The Common Good
May 2010

Inventor. Handyman. Genius.

by Ed Spivey Jr. | May 2010

As summer approaches, I look forward to the day, sometime in late July, when all the snow will finally be gone from Washington, D.C.

As summer approaches, I look forward to the day, sometime in late July, when all the snow will finally be gone from Washington, D.C. But right now I’m writing from the confines of my home, trapped under three feet of snow and occupying my time by worrying about the porch roof collapsing.

I share this snowbound fate with spouse and youngest daughter, the oldest daughter having wisely decided to move to the warmer climate of northern Massachusetts.
As the snow continues, and my fear for the porch intensifies, I have been told that under no circumstances will I be permitted to climb onto the roof and shovel it off, this from household members who never stand in my way when tires go flat, lawns require mowing, or the bodies of rodents need to be removed from locations where the cat has proudly put them on display.
I originally attempted to stand on a ladder and rake snow from that relatively safe vantage point, but family members referred to news reports of injuries resulting from just that technique. So, after carefully coming down from the ladder by falling backwards into the snow, I withdrew to my basement workshop to plan a different strategy. [Editor’s fact check: There is a basement, but no “workshop.” Just a bench with dusty tools that haven’t been used since the last time the author’s 85-year-old father demonstrated how to use a saw without injury.]
My first idea was to drill a hole through a rake handle and attach a long rope, making a contraption that could be tossed up on the roof to drag the snow down. It turns out, however, that this technique also requires not stepping on the rope during the toss, which causes rake to halt in mid-air—as if waiting for further instructions—then snap back abruptly, forcing me to fall backwards into the snow. The only advantage of this approach is to entertain the neighbors, who have over the years observed similar inventiveness in stump removal, fence repair, and automobile maintenance, only some of which, to my credit, necessitated calling paramedics.
Undaunted, this inventor re-turned to the basement workshop [Editor’s note: See above.] to devise a different tool for the job. What was needed was an object small enough to be tossed easily, heavy enough to sink into the snow, and with sufficient protrusions to drag the snow off with it. An additional feature would be that it should not cause neighbors to post “he’s at it again” on Facebook.
The choice was obvious. And as I picked up the Advent candle wreath, it was hard not to congratulate myself. After all, it was the perfect shape for tossing, Frisbee-like, onto a roof, and it bristled with protrusions, four in all, one for each week of expectant waiting for the day when Santa finally comes. What it needed, however, was more weight, given that in initial trials it merely slid over the surface of the crusty snow, increased its momentum and flew back, causing me to fall backwards into the snow.
A hammer—duct-taped to the Advent wreath to add weight—was, I felt, a stroke of genius, and a combination I may one day patent, although with slight variations in design since the claw immediately got stuck in the gutter.
Unfortunately, after repeated efforts, my device was less effective than I had hoped. In fact, technically speaking, it was a complete failure. But as I stared up, it suddenly occurred to me that I could simply lean out the bedroom window and push the snow off the roof, a revelation that had me quickly bounding up the stairs with the garden rake.
Setting the implement against a chair, I lifted the window and removed the screen, giving me easy access to the snow threatening our home. With success and peace of mind at hand, I turned quickly and did something—and I say this without fear of contradiction—that no one has ever done before: I stepped on a rake in my own bedroom. The result was predictable, scientifically proven in countless Saturday morning cartoons: The rake handle came up and smacked me in the face.
It was at this point that I cursed all porch roofs, using biblical and non-biblical invective, and wondered how Copernicus must have reacted when his first attempts to invent the radio, or possibly astrology, were similarly foiled. I then returned to the couch, leaving strict instructions not to be disturbed until August.
Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners. His book, A Hamster is Missing in Washington, D.C., is available at
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