Sunday, February 12, 2006


As I get older, I often match my behavior against the last verse of Bob Dylan's song "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest." Like so:

Well, the moral of the story,
The moral of this song,
Is simply that one should never be
Where one does not belong.
So when you see your neighbor carryin' somethin',
Help him with his load,
And don't go mistaking Paradise
For that home across the road.

I was thinking of this during my endless morning/afternoon shoveling snow out of my and my neighbors' driveways. It's endless because you understand (as a middle-aged man, which is what I am) that once you stop your muscles will tighten up and won't let you start again.

Part of it was medical. I treat the annual ritual of snow shoveling as a sort of free cardiac stress test. Those of us who are uninsured have to take our medical tests when we can, and I always figure that if six hours of uninterrupted anaerobic exercise doesn't kill me, then I'm good for another year.

Part of it was genuine altruism, and here I had my Andre Gide problem. Gide, of course, is strongly identified with the belief that there is no such thing as a gratuitous act, that all behavior is informed by self-interest.

So, Gide be damned, I shoveled my driveway, and six neighbors', making sure I got the old people who can't do it anymore. My preference would be that they didn't see my doing that at all, but that wasn't happening. I got a dinner out of it, and a bunch of money thrust at me that I wouldn't accept. All in all, it wasn't total altruism--there is definitely a bit of truth in that sullen old bastard Gide--but it was good enough for another year.

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