I don’t want to live in a world without sweaters.
It’s February 24th, 2020 and the Mr. Softee ice cream trucks have already made their seasonal debut. When I emerged from the subway at 181st Street this afternoon, the truck’s jingle was afloat over the usual buzz of St. Nicholas Ave. In that moment, hearing a familiar song had never felt more strange. The lilting song filled me with a sudden waft of pink sunsets and sticky July nights, but I was quickly reminded of the reality that I was sweating through a wool coat and wet socks. The high was 60º, and it felt as though pollution and sadness were hanging tangibly in the humid air. For the first time in my life, I didn’t want ice cream.
I can’t act like I’ve lived in New York City forever, but it has been home for the last seven years — my entire adult life. The average temperature in August 2013 was 81º, but I remember it as sweltering. Between all of the glass and the skin and the concrete and the steam, my clothes had never stuck to me so.
Then: fall. There are reasons there are songs about autumn in New York. Walking down the street with bright sun in your hair and slightly chilled air in your lungs can make you feel beautiful, unstoppable. Everything tastes good on your tongue. The fall of 2013 was sharp and thrilling. My time was spent alternating between NYU’s animation studio and St. Mark’s Place — perhaps at a back corner in Veselka, writing something in a notebook, filled with a new kind of creative energy.
When winter set in, it was fierce. I recall wearing two sweaters on my first day as a dog walker. Until spring, I spent my days navigating snow banks and calf-deep slush puddles, as though I were on an arctic expedition with my loyal Shar-Pei — whose winter coat probably cost more than mine did. This was also the winter I learned, as every punk does at some point in their life, that Doc Martens are not winter boots.
Yet, the moments that were not spent scrubbing dog pee out of Turkish rugs were filled with a surreal beauty. There were long stretches where the city stood still, save for the streak of a bright orange deliveryman, cutting through slush on his electric bike.
It snowed 50 inches that winter. Last winter, just 20. This year, I’ve seen no more than a handful of flakes, quick to melt. The temperature has hovered in the thirties and forties, with a few sloppy hops up towards the 60s that seem to satisfy no one but the men who insist on wearing cargo shorts in all exterior conditions. For all else wrong with New York — the crumbling transit system, rampant police corruption, skyrocketing wealth disparities and other such abominations to joy and freedom — one must now concede to a flattening of the seasons into an era of eternal, uncomfortable dampness. In more ways than one, New York is becoming more like Florida by the day.
At the end of last summer, August 2019, the musician David Berman died by suicide. While I regret that I only became familiar with his music through reading of his tragic passing, I am nevertheless grateful to have gained that familiarity. I will never forget the first time I heard his song, from the Purple Mountains album he released shortly before his death, “Snow is Falling in Manhattan.” It is one of those rare and precious songs that, from the first few notes, you already know will pierce straight to your core. The song is filled with images that evoke such a tender and important place in space and time. “Salts the stoop and scoops the cat in.” “On the couch, beneath an afghan / Lies an old friend he just took in.”
“Songs build little rooms in time.” And perhaps these little rooms are all we have left. We can wind up a phonograph and remember a different time, feeding off of a conjuring of a thing rather than the reality.
So much around us is disappearing at a clip so rapid, it’s almost impossible to keep a full box score. We’ve been told time and again that we can’t expect jobs, money, creative fulfillment, fair housing, healthcare and so forth. That austerity has become a cornerstone of life for today’s youth. Yet there remains the fundamental human experiences of soft grass and cold rain and sweet air. To think those sensations can be stolen from us too — it makes me feel like a time has come and gone before I even had time to realize what was happening.