So, I’m walking home in a blizzard, reflecting on the soft winter beauty of another six or eight inches of snow, how it covers all the squirted yellow holes in the white embankments along the sidewalks and buries another generation of frozen dog turds. Two guys are coming my way, carrying snow shovels on their shoulders.
I’m an American. I say “hi” to everybody I pass. It’s in our genes. So I do—just as the first guy turns around to say, “What?” to his buddy.
WHAM! He hits me in the eye with the corner of his snow shovel. I fall to my knees and nearly black out. The darkness dissolves into a swarm of horseflies on a corpse, which become whiteflies in flight, and then start falling again as snowflakes, and I am kneeling in fresh snow on a white night, clutching a chain that someone strung up along the edge of his yard in case anyone needed help to avoid toppling over.
“Oh! Shit! Wow! Sorry! Are you all right?”
“Shit! Man! I didn’t mean to!”
“I know.” I pull off my glove and explore my eye socket. Still there. No blood. All right. I scoop up snow and hold it to my eye. He grabs my arm and helps me up.
“Your eye? Let me look at it. Ain’t bleeding.”
“It’s all right.”
“Ugh. Yeah, good night.”
I trudge home. If there’s a lesson in this, beyond the value of a good pratfall, it’s how unlikely it is that I will successfully disarm the next madman who wanders into a mall or a movie theater and starts taking out people with a snow shovel.
Later I get out our own shovel, and I work with a neighbor to clear out the parking lot out behind our condo, because the guys the association hired, identity unknown, left heaps of snow that prevent us from getting our cars back in. It feels good to shovel, even though I worked out in the morning. The shiner, though, turns out to be disappointingly meager. Just a touch of red, like the eye shadow of a Chinese opera singer, the ones whose voices sound like you’re twisting the tail of a cat.