Monday, January 26, 2015

General Tso's Blizzard


Prior to Christmas of 2010 my younger sister insisted on my spending the holiday with her in Boston. She was worried about my head, since our beloved father had passed away in November and my wife and kids were on the other side of the world in Thailand.

"I don't want you to be alone."

"I won't be." I planned to pass the holiday solo.

"Not if you come up here." The lawyer erased any further reservations on my part by booking a ticket on the Chinatown bus. "Think of it as an early 60th birthday present. Get on that bus at noon and we'll have a nice time."

I surrendered to her better wishes and headed north to Boston. Our old next-door neighbors held a large party on the South Shore. Everyone was talking about the big snow storm. My father told about a great storm in Maine

"Nothing was worse than the one in 1978," predicted Franny, my old car mechanic.

"That was a bad one."

"29 people died in Buffalo," said Chuckie, my best friend throughout grammar school

We traded tales of that blizzard, which was topped by Frannie's recounting of a famous myth.

Supposedly a father had left his house to buy milk for his children. He never returned that night or the next week or the ensuing month. His neighbors suggested that the husband had taken advantage of the snow emergency to flee his wife. The Spring thaw proved them wrong. The man was found frozen to death only feet away from his house with a carton of milk in his arm."

The classic urban legend had enough truth to it that the gathering shivered in remembrance of 178.

"No one should go out in that kind of weather." My father believed in safety first. He and my later mother had spawned six children.

"I know. None of us ever went out of the house without a snow outfit."

Back in the 50s they were thick and colored red, so a child could be found in the snow.

"Not all the time," my younger sister volunteered and then added, "Mom used to chain you on a harness to the clothing line."

"Chained?" Frannie guffawed almost spewing his whiskey.

"Yes, that way she could do household work, but you and your brother were too smart for your own good." She glanced over to Frunk. He was a year older than me and a lawyer like her. "You stripped off our parka and snow pants and then went down to the pier at the end of the street.

Our youth had begun on a bluff over looking Portland Harbor.

"Mom found you naked on the pier."

"I guess it wasn't that cold."

"You had a 103 temperature for a week." My father remembered everything I had done. Most of my sins had been forgiven. "People die in the cold."

"But not tonight."

I refilled a glass of white wine checked the weather online. The meteorologists were warning of hazardous conditions for late Christmas Day. My older sister said, "Looks like you'll be stuck here."

"There are worse places than Boston in the snow."

"Like Logan," her son countered with a frown. "They just cancelled all flights out of Boston and I have to be to work on the 26th."

"That's why I think Christmas should be a moveable feast, so it can be a long weekend."

"Jesus was born on Christmas Day." Our host was a loyal believer. Christmas was Christmas only on the 25th. We toasted the manger in Bethlehem and I muttered 'Free Palestine' under my breath. Politics and religion were banned subjects on Christmas Eve.

The next day I woke at my father's apartment. I checked the low gray sky.

"Looks snow."

"That it does."

New Englanders read the signs of winter with a learned eye for the weather.

We exchanged gifts. I gave him two bottles of Merlot and my father handed me a check.

"Go see your kids."

I hugged him. He was a good father and my best friend, but the old Maniac had become a treacherous driver in his 80s. The ride over to my older sister's house off 128 was scary for the other cars and terrifying for me.

"How was the ride," asked my older sister's husband.

"Don't ask."

"How about a vodka-tonic?" David had retired this past summer and was enjoying his new position of local leisurologist.

His son was on the phone.

"Find a way back to DC?"

Matt gave me the thumbs down.

"There's as always the Chinatown bus."

Everyone groaned about that option. Fung Wah had the most dangerous drivers in New England this side of my father.

"I don't think we have a choice."

And we didn't.

After a sumptuous turkey dinner Matt and I packed within minutes and my older sister drove us to South Station. We caught the 11AM bus. The snow was light, but the traffic was heavy. People were trying to get home before the storm worsened to trap them far from home. No one in their right mind was traveling. Both of us slept on the trip. I had drunk a few vodkas too many. Matt had done the same with wine. Upon our arrival in Chinatown I offered Matt to stay at my place.

"I got to be in work tomorrow."

"No one is going to work tomorrow."

"I will be."

Matt worked for an internet company, which was not affiliated with the CIA. At least that was his cover and I had been brought up to not ask questions about jobs in DC. I put him on a DC-bound bus and took the F train over to Brooklyn. It was only 4PM, so I stopped in Frank's Lounge for a beer.

Several of the regulars were in their Sunday seats. We talked of our Christmases and drank several rounds before looking out the window onto a terrifying scenario. The snow storm had upgraded to the wintery tornado. The accumulation was already 10 inches and there was no sign of let-up. The TV announced the trains were being taken out of service.

"We where we are and nowhere else." Homer was happy to be in Frank's. It was our favorite bar, but we were hungry. He made several phone calls for take-out.

"Ain't no one going out in this weather?" Rosa the Mexican bartender said with a laugh. "Hell, I'm thinking of sleeping here."

"I'm going out later."

"That's because you only live two blocks away from that stool." She had a sharp tongue for such a beautiful face.

"You wrong about that?"

"Wrong about what?"

"About no one going out in this weather. The Chinaman always comes. Heck, back in 1978 I called a Chinaman and they delivered through two feet of snow."

"Better than the US Mail."

"Through snow or sleet."

"And it comes late."

"Then I'm making the last call." Homer dialed the Chinese restaurant up the block.

"What you want?"

"They answered?"

"Sure, they did." I ordered the General Tso's Chicken extra chili. Homer followed suit.

"You know General Tso's Chicken doesn't exist in China." It supposedly was invented by the Hunnan chef T. T. Wang in 1972.

"How the hell am I supposed to know that. I ain't ever been to no damned China." Homer traveled mostly on a straight line. Brooklyn to Mississippi.

"Well, I have." Only one time to Yunnan, Sichuan, and Tibet in 1996. "And there was no General Tso's Chicken."

"I don't care about no China. I'm here in Brooklyn."

The traffic on Fulton had been exinctized by the snow. We started to fear that our food wasn't going to come and we would have to survive on the packets of chips from behind the bar, but the door banged open for a small man covered by snow. He held two bags of food. We cheered his arrival and Homer gave him a $5 tip.

"That's because Tipping ain't no city in China and a Chinaman will deliver your food even when the US Mail can't get through. Here's to the Chinaman."

We raised our glasses and ate like this was the last meal on Earth.

Looking out the window that's just the way it felt on the night before Snow Day.

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