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Shovel Versus Shovel

Submitted by Editor on February 20, 2011 – 6:28 am | Print or Email »One Comment

by Mike Paulus
illustration by Beth Czech
(originally published in the Jan. 22, 2009
issue of Volume One)

I’d like to sincerely thank my next door neighbors for making me feel like a total jerk. Also, I’d like to thank them for shoveling the snow off my front sidewalk whenever they get the chance.

By the way, much like the thorny thorns of a rose vine and the blossomy blossom of the very same plant, these two messages of thanks are forever intertwined.

This winter started innocently enough with the season’s first tender snowflakes fluttering down to kiss my sidewalk with frosty delight. The first shoveling of the year is always a novelty to me because, much like childbirth, it’s easy to forget the pain of years past (or so I’m told). So I was excited to shovel. I got out my trusty shovelin’ coat, pulled on my old gloves, and stepped outside into the winter-fresh air, alive and buzzing with possibility.

“Hey, look!” I thought. “My wonderful neighbors have shoveled our sidewalk. What an amazing time it is to be alive! This afternoon I think I’ll compose some inspirational acoustic guitar music! And then I will bake some scones.”

A happy tune forming within the happy cockles of my heart, I got down to the business of manual snow removal. I’m no expert, but I do OK. Since moving into my family’s East Hill home, I’ve developed some fairly effective shovel maneuvers. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I’d be happy to share them.

I have a narrow driveway, the concrete having been poured decades ago, before people started driving cars the size of my house. So, starting in the middle of the path, I’m able to push all that beautiful snow to each side with relative easy. Too much relative ease for an enthusiast such as myself. No, I must clear more snow with each shovel stroke than many of you would think humanly possible. Wielding my hefty snow spade like a (magical) double-sided dwarven battle ax, I’m able remove huge slices of the frozen fluff in one go. I bend (way) over and, using wide, sweeping, warrior-like arcs, I blast three or four square feet of snow with each swing.

This is devastatingly horrible for my back. But in a year or two, as I lie in a hospital bed recovering from my extensive expensive back surgery, I’m sure I’ll be fondly thinking of the many fine hours I spent shoveling snow, and I shall murmur, “It was all worth it, man. Every damn second of it.”

But I’m off topic. My neighbors have been neighborly shoveling my front sidewalk whenever they get a chance. After this happened two or three times, I actually got outside to shovel before they did. However, I was in a hurry to leave town or something, so I only shoveled a small stretch of their sidewalk. When I got back inside, out of breath and puffing with pride at how fast I’d been, my wife asked, “Did you shovel Chad[1] and Mary’s[2] sidewalk?”

“Part of it,” I said. Proudly.

“Mike[3], my darling[4],” she said, “you have to shovel all of their sidewalk. They always shovel ours.” At that moment, a familiar feeling crept across my heart like an icy cold fungus. I have a name for this feeling. I call it “that feeling where I feel like a total ass.”

From that point on, I’ve tried to get out there and shovel both front sidewalks before they do, with varied degrees of success. Unbeknownst to them, we’re in a race to get out there first. At times, I swear they purposely try to beat me to the sidewalk. But that’s crazy and paranoid, right? I’m not sure why, but if they beat me, I feel like a big, lazy, spectacular jerk. And they tend to get up earlier than me, so I’ve been plagued by pangs of guilt all winter.

This has nothing to do with my neighbors. They’re awesome. This is all about me – me and my Midwestern/raised-Catholic/thoughtful-wife-provoked guilt. By next year, I’ll have forgotten all about this little snow struggle. But for now … I must win. I must shovel their sidewalk and achieve a guilt-free winter.

Victory will most definitely be mine. [5]


[1] I made up that name.
[2] That one, too.
[3] That’s my actual name.
[4] My wife doesn’t call me that.
[5] But probably not.

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