When I got off the train to go to work last Saturday I had to fight through the crowds of families trudging eastward to Central park, all with children (and some adults) clutching their brightly colored plastic sleds. It was a little after 2 P.M., and I wondered if there was any snow left for them to sled on, after all, Thursday night’s snowstorm wasn’t all that snowy, I think they got eight or nine inches in the park, but I’d guess that’s enough.
If there weren’t so many of them, and if I wasn’t getting smacked by parts of brightly colored sleds wielded by self-centered Upper Westside kids focused on getting to the slopes before anyone else, it would have been enjoyable, but being an obstacle to some kid’s fun is not an enjoyable pursuit. At least they weren’t carrying the old-fashioned wood and metal Flexible Flyers, or I would have been in trouble.
When I was a kid, I went sledding once in Prospect Park, on a cardboard box. Some kids were lucky enough to have garbage can lids that they’d managed to break the handles off of. My piece of cardboard didn’t last too long, it got wet and fell apart. I was reduced to sliding down the hill on my ass, which got wet pretty quick as well. The kids with the lids were not willing to share.
When my son Javier was five years old, in 1992, we were living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I was working in a shoe store on East 55th Street, and one day while I was having a smoke break by the service entrance to the building we were in, I watched the porter putting out the garbage. One of the things he tossed onto the pile of black bags was a wooden and metal sled. It was old and worn, and in faded letters it said “Flexible Flyer”, and had an arrow painted on it just in case you didn’t know which way to point it. The Flexible flyer has a little steering bar on it, which controls the separate front-runners, that’s why it’s “flexible.”
“Are you throwing that away?” I asked Jose, the porter.
“Yeah, you want it? Take it.” And I took it home for my son Javier, just in time for the big snowstorm of 1992.
Not Javier, but this picture is so cute I had to use it. It’s my friend Elaine’s son Wes.
The Sunday after the snowstorm I was finally able to take Javier to McCarran Park to do some sledding, unfortunately for me, there are no hills in McCarran Park. I had tied a piece of rope to the sled, and I was going to pull him around on it. When we got to the park it was packed with kids making snowmen, snow angels, and parents like me pulling their kids around on sleds. Some even had the new plastic sleds. But we had our Flexible Flyer.
No hills on Rockaway Beach either.
I had tied a piece of rope around the front steering bar so I could pull the kid along on the snow.
It was a big snowstorm, 18 or so inches, I remember people skiing down 8th Ave. the day I took food and milk up to my dad who was stranded in his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, and all of the cars abandoned in the middle of 47th Street. I kept walking into them; it was hard to see them in the blizzard. By Sunday it was sunny, but there was still plenty of snow on the ground. We got to the park and went out to the big expanse of white that was normally a baseball field. I put Javier on the sled and started to pull.
“Go faster, daddy, go faster!” My kid commanded. I did, I wanted my son to have fun, but after awhile I thought I was going to keel over.
In 1992 I was 38 years old, I weighed 285 pounds and I smoked two or three packs of Salems a day. I was diabetic, as well. I wheezed as I pulled my five-year old along, and listened with dismay at his exhortations to “go faster!” I wondered what my five year old would do if daddy suddenly keeled over in the throes of a heart attack and started convulsing.
It didn’t happen, but it could have. Lucky for my kid I’ve got a pretty strong constitution, and I’m still here to tell the story. Pretty lucky for me too, I guess.