Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Well-Tempered Snowe-Shovelle

I really only have four jobs as a house-sitter and three of them take no time at all. The easiest ones are to forward all my friend's mail and to read the meters. Only the other two are real, knuckles-and-dirt landlord-like activities: I put out the trash, and if it snows more than an inch I have four hours to shovel the walk.

The trash, weirdly enough, takes care of itself. Whenever I have a roommate and we share chores, we have to keep a very strict schedule, because I seem to take care of my own chores two hours after my roommates' snapping point. In Kansas City I came home time and again to find the bathroom pre-scrubbed, or the dishes drying sullenly in a little stack, and I could do nothing but cry out, "But that's my job! I had until Sunday at midnight!"

That's what it's been like on the trash front here. I have to get the trash out by around 8 in the morning, but several people along our block put it out shortly after 6 pm the previous evening. One of our tenants must agree with this way of doing things, because in the month that I have been here (which means 12 opportunities to execute trash duty), I have only had to put it out twice. Someone always gets there ahead of me. It's almost frustrating: what's the point of remembering something if I do my best and it barely even matters that I did?

So that leaves shoveling, which I've been confident no one else would do. And during my whole tenure here, I've been on eager tenterhooks, looking at the sky ("Was that a snowflake? Is it an inch yet?"*), waiting for my chance. But it has scarcely snowed at all this entire season, and I was afraid that this, too, would wind up on my list of Things I Wanted To Do But Lacked Opportunity or Timely Gumption.

Not any more! It actually snowed last night--snowed hard, well over an inch--for the first time in all of winter, and I knew that this, at last, was my opportunity! So I struck out this morning--if it stops snowing overnight you have until 11 to shovel--and discovered that it was no longer snow. It was slush. But goddammit, it was still an inch think. I determined that I would, in fact, shovel that sumbitch so thoroughly that the snow itself would think, "Who was that hard-working man, so swift and relentless, so masculine and yet so tender?"

And then an odd thought struck me: I actually don't know how to shovel. It's the one chore that I, as a child of the desert-and-then-Florida, have never needed to learn. (I lived in Kansas City, too, but never as a homeowner. Snow was just something that made going to work more annoying.) It looks like the easiest damn thing in the world, but as soon as I hoisted my first shovelful, I thought, "Wait a minute. Where do I put this?"

In comic strips--which are really my only frame of reference for this--the shovelers are generally kids bundled up like Michelinettes, and they hurl the snow in a graceful overhead arc so that it forms a wall of whiteness on either side of their path, the Red Sea to the child's Moses. But I have neighbors. Surely that would be rude. So what else? Move it around like a kid not eating her vegetables? Catapult it to the sky and hope it doesn't come down? Keep the whole thing in a Snow Box and leave it under the doormat for the elves to take?

It was soon obvious that I had to push it into the street, but I felt bad there, too, because there are cars parked out front, and I know I'd hate to have my own car besnowed by some industrious shovelmonger. Fortunately, it really was slush at this time, and once I pushed it past the curb, it slouched helplessly below hubcap level, which no one could possibly object to. I realize it may sound dumb, but I really did have to give this whole procedure a little thought, which was way more thought than I was expecting to exercise.

But I wasn't done. Flush with victory, I decided to ply the shovel on the steps as well, which you can see in the picture (and you can see a few spots I missed). I'm a good landlord!, I thought. A rugged man of the outdoors under certain limited conditions! Then, warming to my task, I even shoveled the side area in front of the trash cans. But I didn't finish the job. A cop stopped me and asked me to please stop. Apparently, women were swooning and it was interfering with traffic. So I let it go, but have taken this picture as proof that I actually did my job. Now I'm going to go stalk a deer and beat it to death with my bare hands. Unless, of course, it's still cold out.

* (That's what she said. And then I cried.)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll assume someone's told you now that shoveling snow into the street is usually illegal, so you just pile it all up on the curb.

2/14/2008 11:13 AM  

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