I dressed a bit more speedily than normal on that snowy, windy, bitter night-I admit it. It was 23 December, 1970, and I suspect that there were other members of the club who did the same. Taxis are notoriously hard to come by in New York on stormy nights, so I called for a radio-cab. I did this at five-thirty for an eight o'clock pick-up-my wife raised an eyebrow but said nothing. I was under the awning of the apartment building on East 58th Street, where Ellen and I had lived since 1946, by quarter to eight, and when the taxi was five minutes late, I found myself pacing up and down impatiently.
The taxi arrived at 8.10 and I got in, too glad to be out of the wind to be as angry with the driver as he probably deserved. That wind, part of a cold front that had swept down from Canada the day before, meant business. It whistled and whined around the cab's window, occasionally drowning out the salsa on the driver's radio and rocking the big Checker on its springs. Many of the stores were open but the sidewalks were nearly bare of last-minute shoppers. Those that were abroad looked uncomfortable or actually pained.
It had been flurrying off and on all day, and now the snow began again, coming first in thin membranes, then twisting into cyclone shapes ahead of us in the street. Coming home that night, I would think of the combination of snow, a taxi, and New York City with considerably greater unease but I did not of course know that then.
At the corner of 3rd and Fortieth, a large tinsel Christmas bell went floating through the intersection like a spirit. 'Bad night,' the cabbie said. "They'll have an extra two dozen in the morgue tomorrow. Wino Popsicles. Plus a few bag-lady Popsicles.'
The cabbie ruminated. 'Well, good riddance,' he said finally. 'Less welfare, right?'
'Your Christmas spirit,' I said, 'is stunning in its width and depth.'
The cabbie ruminated. 'You one of those bleeding-heart liberals?' he asked finally.
'I refuse to answer on the grounds that my answer might tend to incriminate me,' I said.
The cabbie gave a why-do-I-always-get-the-wisenheimers snort but he shut up.