Thursday, January 27, 2011

Please don't watch me

If my father were alive he would shake his head in disbelief at the way I have let the snow have its way with me. I live far enough from town to escape the watchful eyes of nosy neighbors, and yet whenever I shovel snow I feel like I’m being watched.

As our winter (which occupies half of our 12 months) goes on and on I shovel the snow with less enthusiasm and concern for how proficiently the job is done. In the beginning of the season, I clear the snow beyond the edges of the sidewalks; I make sure the steps are clean and the paths to the farm buildings are wide and even. But this year I have all but given up – the frequent snow and the sharp wind have all but defeated me – and it’s only January. It is as if I am in the great Gobi desert trying in vain to keep the sand from piling up.

One of the many jobs I had before I realized my lifelong dream of selling insurance was clearing snow from the sidewalks that surrounded and dissected an entire city block. I was a member of the maintenance department at a nursing home near downtown Minneapolis. I know that sounds like a joke. I have no business calling myself a maintenance man as that title suggests I can actually fix and maintain stuff. I was hired mainly as a driver of the nursing home’s activity bus, but as they were opposed to paying me for inactivity I was wore the uniform of a maintenance man in between trips.

The nursing home was part of a larger organization that owned several older homes and a series of high-rise apartment buildings used for assisted living. This complex occupied the entire block. As a maintenance man I vacuumed floors, cleaned furnace filters, mowed the grass and shoveled snow, a whole block’s worth. There was a snow blower on hand, but it was too big for the frequent flurries that year.

I spent many hours shoveling under the watchful eyes of many a happy onlooker.
As I scooped and pushed, there were dozens (maybe hundreds) of people watching me. I would verify this from time to time as I would look up to the throngs of spectators glued to their windows watching me perform.

It’s not easy to be involuntarily cast as the lead in a one-man play. But there I was, sometimes performing twice a day: a morning matinee and a dinner show. I concentrated my efforts to make even, efficient movements with the blade. With the shovel as my dance partner we moved to the rhythm of the city traffic across the stage. I did not want to disappoint the audience – they were paying good money for this.

Sometimes I would wave and some of them would wave back. I didn’t fault them for watching me, although they never once threw roses at me or asked for a single autograph. The faces in the windows were often unrecognizable but they never really bothered me. But there was one lone figure that did.

The complex administrator (as opposed to the administrator of the complex) would often stand in the skyway between the nursing home and the apartments. With his arms folded across his chest, he would stare and glare. I would wave at him - partly to be friendly (small part), partly to let him know I knew he was there (bigger part), and partly to raise his blood pressure (biggest part).

So now whenever I shovel I turn and wave just in case, because you never know if someone is watching.

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