According to a recent investigative report by a major Chicago newspaper, 98.3% of Chicagoans who die of heart attacks, while shoveling snow, are males above the age of 40, and of Eastern European descent. Since the winter of 1897, the first year such records were kept, the toll on Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Croats, Slovaks, Serbs and Greeks has been horrific.
I live in a neighborhood that has a large population of males that are descendants of Eastern European immigrants. Many of them are over the age of 40. Needless to say, they dread the coming of winter.
About the middle of October, a palpable sense of gloom blankets the neighborhood. Men walk the streets with dazed expressions on their faces, muttering to themselves, sometimes stopping in mid-stride to stare at the sky, searching for any sign of inclement weather.
By mid-November, the local taverns, normally places of good cheer, become grim watering holes where anxious men of a certain age gather to watch the Weather Channel, drown their sorrows, commiserate, and assess their chances of survival.
“I just hope I can make it two more years. Then I’ll get my pension from Streets & Sanitation and retire to Arizona. I’ve heard it rarely snows in Arizona.”
“With this global warming shit going on, I doubt there’s any place that’s really safe.”
Until a few days ago, this winter had been pretty mild. The few snowstorms that have hit Chicago have been harmless, mainly a dusting of powdery flakes, with little accumulation. Shoveling has been a breeze and casualties have been light.
Then, late Thursday evening, the City got hit by a couple of inches of what professional meteorologists call “heart attack snow.” This type of snow is wet and dense, as weighty as clay. The snow was so heavy I could almost hear the individual flakes hitting the sidewalk. I knew, from bitter experience, that each shovel load would feel like it weighed 50 pounds.
Friday morning, I was standing by my living room window, enjoying a cigarette with my morning whiskey, waiting nervously for the storm to blow itself out. I knew what to expect when the storm ended. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Shortly after the last snowflake fell, the lovely Mrs. Milo came into the living room and said, “Will you be a dear and shovel the snow this morning? And don’t forget the walkway in the back yard. I need to be able to get to the compost heap.”
Once again, I made the mistake of thinking I could reason with my wife. “Darling,” I said, “You do recall that I’m of Eastern European descent?”
“I’m aware of that.”
“You also understand that I’m over 40 years old?”
“I know that, too.”
“And you still want me to shovel snow?”
“You don’t expect me to do it, do you? Shoveling snow is a man’s job”
No doubt about it, I was totally and completely fucked. My wife’s last comment, about shoveling being a man’s job, left me no wiggle room. I finished my drink, put on my parka, popped a couple of aspirin, just in case, and went out to deal with the killer snow.
That morning, Eastwood Avenue, the street where I live, looked and sounded like a war zone. When I stepped out of my front door, shovel in hand, I heard ambulance sirens and the piteous groans of damaged men, guys who had thrown out their backs, pulled their hamstrings, or suffered some sort of internal injuries.
Two of my neighbors, Kostas and Andrej, were lying face down in the snow, unmoving, but still clutching their shovels. Another neighbor, Vlade, had seemingly sustained a serious injury and was slowly and painfully crawling in the general direction of the corner bar. The guy that lived on the corner, Stefan the Actuary, had apparently weighed the risks, decided not to take a chance, and was sneaking toward the el stop with a suitcase in each hand.
Normally, I would have dropped everything and rushed to my injured neighbors’ assistance, but I had to contend with 45 feet of snow-covered sidewalk. If I wasted time, the temperature might drop and the deadly accumulation of snow might turn into an even deadlier accumulation of ice. I simply could not allow that to happen.
If, for example, Big Reggie the Mailman slipped on that particular patch of ice, hurt himself, and couldn’t make his daily rounds, most of the ladies on the block would never forgive me.
I had no choice. I had to shovel the sidewalk. But, unlike most of neighbors, I wasn’t going to be a dumbass about it. I wasn’t going to ruin my health or blow out my main gasket by rushing through the job. I was going to take my time, pace myself. I had a system.
I’d shovel for a couple of minutes, rest a while, shovel for a few more minutes, then take a smoke break. That was my routine and I stuck to it.
It took a while but I finally got the job done. Best of all, I had incurred no significant injuries. I was proud of myself. I had lived to shovel another day.
When I strutted into the house, chest puffed out, head held high, the lovely Mrs. Milo said, “I see you made it.”
“Piece of cake, babe. Real men don’t worry about shoveling snow.”
I had acquitted myself honorably. I had beaten the elements and prevailed where lesser men failed. But I was an old hand and knew better than to underestimate Mother Nature. If I was going to survive the rest of this winter and, hopefully, a few more to come, I had to remain vigilant. I had to keep my edge.
So, I changed into some comfortable clothing, made myself a stiff drink, sat down in front of the TV, and spent the rest of the day and evening watching the Weather Channel.
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