09 March 2008

Snow and Etiquette

As we creep closer and closer to the apparent all-time record of snowfall (at least since we stole the continent and started writing these things down), I am seized by the need both to vent and to confess. Venting is way more fun, so I'll start with that.

I, like many others in Montréal, have an outdoor staircase leading to my front door which staircase I share with my upstairs neighbours. Now, it won't make a lot of sense for those who come from elsewhere that this is a city of long winding outdoor staircases, given our winter experiences, but this is apparently a product of a time when the Catholic Church was much more in control of our society. It seems that the Church thought that if staircases leading to different dwellings in this urban setting were indoors, there might be hanky-panky out of the watchful eyes of the neighbours. Keeping the staircases outside mad it much more possible for the neighbours to see, and presumably denounce, anything untoward that might be unfolding in their neighbourhoods.

For several years now, I have noticed that the parade of younger people who have occupied the apartment upstairs from me (who share my staircase) have had the unfortunate inability to wield a shovel and take their turn at clearing the snow and ice from our staircase. That delightful duty, albeit one that generally takes a maximum of 15 minutes in the very worst of conditions, keeps falling to me. They see content to walk on the snowy stairs, compressing our fluffy precipitation into hard-pack and eventually ice, while I, ever concerned about my own welfare and that of our letter-carrier, have to drag myself outside to clear the snow, chip away at the ice and deposit salt to melt what cannot be chipped away.

Now, like I said, this is not a multi-hour task, and it is probably good for me. After many years, however, I start to resent that it is the middle-aged guy with AIDS and arthritis in his hands and feet who has to clear the snow while the younger and more sprightly neighbours reap the benefits. Of course, it would be I and not they who is in greater danger of falling and breaking a hip!

Imagine my delight to arrive home the other day, after a small snowfall, to find that they seemed to have cleared the snow off the stairs, probably with their feet, judging from the quality of the snow removal (being an expert I do get fussy about these things). My delight dissolved into outrage as I reached the top of the stairs: they had cleared the snow from the stairs and from the space immediately in front of their own door, but left several centimetres of snow in front of my door! If I hadn't dutifully cleared snow from in front of their door for EVERY OTHER SNOWFALL this year, I might not have felt so outraged. What's with that?!!

Here I let my rage go and drift into the confession part of this post.

The thing that most amuses me about snowfalls in this city is what it does to personal motor vehicles. That's probably because I don't own one and don't think, in general, that people should own cars in a city with a pretty decent public transit system. Here is my neighbour's car late last night, snowstorm raging and illumination courtesy of the orangey streetlights:

Here's what it looked like this morning, with better light, but more hours of snow and wind and multiple snowplow passages on the street- and sidewalk sides of it:

You will notice that these photos were taken from the same vantage point — safely inside my apartment, looking down on the street scene outside. It seems (here comes the confession) that I can't bring myself to offer to help my neighbour (different neighbour, on the other side) to dig her car out of the snow. I even went so far, a few weeks ago, as to stay inside when I noticed that she was out there digging away to liberate her personal pollution device from the hardened snow that had been plowed up against it. And I must say that she was out there for hours while I guiltily skulked around inside, revising my plans for the day to the point where I cancelled them altogether. (There was no going outside without having to pass by the tired neighbour plugging away at her endless task.)

So why did I do that? Of course, I could justify my (in)action by the aforementioned political point of view that cars do not belong in the city. I could cave and confess that I am just lazy. I could explore my feelings for this neighbour, who has lived here since before I moved in (yikes! 15 years ago!) and had been quite pleasant with me, until I started resenting her feeling comfortable commenting about my weight gain in recent years. ("Does she think she's doing me a service, pointing out something I might not have seen, or is she just trying to make me feel good? Screw her: she can shovel her own car out!") In fact, it is probably a mixture of all of those elements.

And now, like the good Catholic that I was very briefly during the confusion of my coming-out process, I have wiped the slate clean by confessing and can start all over again. (Yeah, I am more familiar with the theology than to believe that that's how the confession thing works.)


Jason Dittle said...
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Colin said...

I think you are supposed to be TRULY REPENTANT for that confessional magic to work. But it's been a long time since I was indoctrinated in Catechism class, so don't quote me.