A Snow Story

Out early yesterday morning after the big snowfall?the streets are being cleared? God, it?s been years since I did any of that. I have no car to dig out? And in my neighborhood, a lot of large and small apartment buildings, it?s the supers and their staffs that chop and shovel, scoop and salt, and push the big red snow blowers.
Of course it?s a requisite part of the job for the building staff?making the place (both inside and out) safe and secure, but an elemental piece of this immediate and intense activity is just basic human nature? ?Big snow storm, eh? Right, sure? Let me show you what a real man can do.?
I had that same gut reaction when I owned my own house and managed my own store many years ago? Another Goddamn storm? Alright, then? This is what a man does; he gets snowed in?He digs out. Not just to prove yourself to yourself but also for the rest of the people who have to walk your stretch of sidewalk.
So, part of the clean-up is not just doing a job?it?s also the daily, necessary labor of civilization. And speaking of civilization, an expedient clean-up is a legal necessity because, around these here parts, a citizen can and will sue you pretty quick if they slip, fall and fracture something in front of your building.

There is also a kind of competition as to which crew will clean up faster and more thoroughly. Team (Building) pride is at stake.
My building, one of the largest for blocks around?has it all down to a science. Before the last flake hits the sidewalk the shovels, blowers and salters are at work. We?re clear here before any other building?The super and the building guys finally leaning on their shovels and gazing quietly down the block at the still struggling, amateur competition.

?Right next door, working at a steady, but more leisurely pace are two Jamaican guys who maintain three adjacent smaller buildings.
Walking past, I?m thinking? How strange it must be for them.. Though they?re doing a good job (with much less firepower), they once in a while look up from their shoveling and a silent communication passes between them. There is a look of mild bewilderment on their faces? Man, what are doing in this place?
Maybe in the midst of the snow and the garbage, the twisted old wrought iron and pissing dogs, they have older, deeper visions of bright flowers, broad green leaves and pastel walls, warm in the sun.

Further down the block, towards the next big avenue, is another large building. And, like ours, the super and his crew are also out early? The boss is Russian originally and is wearing only a thick, dark-gray sweater and old black pants; no coat, no gloves, no hat, no boots?none of the sissy foul weather gear everyone else has on. He seems vastly amused by all the talk about the ?big? storm?breaks into a barely tolerant smile as he watches passers-by stepping carefully over a couple of inches of snow.

Walking around the corner? the stores are digging out?got to have a space for the customers; and, absolutely a legal responsibility. These are mostly big chain stores with deep pockets?and even a twisted ankle ten feet from their doors will bring a lawyer?s letter. I wonder if they?re responsible for the walkways before they open and after they?re closed. Have to consult my son in law school.

Both the drug, video-game and optometrist places have pretty well cleared off their sidewalks. But the one place that isn?t cleared at all (and the same thing happened the last two big snowfalls) is The Bank of America.
Nothing in front of Bailout Savings and Loan but a slippery narrow path a few feet away from their doors; people walking single file in the drifts, slipping and sliding around. Even an hour after they?ve opened for business not one shovelful of snow has been shifted. Well, maybe they don?t have any snow shovels. Maybe the bank bundled them up and sold them as securities.

I pause for a couple of minutes to let some old people and mothers with baby-carriages pass by. Across Broadway is a tiny neighborhood park, which, in all but the harshest weather, is home to little kids playing in the fountain, five different kinds of city bird; rats, squirrels; lonely, old, homeless and sometimes pure crazy people? Also, some local workers taking lunch breaks.
The park is completely empty?a rare sight. It is pristine, beautiful and silent, snow completely covering the sidewalks, the benches, the trees? Amidst the crush and grunge of Broadway, a temporary, glistening, white dream.

?I resume my little walk, carefully watching out for my old, beat-up limbs; staying, as much as possible, on the cleared stretches of sidewalk? Recalling, more than wistfully, when I walked through this stuff with far more confidence and purpose? Remembering, as a child, how I jumped straight into the drifts and laughed.

As I walk along, I?m thinking about tomorrow?s political show on Sirius? And I wonder? what is all this hard work and activity I?m seeing out here on the streets, good old American Exceptionalism or fancy European-style Socialism?
I don?t know… Maybe I?m just seeing a clear example of what we?re all required to do in this waking world; If you get snowed in, you dig out. Not just for yourself. For everybody.

– Mike Feder (New York City – January 28, 2011)

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