both wildlife and Indians away.

I would rather not live in bearskin and appreciate the comforts of modern life. I would be lost without my morning cappuccino. But I sympathize with the Indians. Everywhere I go–not just in New York–there is building, expanding, and consolidating. I do not know what it’s all about and am afraid, as George said in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, that the ants are taking over the world.

I do not want to be an ant. I do not want to live in an anthill. Some would say I already do and that we–humans–are so busy bending nature to our will that we have forgotten our true purpose. And what is that? Right now I hear a snowblower belching and farting its way to dominance over the elements. I know it’s not that.

Sure, we have to drive cars, take buses, commute to work on the subway. Put up with the daily stupidities of life. That’s a part of life that may never end. But we might get closer to our true purpose if we remember the true purpose of snow.

Snow is earth’s muffler. It quiets us down and brings our frenetic activity to a standstill, which I count as a good thing. It should not be scraped, blown, piled into walls four-feet high, or melted into black puddles. The puddles will come soon enough, as they always do.

Haven’t had enough? Go to Robert Brancatelli. Note to self: Overheard at Times Square: “I smoke a lot of weed!”

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