Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Slippery Slope

Teahouse at Koishikawa the morning 
after a snowfall*
I couldn't just sit there and wallow in the agony of defeat. If she could do it so could I! If that old lady could shovel the snow off my walkway, I could shovel the snow off everybody else's walkway. Then I would be remembered forever as the foreigner who saved Temple Valley from being buried alive. Fame and glory would be mine! So that's exactly what I did. 

Concealed by the cover of darkness I ran my shiny new snow shovel up and down the entire length of the paved hill that leads up to my walkway and a little beyond. When I was finished I was dripping wet with sweat and on the brink of exhaustion but at least there would now be enough room between the mounds of fresh fallen snow to wheel an ambulance gurney through if I needed one. In other words, I felt satisfied with the job I did and walked down the slope that led to the street below to admire my work from a distance. 

Trekking back up the hill toward home I spied old man Yoshida picking away at the edges of the path I had just finished shoveling. I couldn't figure out why he needed to make the path any wider. I imagine he was trying to clear a space broad enough for two ambulance gurneys to be wheeled through in case he needed one as well. 

Then traffic really started to pick up along the slope. Just as I was nearing Mr. Yoshida, down the hill barreled Mrs. Naka at an almost breakneck pace but not in so much of a hurry that she didn't have time to stop and chit chat with Mr. Y for a second or two. "That's pretty hard work, huh," she said. While Y's reply seemed totally incomprehensible through the wool muffler wrapped around his mouth, by the nodding motion of his head he appeared to be in agreement.

"NOOOO! What do you mean?! I did all that work!!!" I screamed inside my head as I smiled and passed them both by. I couldn't believe it! That old geezer had stolen all my glory. Not only that, I had purposely left some snow on either side of the shoveled sidewalk as part of my grand master snow removal plan. 

I don't just go out there and start flinging snow all around willy-nilly. I think about it before I do anything, for years in this case. In the event the sidewalk iced over during the night I thought it best to leave a little white powder on either side to provide some traction for people descending the hill on their morning commute to work. Now that plan was all for nothing. 

I returned home feeling more defeated than ever. All through the night I could hear the sound of metal scraping cement as everybody who lives along the lane came out one by one to expand on the perfectly fine route I had already carved out. The racket continued almost until midnight when I finally succumbed to the spell of the sandman.

By the time morning's light had illuminated our valley, I had completely forgotten about the previous day's deprivation (i.e. the stolen glory). That is until that hideous sound once again penetrated the confines of my mind. They were at it again! What were they shoveling now? I had to see for myself what they were up to.

As I headed out the door, Em (my wife) handed me a bag full of trash. I imagined is was meant to serve as a cushion in the event I slipped on a patch of ice. She thinks of everything like that. Sure enough the sloping walkway was a solid sheet of glass from top to bottom. As I navigated my way down the frost covered hill I stumbled upon Mr. Wada who advised me to stick to the snow on the edges of the path for better traction. "I know! That was my whole idea in the first place," I said inside my head as I nodded and thanked him for his guidance. 

After climbing down the treacherous path and depositing my garbage for pickup at the bottom of the hill, I took a long sweeping look back up at that icy hump I had just miraculously descended. I realized then I would need the aid of a Sherpa mountain guide to get back up. As I cooled my heels and waited for the noonday sun to turn the sidewalk into a more navigable flowing creek, I wondered where this slippery slope all began?

*Image of woodblock print by Hokusai from the Library of Congress 

The path I shoveled looked something like this:




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