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  LIFE AS A LOSER #136: "DIVE IN."  

A snowstorm hit New York City last week. A snowstorm here is decidedly different than a snowstorm anywhere else. In Illinois, a snowstorm, in theory, should be incapacitating. Snowstorms are usually accompanied by ice, and downed power lines, and 60-car pileups, and television antennas poking out from under 10 feet of the white stuff. Yet people still go about their business, drive to work, head to the supermarket; kids home from school, building snowmen, popping mailmen with ice-dipped ball missiles. Snow is quaint and charming and happy; it feels like Christmas; it feels pure and wholesome, like a gift.

Snow in New York City is apocalyptic. It started snowing last Thursday about 8 a.m, and didnít stop until about 7 p.m. It was light, and easy, and nothing, really. But this city exploded. I was covering a conference that day, and every time I came in from having a cigarette, people acted like Iíd just marched up Hamburger Hill. In a place where a late subway train messes up a social calendar for a week, a steady snow pouring is enough to convince everyone to crawl into a hole Ė more accurately, their studio apartments with half the space taken up by the sink Ė and shiver until this damned act of God has passed. I actually received six phone calls Thursday from friends who had nothing more to talk about than the weather. Jesus, Will, have you seen this snow? I mean, itís unbelievable. Iím not leaving home until Monday.

When it snows here, nothing works. The subways are all screwy, you canít find a cab, and the sidewalks are filled with people sleepwalking in circles, wondering how, exactly, this could happen to them, here, how could this be? It is hard enough to move around here on a sunny day; snow paralyzes everyone and everything. And because itís happening here, itís so much more important somehow. A friend of mine in Chicago emailed me, asking if I was surviving the storm of the century, because the news reports implied snow was stacked halfway up the Empire State Building. I explained to her this wasnít the Midwest; a few people stepped in a snow bank and it became the Second Coming. In Illinois, they wouldnít even have slowed down school bus routes.

It was in this environment that I headed to my friendsí place on Friday for a minor gathering. The concept of the get-together was simple. It was a "Party Para Mexico." All attendees (about nine in total) were to dress up as their favorite Mexican stereotype. One friend went as a dishwasher, complete with hairnet and skinny tie. One went as a migrant worker, complete with overalls, bushy mustache, and bag of oranges.

To your virgin ears, this might sound stupid, or, heavens, even offensive. Rest assured, I was there; it was both. Within five minutes of arrival, Iíd been handed a bandanna, Erik Estrada sunglasses, and a flannel, which was to have only the top button fastened. In makeup pencil, a teardrop to the side of my eye and a Fu Manchu goatee were applied to my face. I was a Mexican gangster. Say hello to my little friend.

During work that day, Iíd written four stories and conducted six interviews. Iíd had a long conversation with my boss about our upcoming issue. Iíd ordered plane tickets to go home for the holidays. I paid my phone bill. I set up a lunch meeting with a representative from Edward Jones to discuss plans for 2003. I made a doctorís appointment. I worried about my hairline, and my career, and what to get my sister for Christmas. I balanced my checkbook and pitched a story to a sports magazine. I dropped off laundry.

And then I arrived at the Party Para Mexico, and I was a gangster. And I was shooting tequila, and passing around a bowl, and playing a video game, and harmlessly flirting, and mock-wrestling, and giving people noogies.

Then we went to the roof.

The roof of the apartment building betrayed the refuse of the last two days of precipitation. Large banks of snow, mostly unspoiled by footprints, cascaded up the brick overhang. I hadnít seen snow in a while, and something struck me as pristine, something joyous, something untouched by the grimy underbelly of urine-stenched subway terminals and street corners filled with piled garbage.

The tequila was starting to kick in. Lord, look at that snow. That snow knows nothing of rent payments, and long-term financial stability, and relationship conflicts, and brokerage houses. That snow is for children, for the good of heart, something real, created by the heavens. That snow would be there if no one had ever erected a building, or invested a dollar, or asked a girl out, or downloaded songs off KaZaA. There was something universal.

I turned to my friend. "Letís jump in." I took off my flannel Ė only one button Ė and my undershirt. On three. One. Two. Three. In a dead sprint, I leapt, arms spread, eyes closed, belly out, flying, flying ... and then woosh! across the snow I slid. It was so cold, and I jumped to my feet immediately, screaming, exhilarated, exuberant. My friend screamed as well, and we shouted to the sky, mutherfuckiní yeah, holy shit, fuck yeah. I fell back down and rolled around in it. Other partygoers looked on, wondering just how much tequila Iíd drank, but I didnít care.

A half hour later, after Iíd warmed up inside Ė it was amazing how quickly the adrenaline warmed you Ė we headed back up and did it again. Another half hour, then again. We talked everyone else at the party Ė save for the guy puking up the remnants of three days of dinners Ė into jumping. This was my new religion. We dove until 4 a.m. We dove until the snowbanks were pale imitations of their former selves, just large sliding imprints of drunk, careless, free souls. I then fell asleep on the couch, warm, content, alive. I canít wait until it snows again.

I think this is all the column I have this week. I may be developing a cold.



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