It was a wintery night in either 78 or 79. My friend Mike was going to be leaving for the Peace Corps and we all wanted to get together at least one more time before our merry group was broken up by time and circumstance. The core of the group, Jane, Joanie, Elizabeth, Mike and I were good friends and enjoyed each other’s company. The size of our merry band would grow on occasion, and but always revert back to the five of us.
So we made a date for a Saturday and all met at one of our favorite places in the Village. It had snowed that day, but by the time we got together it had tapered off. We met, enjoyed pitchers of beer, good burgers and fun conversation and then it was time for the evening to end, or so we thought.
Jane, Joanie, and Elizabeth all lived close by in the Village; I was a bit further north at the projects in Chelsea, and Mike who lived in City Island, had driven down and parked his car on the west side. So we all started walking together up West 3rd Street towards Sixth Avenue. I planned on walking Mike to his car at the garage on 14th street and then continue up Ninth Avenue to home.
The snow was still falling but lightly now but there was a few inches of nicely packed white stuff on the stoops, mailboxes, and parked cars. I noted aloud that it looked like perfect snowball packing snow. That was all it took.
I am not sure who fired the first shot but it was a soft harmless lob, I think from Mike at Joanie. She good-naturedly brushed her blue beret off, stooped down and grabbed some snow, quickly packing it in her mittens. She returned fire.
I suddenly felt a wet smack to my left cheek and realized Jane had scored a hit from across the street! I rushed to a nearby stoop, grabbed some snow and…Smack! A flank attack!! Elizabeth’s aim was true and now I had been hit on both sides of my head!
I had to get into this fight and damned fast!!
I finally managed to return fire, missing Jane but scoring a beautiful hit on a stop sign. Mike had retreated behind a parked car, taken cover and was throwing a steady stream of snowballs. We were all laughing, thoroughly enjoying ourselves in a splendid winter world of our own. But of course we weren’t alone; this was Greenwich Village after all, and though the streets were a little less crowded due to the day’s snowfall, there were still a good number of pedestrians on the street. The odds of not hitting one were not good. I think it was Jane that drew first blood from a civilian. She sailed a nicely packed ball over Mike’s head, and it continued its graceful arc until it landed right atop an older gentleman wearing a fedora.
Whoops, I thought, time to rein this in and apologize to what looked like a cranky old Italian from the neighborhood, whom I am sure didn’t appreciate having his stylish fedora hat crushed by a well-placed snowball. I started to walk over to the guy, my hands held up in apology. He looked at me with contempt and I hesitated. This guy, I thought, was going to be trouble. But then a miraculous thing happened. I saw the beginnings of a sly smile cross his face. He bent down, grabbed some snow, hastily clumped it together and hit the bullseye he must have seen on my chest. Man, everyone was getting me tonight! Even strangers!! He laughed at my startled expression, but then had to dodge a missile from Mike; the old man ducked behind a parked Chevy and proceeded to re-load.
I thought it best that I retreat as well. I found my own place of safety as the snowballs flew everywhere. But wait, I thought, this can’t be right. There were way too many snowballs flying in the air for the four of us and one old man to conjure up.
That’s when I heard Joanie giggle; I looked her way in time to see her exchange fire with the guy from the liquor store. I scrambled atop a garbage can and got a better view. There were scores of people, all strangers, laughing, pointing, dodging, throwing snowballs, all the way from Sullivan to Sixth Avenue!! It was a firefight for the ages!! It was like, that night, if you didn’t want in on the crazy wild ass snowball fight happening on Third, then you better stay away, because there was no way you couldn’t be a part of it. Even a cab stopped, its driver deciding to join the fun rather than chase a fare. He ran to a phone booth grabbing snow as he went. Damn! I thought – what a great idea! Why didn’t I think of the phone booth?! Snowballs slammed into the glass, and there was the cab driver, smiling away safely behind it, every once in awhile darting out to fire a round or two.
I was crouched behind a Ford, Mike to my left a few yards away was behind an Impala. As a barrage of snowballs splattered the cars, he looked over at me and shouted:
“Do you believe this??!!”
I popped my head up and took another look. There had to have been thirty people involved now, men, women, kids, heck even the beat Cop was busy hurling some our way. I turned back to Mike to answer and Smack!; took another hit to the head. I ducked, too late of course, and shouted back:
“No way! This is un-real…..where did they all come from??”
“Who knows?!…. Crazy man Crazy!”
It’s like everyone had been holding their childhood inside and spontaneously saw a chance to re-capture it. They had literally walked into an opportunity to, for a few moments, at least, be carefree and engage in that most revered of contests: the Snowball Fight. It was like no one wanted to stop playing and go home.
But all wonderful things must end and eventually the snowballs flew less frequently, and the echoed sounds of laughter died away. The cab had driven off, its driver hopefully happier than he had been at the start of his shift. The Liquor store’s neon lights went black; the door shut and shuttered, the Cop continued on his beat. And it was suddenly silent.
I can’t remember how long we were out there that night, but at the end of it, we were all soaking wet with snow; some of us had bruises, all of us were freezing. But that was a small price to pay for witnessing and being a part of a spontaneous combustion of pure joy, a sharing with strangers of a few precious moments of camaraderie; a wet reminder of the serendipity of living in the city.
It may not have made the Daily News the next day, but it was nice knowing that we would share that memory with people we didn’t even know, and maybe for them, like us, it would become something to remember fondly, tell the family about, to laugh over.
That’s what I remember most about that night; the laughter of all those people bouncing off the brownstones on a snowy night in a long-gone Greenwich Village.
Nothing quite matches the sound of happiness.