As a foreigner, and a fairly impractical one, who leads a largely sedentary existence, many things about American life fill me with dread and fear. The idea, for example, that I might one day have to return an American football that has absconded from a swarm of teenagers keeps me away from parks and sporting fields. I’ve seen muscular fellows on TV execute those weird spirally overarm propulsions but have never attempted one myself; I’d have to return it by hand with the excuse that I was “saving my arm for the big game.” Likewise shoveling snow– a pursuit that instinctively repels me, but that men in these parts seem innately suited for. I see them standing around, leaning on their shiny shovels– I expect they apply some kind of special shovel wax to keep them in tip top condition– and calling out to their neighbours, Bob and Mike, with confident jocularisms; then on some unseen cue they all get back to effortlessly hoisting mountains of solid ice.
A couple of days ago we had a good old-fashioned Northeast snowstorm– more than a foot of snow on the ground, and drifts halfway up the cars– it was brilliant. But I knew what was coming. It’s not technically my responsibility to clear the sidewalk, but if I don’t do it, my landlady has to, and her walking frame and oxygen tank make an awful racket while I’m trying to read. So I take care of it, and in return she doesn’t complain about the late rent, or the strange smells coming from my kitchen (I have gas in the new apartment), but I don’t have to like it.
I delayed for as long as I could, but eventually, resigned, I stomped downstairs only to discover that our shovel had been stolen. This was hard to accept, because it’s a cheap, mangled little piece of crap which would struggle to flip John Candy’s giant pancake in Uncle Buck. Great movie by the way. I sighed and headed off on a shovel hunt. At the local supermarket, they were of course sold out, but much more upsetting was that the piped music at the moment I walked in was Olivia Newton-John’s “Let’s Get Physical,” an affront to my cultured sensibilities at the best of times, and now a mocking commentary of my dreaded upcoming exertions. That little two-bar ear worm crawled immediately into my cochlea, and proceeded to shake its booty around my brain– a performance that I can report is ongoing.
“Let’s get physical! Physical! I wanna get physicaaal…!” I sang to myself as I trudged the mile or so to Home Depot. Here we have another situation where I fail to live up to the standards of my blokey neighbours– I don’t feel at home in the Depot. My blood doesn’t race at the sight of power tools, lumber leaves me cold, the aisles and aisles of assorted spanners and sprockets render me confused and enervated. We artistic types stand out in a crowd of burly determined men comparing socket sets and angle grinders, and believe me, singing Olivia Newton-John songs to yourself doesn’t help.
Predictably in a snowstorm, there was not a shovel to be had. I was indescribably relieved. What more could I do?
Of course I got home and the shovel had been miraculously returned, presumably by one of the neighbours who’d used it to dig out their car. Where before it had been lightly mangled, it was now a crippled wreck, the cheap aluminium blade bent up at the end like a curled shoe. I dragged it outside and spent a couple of hours developing new and ineffective techniques for subduing a foot of compacted ice with what was essentially a tinfoil dustpan. After an hour the cold had seeped through my many layers; the wind picked up and out of the swirling flakes, a snowy eddy appeared. “What’s up, Snowy Eddy?” I said. “Hey Nick,” he replied, snowy as ever. But despite the conditions and my many shortcomings, I was determined to carry off the operation with a degree of flair, clearly impressing Bob and Mike with my grunting and theatrical brow mopping. And when it finally came time to spread the salt, I wowed them all by distributing it off the elbow like Salt Bae.
I have to admit it felt rather good to utilise muscles that had been in hiding since the last snowstorm, and buoyed by an unfamiliar wave of testosterone I puffed out my chest, set my jaw, leaned on my shovel and surveyed my handiwork with a steely measured gaze. I then headed to the shops to reward myself with a “Hungry Man” Heat-and Serve Breakfast (“Over 1lb of food!”), but changed my mind and had a cup of Earl Grey and a lovely slice of banana bread.
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