Shoveling Snow

by

01/30/2022

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

Out early yesterday morning after the big snowfall. The streets are being cleared. God, it’s been years since I did any of that.

Now I have no car to dig out, no store to clear the street for; nothing special to worry about (save for not slipping on the ice and cracking my old bones). 

In my neighborhood there are a lot of large and small apartment buildings—it’s the supers and their staffs that salt, chop and shovel—push the big red snow blowers.

Of course, a requisite part of the job for the building staff is to make these places (both inside and out) safe and secure. But another, elemental piece of this immediate and intense activity exists just below the surface. It’s an attitude—which, roughly stated, is, “Big snow storm, eh? That’s what you think. Let me show you what a real man can do.”

I had that same gut reaction when I owned my own house (a brownstone in Park Slope Brooklyn) and managed my own bookstore—many years ago. Another goddamn storm? Alright, then. This is what a man does when he gets snowed in. He digs out. Not just to prove himself to himself, but also to help anybody (especially the woman and children) who have to walk your stretch of sidewalk.

The after-snow clean up is not just doing a job—it’s also the daily, necessary labor of civilization, of keeping basic life going, showing the world (and yourself) that regular order is being restored…Speaking of civilization, an expedient clean up is also a legal necessity because, around these here parts, a citizen can and will sue you pretty quick if they slip and fall and fracture something, or sustain a severe bruise (or even if they imagine, possibly for financial reasons, that they sustained a severe bruise), in front of your building.

What else is going on here? There’s a competition as to which crew will clean up faster and more thoroughly. Team (Building) pride is at stake. My building is one of the largest for blocks around, and our crew has it all down to a science. Before the last flake hits the sidewalk, the salters, shovels and blowers are at work. We’re cleared here before any other building. When they finish, the super and the building guys lean on their shovels and gaze quietly down the block at the still struggling, second-place competition.

Right next door to our building, working at a steady, if somewhat more leisurely pace, are two Jamaican guys who maintain the three adjacent smaller buildings. Walking past, I’m thinking how strange this 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 appears to be a look of mild bewilderment on their faces, “Man, how did we land in this place?” Maybe in the midst of the snow and the trashcans, the twisted old wrought iron and pissing dogs, they still have 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 super is Polish originally and is wearing only a thick, dark-gray sweater, old black pants and regular shoes; no coat, no gloves, no hat, no boots—none of the foul weather gear everyone else has on. He seems very amused by all the talk about the “big” storm and breaks into a barely tolerant smile as he watches passers-by stepping carefully over a couple of inches of unshoveled snow.

Walking around the corner, the stores are digging out—got to have a space for the customers to come and go, and, as I mentioned, it’s 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 stretch in front of their stores before they open and after they’re closed. Probably. I’ll have to consult my son in law school.

The drugstore, video game and optician’s store have pretty well cleared off their sidewalks. But the one place that isn’t cleared at all (the same thing happened during the last two big snowfalls) is the Bank of America. There’s nothing in front of “Bailed out Savings and Loan” but a slippery, narrow path a few feet away from their doors; people are walking single file, trying to avoid the drifts on each side of the path, trying not to slide around or fall over. 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. Across Broadway is a tiny neighborhood park, which, in warmer weather, is home to little kids playing in the fountain; five different kinds of city bird; squirrels; the occasional rat; and, the lonely, the old, the 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, benches, and trees. Amidst the crush and grunge of Broadway, a temporary, glistening white dream.

I resume my little walk, catering to my old, beat-up limbs; staying, as much as possible, on the cleared stretches of sidewalk and recalling, 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.

***

Mike Feder is a retired, long-time radio host/personality, first with WBAI-FM in New York City and then Sirius Xm.  He has been a welfare case worker, a New York City and New York State probation officer, the owner of a used book store, a paralegal, and a performer/writer of autobiographical stories. (Books: New York Son, The Talking Cure, a Life on Air and, A Long Swim Upstream).

Find out more at federfiles.com/

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§ 19 Responses to “Shoveling Snow”

  • Susan T. Landry says:

    holy cow; time- travel surprise; Mike Feder on Sunday morning! it’s been a long time. in any case, wonderful to read that dry sense of humor and hear Mike’s voice reverberating from somewhere back in the dusty part of fmy brain matter. snow days in the city were always cause for celebration; grown folks were out of their apartments and pretending to grumble, but mostly as thrilled as the kids. i love the POV that Feder shows us; the competitive spirit & intricacies of shoveling well; the disdain for those who don’t. thanks so much for this terrific piece.

  • Jeanne Feder says:

    Hmm.. so love this story and does bring up memories of learning how to defend myself when older brother actively taught me how to throw a good snowball in our big backyard in Queens, NYC. Interest in nearby NYC park not surprising. ♥

  • Tom says:

    Real men have replaced their weed whackers with snowblowers and the giants among us, drive snow plows!

