Essays

Humble Life

Snow

A steady buzzing in my ear. After about five minutes, I start to notice it. I reach over and push a lever like a mouse for a food pellet. Sleep is my pellet. At least for another nine minutes, as if that will make the slightest difference. I’ll still be tired in nine minutes. However, another nine minutes when you have nine hours of sleep is not all that much, but another nine minutes when you’re on three and half is a much bigger ratio. Either way, I will have to face the music in not too long, otherwise I won’t have time to get to the second job in five and half hours. The music I face is composed of measures of wind with eighth notes of snow. Hopefully eighth notes and not thirty-second notes like last night. Or earlier this morning. I’ve lost track.

So I ease myself out of the warm paradise of a comforter into three layers of clothing, each less manageable to put on than the previous. Lace up my boots over three pairs of socks, put on my hat, and my pathetically salt-shrunken gloves and I’m ready to go. Just after waking up, crossing my apartment building parking lot feels like crossing Queen Maud Land to get to the South Pole. My roommates van is a formidable transport, but it gets me there, nevertheless, with nothing but the occasional doughnut while going fifty to block my journey. It takes a half an hour to get to the shop, depending on the amount of slush, which can sometimes delay me another half an hour. I get to the shop, back into the barn, and open the side door of the van. Inside rests a seat that must be removed for me to complete my work, as well as 100 feet of copper piping, fivehalogen flood lamps, two apple monitors, and four superdisk drives, all of which were commandeered by my roommates reasoning of “Dude, it was free. I mean, it’s broken, but it was free.” All of these must be removed, last of which is the seat itself, which with the faulty clamps underneath feels more like Gibralter than a Plymouth Voyager loveseat. When all this is done and I lay the tarp down, load up the Toro snowblower, the five fifty pound bags of salt, and a shovel, which I use when the snowblower breaks down hourly.

Then it’s off to my stops. Two churches, two health clinics, and a gym. The first stop is the hardest. With winding sidwalks, which are partially heated, adding to the already exorbitant amount of slush that Michigan Februaries bring, and winds similar to Patagonia. Okay, maybe not that strong, but like a mild hurricane in any case. My arm is still too sore from the previous three nights to hold the salter right, so I have a makeshift hold with my left hand locking with my right, cradling it to my bosom like a newborn. The boss has told me three times that I need to be more generous in the amount of salt I disperse on the sidewalk. So I stay for a half hour more than usual, to apply extra handfuls of salt from my shriveled glove.

After finishing this stop, I hop in the van, turn the heater on full, blasting it directly at my feet, because I know by the end of the night they will be numb if I don’t do so. I ease out of the parking lot onto the main road, which is deserted, except for the veritable army of snowplows in all directions, their yellow beacons reflecting off the falling whiteness. I look behind me with a strange pioneer-like sense of satisfaction that I have the only tracks through the white parking lot. I reach down my hand, turn on the BBC, and I’m off. The next few stops are easier, although my feet continue to numb, and I continue to be anxious of a late arrival at my next job, always thinking I’ll be faster at each stop than I actually am.

What is this? Getting up at quarter to midnight and working until 2:30pm straight. I guess it’s work, but it was never how I used to picture work. I go out every time it snows, and I clear off the sidewalks of a couple locations, and that’s it. There’s no glamour, there’s no praise, there’s just me in an empty parking lot with the sound of the snowblower echoing into the night. Meanwhile, the majority of my thoughts are “I’m wasting my life,” and I wonder if I am even capable of living a humble life. A friend of mine says his main goals in life are to get married, have a job he enjoys, and move out to the country and buy a house. My list of things I want to do is at least fifty times that length, and I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be satisfied.

So I sinch up the hood on my sweatshirt, covering up all but a quarter inch of my face, and finish off the last stop, with a strange sense of satisfaction. However, I’m running late, so I won’t have time to shower before the next job. Maybe I’ll catch one in ten hours, unless it snows again.

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