It was a blizzard, and the avenue was soggy with snow and slush and the giant drifts. The cars and buses barely crept by. A yellow cab was halfway plunged into a snowpile larger than the car. The driver stood by the door and gazed at the front tire, which had collapsed, as if punctured by ice or hidden nails. The man was in despair, his hair limp across his forehead like Charles Baudelaire’s, his nose twitching, his smartphone a dead bird in his hand.
The bundled passersby stumbled past, until a cheerful party in gaudy hats paused on the snowy sidewalk and glanced at the driver and the crashed car and the snowpile.
“Merry Christmas!” cried an ebullient member of the party in a tasseled elf’s cap. He raised his bright blue gloves to the sky. “May the blessings of the season be upon you and your’n! Merry!”—as if venting his humor, or was it spleen? Snowflakes tumbled onto his gloves.
A woman tugged at him. “Merry!” he called again, “Merry!” and allowed himself to be dragged away. And snowflakes filled their tracks.
In this fashion, the vast and mournful city concentrated all its ugly hatefulness into a single sidewalk episode, and flakes of soot drifted through the infinity of white.
Paul Berman is Tablet’s critic-at-large. He is the author of A Tale of Two Utopias, Terror and Liberalism, Power and the Idealists, and The Flight of the Intellectuals.