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Scot Lehigh

Don’t kids shovel anymore?

(Istockphoto)
By Scot Lehigh
January 21, 2011

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WHERE, ASKED ancient French poet Francois Villon, are the snows of yesteryear?

Excusez-moi, Francois, but I think you got the question wrong. Those snows arrive with regularity here in New England. But then, who could be expected to keep accurate snowfall records back in the pre-tape-measure time of the 15th century, particularly since the rascally poet’s schedule was jammed with bouts of brawling and stabbing and thieving?

The real question is less lyrical but more practical: Where are the snow shovelers of yesteryear?

When I was a kid in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, a snowstorm was a great entrepreneurial opportunity. As soon as the flakes tailed off, you grabbed your shovel and headed out. You’d ring a doorbell, hope for an older person, and offer to clear the walk for a couple of bucks. The driveway might earn you another five or so.

In a good afternoon of shoveling, you could pocket more than a paperboy made in a month. It was one reason I loved winter. (The other was hooky-bobbing, a should-be Olympic sport where you crept up behind when a car stopped at the corner, grabbed the bumper, and vied for the longest shoe-sled ride along the snowy streets.)

Many decades later, I’ve arrived at the age where paying someone to shovel seems like a justifiable investment in preventive health care. So where are the earnest young guys eager to make a buck? As far as I can tell, they are all on Facebook or busy texting their pals.

Shovel snow? RUS? G1. LOLOLOLOL. ROFL!

Indeed, during my nearly three decades in Boston, exactly one kid has come by seeking a shoveling job. He worked for about 20 minutes on freeing my car from the snowplowed ridge that held it captive, whittling the wintry berm down to the point where you might possibly have extracted the vehicle if, say, you had a mammoth fork-lift at your disposal. When I noted same, he said he’d settle for half the agreed-on fee — and left me to finish the job.

If you’re, um, lucky enough to have some Gen Y-ers in your neighborhood, you can find yourself wondering if they are even aware of what that exotic cold-weather implement with the wooden shaft and wide metal blade is for, let alone know how to use one themselves.

A couple years back, when frigid weather transformed the untended sidewalk next door into a slip-and-fall no man’s land, I asked the guys renting there if they’d like to borrow my shovel. Or even my prized ice-piercing spade.

No thanks, one shrugged. We can make it through OK.

As the winter wore on, I started clearing a narrow path through their snow, in the hope of sending a not-so-subtle message. A message was indeed sent, but hardly the one I’d intended. A year or two later, another next-door resident — this one, I hasten to add, a terrific neighbor — confided that during her first winter there, she’d assumed the three-condo building had hired someone to do the shoveling.

The recent college grads a few doors down labor under a similar misconception, or at least they did until last week’s storm. When my wife gently noted that they risked a citation if they didn’t clear their walk, the young woman seemed shocked. She’d always thought city workers did that, she said. (Future mayoral hopefuls, take note.)

So how to cope with the dearth of shovelers-for-hire? Personally, I lower myself to the breakfast table with that slow and awkward motion that lets you suggest, without ever asserting as much, that you are suffering from a sore back, in the hopes that Marcia will tackle the job herself.

Misleading? Well, perhaps, but after shoveling, one’s back very well could be sore, so is it really so wrong to be prematurely anti-spastic?

Still, life would be much simpler if a platoon of eager shovelers patrolled the neighborhood. But the fact that the snow falls doesn’t mean the doorbell will ring, as a proverb might put it. Might, that is, if today’s proverb-penners weren’t worn out from shoveling.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com.

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