Thursday, February 16, 2006

Fitz can really shovel it

Snow, that is. Man, do I love to shovel snow. That's what I was saying to myself as I cleared out the area around the basketball hoop in the driveway on Tuesday. You may find it hard to believe, but the previous sentences contain not a single trace of sarcasm. Shoveling snow has many pleasant aspects for me, but I believe the deeper psychological satisfaction must be related to my complete ineptitude when it comes to household repairs. I am not handy. In fact, no structural, electrical or plumbing problem is so simple that I cannot make it much, much worse. There are only three things I can fix in my house: breakfast, lunch and dinner (okay four if you count dessert). Fortunately, I fix those things very well, and, as my mother is fond of saying, "We all have our gift places."

Another thing my mother used to say is, "No roughhousing allowed in the house" because she did not want things - dishes, furniture, bones - to get broken. As an adult homewowner, I have modified that rule to, "No drills allowed in the kitchen." Without getting into detail, let me just say that there are two kitchen cabinets that now have holes on the outside after I "fixed" them. My deficiency in this area is compounded by the fact that I am married to a woman whose father was a true craftsman, a genius who built entire rooms in the house where she grew up. Whenever I bring the toolbox inside, she watches with a mixture of pity, mirth, and remorse at her choice of spouse.

So, I guess shoveling snow is one of those masculine opportunities to prove that the heart of the hunter-gatherer still beats in my chest. There's just something about pushing the snow aside to reveal the concrete or asphalt below, and, on a good sunny day, watching how quickly the moisture evaporates, leaving you with dry, safe, passable terrain surrounded by a yard still covered in a cold and treacheous blanket. I don't pretend that we can conquer nature, not even in suburbia, but occasionally bending it to our will can be very satisfying.

We got more than a foot of snow Saturday night, so on Sunday, after the kids had been bundled up and sent out to find the neighbors, I found my shovel and set to the task. Now, let's get a few things straight. I had no intention of shoveling the entire driveway, which is more than 100 feet long. That job that is done by a man with a plow. My goal was to blaze a trail from the back door to the garage and clean the sidewalk from the front door to the driveway and the cars. I had the perfect tool, a lightweight shovel with a plastic blade and aluminum handle. No fancy ergonomic curves, just clean lines and right angles.

The shoveling conditions were nearly perfect: light, feathery snow and almost no wind. Little more than half an hour later, the job was done, and I had cleaned off the cars for good measure. I stashed the shovel, grabbed the kids, and off we went sledding.

The plowman arrived later that afternoon and cleared a path from the garage to the street, but a plow is a not a tool of precision, so there were some large patches of snow still covering the driveway, although there was plenty of room for the cars. I could have just waited for the warming weather to melt the snow away, but the basketball playing area was obstructed, and with temperatures projected to break 60 by midweek, I needed to get it back into service.

The hoop went up last spring thanks to a good friend with tools, know-how and a generous spirit. I provided financing and unintentional comic relief when I let go of a support rod and it fell on my head. Sparingly used at first, the hoop has become a major source of interest for my boys, who are eight and six. I had anticipated this development a few years ago when we had the drive way resurfaced, and I had made sure it was expanded to accommodate full three-point range (collegiate, not NBA).

The kids went back to school Tuesday, an unusually quick recovery for a region that normally responds to the threat of snow the way a possum responds to the scent of a predator, and I wanted to have the court clear by the time they got home. So I got out my trusty shovel and bent to the task. The places where the snow was shallow could be cleared Zamboni style, scraping everything into the grass, but the deeper areas required a more gradual, patient approach, cutting through the layers to get to the bottom. I smiled as I finished the lane and mid-range jumper area and began to work more quickly, figuring I'd be done by lunch.

And then I got greedy. A substantial mound of snow sat at the foul line exended on the left side, right where my eight-year likes to set up and fire shots off the glass. The plow had pushed a good deal of snow here and some had melted and refrozen. Instead of working from the top down, I went for the big dig, and my valiant lightweight aluminum handle, suddenly asked to bear more than its capacity, buckled under the heavy strain of snow, slush and ice. I had betrayed my partner by asking too much, and, rather than disappoint me, it gave everything it had. I adjusted my grip to compensate but it was over in a matter of minutes. I gently set down my mortally wounded shovel, and for a moment I felt like American folk hero John Henry, but then I remembered that he actually finished digging through the mountain, and then he lay down his hammer and he died, so I realized the comparison was not at all apt.

Defeated by my own hubris, I went inside and had lunch. Then I put the dog in the car and headed to Home Depot. Despite the weekend panic, they still had a good selection of shovels. I picked out something called "The Bulldozer," with fancy curved sidewalls and a "Comfort Grip." Needless to say, I didn't waste any time lingering over the power equipment in the Tool Corral.


Abris said...

From the superhero spoof "Mystery Men" where William H. Macy (a favorite of yours) plays a superhero named The Shoveller:
"God's given me a gift. I shovel well. I shovel very well."

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Erin O'Brien said...

Comfort grip?

What the hell are you Fitz, some kind of grandma?

Nice post, amigo.