Damn, but they made different sounds – a crunch and a scrape. It sounded like an old Boris Karloff movie with the monster scraping through the corridors. But it wasn’t. It was on a frigid, cold Chicago morning. Making my way to a downtown office. Slush and crunchy ice coated the El platform and sidewalks and I newly out in the world after foot surgery. One foot wrapped in an Allen Edmonds cap toe and galosh (is that the singular) the other in one of those flat wooden toeless footwear things with a rubber sole and cloth top with laces – two socks and a baggy on that foot to fight off the freezing temperatures and slush.
Yes, I had discovered the plastic baggy phenomena. You put a plastic baggy between sock layers – keeps your foot warm and dry, or at least tries and then remove one sock and the baggy when you get to work. Not exactly designer dress attire for the office - a little lopsided. It was like being the John Barrymore of shoes; only show the left side.
I nearly fell going up the frozen steps to the El. I nearly fell going down. God damned ice and a “shoe” with no flex or grip. Of course, I forgot about the curb puddles. If you’ve never lived in the winter climes before the days of sloped curbs, this not a phenomenon you ken. On heavy winter days the street drains freeze creating puddles that often look like the spot on Lake Michigan where crazy people go polar bearing. It almost appears solid on the top with slush and detritus, but it is not. So, that first step off the curb to cross the street can be a leap into the unknown. Suddenly, fool that you are, you are immersed up to the pant cuff or higher into a deep pool of grey and slimy sludge requiring another trip to the laundry to get that suit cleaned again. And I was in it, wooden paddle shoe, two socks, baggy and all.
Shit, it was cold, ice water sluicing into my inner sock. Oh and now the protective baggy was more like the liner of a swimming pool keeping the ice water in, not out. I was squishing, a cold waterbed for my foot, the only solace was I now had no feeling left in my toes. I looked for anything to step back and lean against to dump myself out – cursing a blue streak – “son of a bitch, mother fucker, asshole. I HATE FUCKING WINTER!!!” No tree or post box. The only thing in close proximity was a frozen aluminum lamp pole. I was certain I would wind up like the kid from the Christmas Story, stuck, only by my frozen foot, not my tongue.
Staggering, I reached out wet glove to metal before realizing it would remain attached until the summer thaw returned. Too late now. Hand out of the glove trying to find purchase with my back so I could unlace and dump. What is it 20 below! Cabs and cars streaming in a rush down the LaSalle trying to drop brokers at the Board of Trade. Taking every opportunity to splash winter sludge on suit, face, topcoat. I could taste the residue of the night’s salt trucks in the spray. Yes, they were aiming at me, I’m sure. I was a winter version of Ratso Rizzo – “Hey I’m standing here, I’m standing here”.
Finally some kind soul (I am sure non-native) gave me an arm and helped me hobble into a building doorway. “Hey, mister don’t you want your glove?”
To which I replied, “Fuck the glove, but thank you very much.”
I am reminded of the line from the Van Morrison song – “Momma told me there’ll be days like this; Oh my momma told me there’ll be days like this” in Chicago Hawk hell. Well, old man winter, I won’t be back and you can’t fucking make me!