  • Peter says:

    I like reading your stuff’

  • Victoria Reggio says:

    Great piece, Mike. Your voice reminds me of the Sunday morning’s Hard Work days.
    I grew up in East New York/Brownsville, Brooklyn and yesterday would have been a day of fort building, snow ball fights between the boys and the girls all while wearing wool coats and hats and ratty mittens that usually got lost.
    I was out for a short time and sadly, didn’t see any kid activities in Manhattan. I suppose some parents dragged them and their sleds to the park but I tend to think both groups just stayed at home and streamed.
    Thanks again, Mike and shout out to my super and all the supers who shoveled and helped me avoid injury.

  • DANIEL MINTZ says:

    What incredibly high-quality writing for a diminutive website!

  • Russell Klein says:

    Sometimes it takes a snowstorm, or the threat of one, to allow me to hit the pause button on life’s immediate and pressing chores. I love how Mike’s article captures that spirit. Immediately following an urban snowstorm, the pristine beauty, quiet and stillness of human activity in an early walk puts me in a frame of mind and feeling that Mike captures so well. My memory of a childhood on suburban Long Island, juxtaposed onto present day realities. A very nice article, indeed.

  • Dan Sorkin says:

    Yeah, winter in the City. Good essay. I didn’t go out at all yesterday, but I was out doing some shopping today. At least it’s a sunny day, and *most* of the sidewalks are now passable.

    I remember when I was young and I liked to play in the snow. That now feels about as long ago as the Middle Ages.

  • Old School - Rick says:

    Dear Michael,

    Thank you for sharing your latest essay. I was able to quickly obtain your missive about the “big” snow of 2022 using the link that you provided. It worked fine.

    Call me old fashion or old school, but I waited until today (Sunday) to unearth my car. Residing in the middle of Long Island (West Hempstead), the snow accumulation was roughly 8 to 10 inches with some drifting. In fact the wind had been so strong that it swept most of the snow off of my car, leaving only the near one-foot of snow surrounding my car to be attended to.

    As someone who commutes to Manhattan via the LIRR, and being very wary of descending into the dark subway, I stay above ground and walk the sidewalks from Penn Station to my roost in Chelsea. I can certainly empathize with your observation about those business enterprises that are fastidious in clearing their small parcels of concrete near their entrances versus those lackadaisical businesses who simply do not care.

    I consider myself to be in decent shape for a man in his late 60’s, however, I did find myself a bit winded and worked up quite a sweat after digging out my car. One of my neighbors is a widow pushing 80, who, G-d bless her, still maintains her independence. She keeps an old model Jeep in the lot near my car for running errands, grocery shopping and going to church. Upon finishing my car, I walked over to where my neighbor’s Jeep rests, and I proceeded to clear all the snow around it. I hope that she will be pleasantly surprised should she need to use her car today or tomorrow.

    It is the little and perhaps insignificant things in life that make everything else all worthwhile. So, a little snow fall inspired me to extend a little kindness to a neighbor.

    Be well, stay safe… enjoy the pristine blanket of snow and the laughter of children frolicking therein.

    Your friend,

    Old School Rick

  • Janis Salek says:

    You’re on a roll, Mike. Great story

  • James Sullivan says:

    What a delightful read! I just love reading about snow in Manhattan with an incredible human touch. Thank you Mike Feder.

  • Erica Manfred says:

    Loved this. So nostalgic. I remember trying to negotiate city snow piles and shoveling my VW bug out and then trying to get it out of a tight space. I can almost hear Mike telling this story in the radio with that inimitable wry tone of voice. Great slice of life story

  • charles n says:

    As always Mike does a wonderful job of describing his subject, talking about the “then” and the “now” in a manner that easily touches all of us. The human touch is always there. Thanks Mike.

  • Harvey says:

    A brief reflection on beautiful snow before it enters the dirty slush phase. And mind the crosswalks! Nice essay, Mike!

  • John Caffrey says:

    The lawsuits. Yes, the lawsuits. I suspect that is the primary concern of the building owners. Next, would be concern about a summons from ….Sanitation?

    Lawsuits. If you are lucky (unlucky) to bee able to file one, it can be the equivalent of a winning lottery ticket. So at 3:15 pm yesterday, I put the batteries in the electric snow blower and cleaned the driveway and sidewalk …. all 75 feet of it. It is a corner house.

    I regret never having witnessed a Mike Federal performance. I only had the pleasure of listening to Mike on Sirius on my way home from watching Pale Male in Central Park.

    JC

  • christopher Jay keller says:

    Mike has a unique take on a mundane topic and gives it life with a touch of humor. With “Shoveling Snow” he once again adds social commentary and shows he is a master at adding interest and color to what one would expect is a routine subject.

  • Richard Goldberg says:

    My first “job” growing up in New England was shoveling snow for neighborhood merchants. To this day I still find myself thanking the shovelers I pass walking thru freshly fallen snow.

  • Seth Joseph Weine says:

    Mike Feder is a National Treasure ! ! !

  • Dean says:

    Great thoughtful story, like all Mike Feder stories.

§ Leave a Reply

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