WEEKEND COLUMN: BONDING OVER BEER, BACHELOR PARTY OLYMPICS, AND SNOW DODGEBALL

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The author (right) and her friend Eva.

By Katie Barry

Trapped in the Manhattan snow globe, I frolicked for hours: sledding, dancing, crashing a friend’s bachelor party, and winning a gold medal in their impromptu Olympic Games.

Emergency blizzard alerts were pinging on my phone. A travel ban was announced. Outside, it was a wonderful, winter wonderland: car-free and carefree. It’s as if the mass warning was designed to disconnect New Yorkers from adult routines and tune into their inner child. Travel by vehicle was banned, but on foot? I’ve never seen more people outdoors on a weekend in my eleven years living on the east coast.

This wasn’t pioneer times where a winter storm meant gauging the rations, doing inventory on firewood, or stocking up on essentials. Even in modern times, storms nationwide are nights people hunker down and wade out nature’s misery. As a kid, I remember my mom telling terrifying tales of “the Blizzard of 1978!” My mom had to use water from the back of the toilet to make soup,” my mom reminded me. “The cat was so cold, he went nuts. Jumped across my face and left a scar on my eyelid. Later we found him frozen to death.”

At the mention of snow-pocalypse, all I saw was excitement. State of emergency? People were skipping on ice. West Side Market had a bouncer outside, holding back the tide of shoppers standing in the wet, wild winds. Couldn’t shoppers stay at home scrounging up some bulk rice, old canned goods, or throwing leftovers into a big bowl, added sriracha hot sauce, and yell “bon appetite!”?

From blizzards to hurricanes, inclement weather makes time stand still and humans gravitate to each other. An alternate reality takes over. Blizzards become this beautiful force of nature to bond with friends and neighbors by digging each other out, giving a hand to those climbing through sludge, or to pound beers in bars, toasting to longevity and staying young at heart. No matter the weather circumstances, you’ll always find delivery boys on bikes, svelte women running Central Park, cabbies who can’t stay in their lane, and lonely smokers outside packed bars.

Despite the white-wall and whistling winds, people were trudging down unplowed roads giggling and gabbing like teenagers as if it were a vacation from reality. People wanted the camaraderie, the shared shock of snow banks, the squinting at each other through powerful gusts of wind. There was absolute freedom in the organized chaos. Central Park was a pristine utopia. Puppies were prancing in and out of snow, toddlers were zipping around in adorable get-ups, and couples cuddled like it was a citywide honeymoon.

Decked out in a 1970’s snow bunny onesie with a camera-shaped flask around my neck, I schlepped sleds to the park with two friends in tow: my German friend/goat farmer Eva and Brad, an Army veteran from Georgia.

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As we sipped mezcal, he talked about how he lost his left eye in the Gulf War. I learned he was diagnosed with PTSD back in the States and spent five months recalibrating by hiking the Appalachian Trail. His tales of the trail were quirky, warm, and insightful. Having this organic, stress-free time milling through nature meant true connection, no phones, just one-on-one talking. Eva told me all about her goats at home in Alsace: Twins Rodriguez + Matilda, Blanchette, Angie, and Bobby, who is “fat and gay. He just is.” She’s a yoga instructor and has a handsome husband from Morocco.

On the slopes, I was mightily impressed by the innovative minds of sledders: a Grimaldi’s pizza box, air mattresses, and rollerskates. Drunkies took big wipeouts while attempting to stand up while sledding. Kids loitering at the bottom of the hill routinely got nailed by other kids their size, likeminded in their lackadaisical ways. CNN showed up to show snow and revelers.

Did you know that if you put your phone in a sandwich bag to stay dry, you can also text through the plastic?

We popped into Dive 75 to defrost and stumbled into a longtime friend Chris, who I knew from living in Newark. We met at a laundromat while I was an undergrad at Rutgers University; he was in the graduate law program, and 11 years later, I still bump into him more citywide than any other friend or acquaintance.

At Dive, he introduced me to a parade of funny males. I asked if he was having a buddy convention. “No, I’m getting married next month! This is my bachelor party. Winter Olympics are starting soon, you must join.” A few ceremonial beers down the hatch, we all corralled in the arena: the intersection of 75th street and Columbus Avenue.

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We commenced with a One-Block Sprint, followed by Sudden Death Dodge(snow)ball pegging each other one by one until the face-off (which I won). As a test of accuracy of arm, the next event was Traffic Light Bullseye. In several heats, we kneeled on sleds and like orangutans, heaved ourselves forward for Seated Knuckle Slide. From there, we launched the round sleds as part of Discus down Columbus. Next we got in a sideways fetal position in the circular sled, two faced off at a time, for Spin + Sprint. Accomplices spun competitors around five rotations before stopping so athletes could sprint a half block. Long Jump into the snow bank and Long Throw up the Duane Reade facade followed. We ended with Two-Person Push/Pull races and the closing ceremonial move was Facedown Snow Angels, an idea proposed by the German.

Back inside, we ate pizza, busted balls and loaded $20s in the juke box. We played Slap Face, danced, disrobed, consumed chocolate, and sponged up each other’s goofy, silly stories and antics. I didn’t want the night to end. I wanted to take any and all dull January nights and swap them out for more time Saturday.

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Needing fresh air, we hoofed it down to 72nd street and Broadway to say hello to CBS 2 News friends covering the storm, and ended up starting a dance party in the middle of the street. At Cafe 71, we met Poland’s King Soloman while scarfing down a large pepperoni pizza and coffee. He told us about living in Paris for six years working in the fur business. He spotted my hat and confidently said, “Lovely rabbit hat! You look like you were born for this.”

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When Hurricane Irene came to town, I hunkered down in Dive 75, surrounded by Icelandic fire fighters and Australian policemen. They were in town for the World Fire and Police Games, but with nasty weather, the games got cancelled but we invented other games instead. Like “who can drop their pants to the floor” faster or drinking funny combinations of liquor. Back at our friend Jeff’s place, Jason Davis made a spectacular taco feast, braving the precipitation again to fetch tomatoes and sour cream.

I spent Hurricane Sandy at Dive 75, dressed up like a mermaid alongside my friend Mike decked out in a WWE outfit figuring the storm was a hoax. I wanted to be a beaches mermaid and his get-up was a reflection of his attitude and natural body shape. We ate Indian food, cajoled with the irregular regulars, and watched local news reporters flail around in the elements. After seeing Breezy Point burnt down, I wanted to change into civilian clothes.

Saturday’s blizzard night ended with Grey’s Papaya and a one-arm push-up contest that Karen handily won. Kristy ran into an ex-boyfriend, who once carried my groceries five floors up thinking I was her. I had never met him, but thought the gesture was nice.

We fluttered our way home north up Amsterdam, stopping at a deli in the 80’s so Kristy’s work friend Alex could make us chicken noodle soup.

I curled up with my sister, glowing and giggling as we reflected on the highlights, then slowly drifted to dreamland. It was comparable to the Polar Express: our team was a powerful locomotive in this 20-hour odyssey into the snowy, oscillating oblivion. There’s this magic that takes over when Manhattan gets a big, white blanket from Mother Nature and told to “Shhhh, go to sleep. Everything will be okay.”

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COLUMNS, OUTDOORS | 3 comments | permalink
    1. Roseann Milano says:

      Thank you, Katy Barry, for a delightful memory of many NYC snowstorms. You have a talent for fun as well as writing.

    2. Kristen says:

      You girls are crazy TWINNERS fore sure we love you twinnies

    3. Suzy Seahorse says:

      Very poignant and playful recap of the blizzard. Please write more!