If you didn’t grow up in New York, you were probably led to believe, as I was, that this city is a horrid place to live. The people, you are told, are rude and self-centered; the traffic is unbearable, as is the air quality; residences are comically small and overpriced; Times Square is offensive to the spirit. Indeed, all these things are true—there’s no surprise there.
The surprise, for me, lies not in the unsavory qualities of the city but in my fascination and tolerance for them. To a certain extent, I enjoy all those things about New York, if only for the notable accomplishment of having learned to enjoy them. I relish the rudeness, traffic, smog, real estate, and sensory overload of this place, knowing that all the things I have been told to hate about my home are surmountable. The thing is, nobody told me about the Winter. And I hate the winters here worse than any season, anywhere.
Winter in New York gathers around me slowly. Halloween is when I first feel it; the chill catches everyone by surprise, but I know it now—a crisp stillness that makes the night darker, the stars nervous in their settings. November is cool but pleasant, with a weeklong warm streak at the end on which I build hopeful predictions of a mild winter. And then there is December; the first month of winter is barely winter at all—only the last week counts, really. December opens conservatively, all holiday shopping and scarves for show. There are ice rinks in December, and busy streets, and the first snow; the winter is new and as full of promise as a presidential campaign, but I am always skeptical. December has fucked with me before.
The party ends, predictably, in January. New Year’s Eve, traditionally, is frigid, and the morning is full of regret. You wake up with winter, and there’s nothing to distract you until Valentine’s Day. January is when you and winter finally hook up, and no matter how short you think the next four months will be, your annual tryst will end badly. If you need an analogy for winter in January, it’s icy sidewalks ringed with moats of slush, too salty to freeze, dark as asphalt. January is you, stepping into that moat in sneakers.
February and March are a blur for me. I remember very little that happens in any given February or March in New York, because I have shut down. The peak of my light-deprived winter depression, these two months are the very worst part of living in New York City. No other aspect of living in this city has ever come close to breaking me, but for these two months of every year I’ve lived in New York, I am acutely aware of every rudeness, arrogance, avarice and shade of mottled gray that this city has to offer. Every stereotype you see on television or have read about in books or have experienced at the hand of a subway token booth clerk is manifest in the heart of winter, every day. For those two months I am beaten. Usually, I make plans to leave.
April, though technically composed entirely of Spring, is not much better than the first three months of the year. The slow passage of winter ensures that you are unable to appreciate the slightly warmer days, and gray slush has but given way to gray skies. Regardless of the myriad influences on the changing climate from year to year, you will not see the sun until after your taxes are mailed in—seriously.
As I write this, in the middle of April, we’ve had sun for three days, and I am still barely aware of it. Spring is a whole different story. Spring in New York is the other secret they never tell you, and it’s the reason I’ve survived these crappy winters for eight fucking years.