Okay, trend spotters. Here's the next Big Thing: snow shoveling. This one's going to make running look like standing still.
Already, all over the Northeast and Midwest, the sport has been showing signs of snowballing. Wherever you go, you see them, the shovelers. They're out there scraping and chopping, their gloved mitts a blur, a fine powdered mist constantly flying back into their handsome chapped visages.
Why the snow-shovel craze should crest now is anyone's guess. The availability of "white stuff," as shovel buffs refer to it in their colorful jargon, may be one factor. But traditionally, snow falls every winter. Some people have always shoveled, while others found their fun in driving over it, falling down in it or watching it accumulate on their eyebrows.
Suddenly, though, a shoveling frenzy is reported from all quarters. Kids and grownups, clones and transsexuals, sanitation workers in New York City, National Guardsmen in Ohio -- everyone's getting into the act.
I have it on the highest authority that Time magazine's cover pickers are planning to "go white." Several new movies contain shoveling scenes (one nude), disco dancers are doing the Snow Shuffle and a new paperback entitled "Shoveling Without Guilt, Fear or Hernia" is out.
What's the appeal, you wonder? What's with these snow-crazed "spoonies," as they sometimes call themselves?
"There's nothing like it," says one ski-masked Sasquatch lookalike buried neckdeep near Akron, Ohio. "Snow is clean, it's white, it's pure. It's totally innocent. Penguins love it and they're cute and incorruptible. Where else can you find anything like that today?"
A high school transportation-sciences major from upstate Rhode Island put it this way: "When you handle snow, you feel an integral part of global weather patterns." She paused to wipe a small icicle off her nose and continued earnestly: "For some people, it's enough to sit in front of the tube and watch the weather-guy hum the satellite photos. Me, I've gotta touch the stuff. I mean, who knows where this precip was last week? It could've been an iceberg. It could've been a rainy night in Georgia. It could've been clinging to nuclear particles wafting through the Canadian night. By shoveling it, I can relate to my planet."
Still others peak of the "rush" that comes after the fifth to eighth hour of shoveling. "You feel light-headed," said a light-headed man shoveling his driveway outside Pocatello, Idaho. "All your aches and pains disappear and you see nothing but white. You feel snowed out, man."
While spoonies speak of this exultant feeling in quasi-mystical terms, physicians say it actually has a physiological basis, which can best be conveyed to laymen with the phrase "freezing to death." Experienced spoonies shrug off the risk, however, saying it's just part of the fun of the sport.
"Novice spooners should always lift with a partner," advised one shovel veteran. "That way, should you ice up, he can drag you to shelter and pour hot steaming broth down your frigid craw to restore a semblance of life."
Psychologists say the thrill of snow shoveling comes from an effect known as tangible displacement. "As children, we are taught to pick up an object from over here and put it over there," says Dr. Duane U. Hartsock, a leading cold-sport theoretician. "This is the basic principle behind all snow shoveling and it replicates that early experience."
Shovelbugs not only have their own inside lingo and pathology, they also have clothing and gear geared to their sport. Already, sharp-eyed marketing manipulators in cheap, vulgar suits are greedily sizing up the shovel-prone hordes with a line of products ranging from sure-grip mittens and racing-stripe earlaps to customized shovel sets endorsed by leading spoonies. In addition, the Adidas and Puma people are rumored to be testing high - traction arch - support snowshoes.
In some areas, of course, snow shoveling can be difficult. Los Angeles, for instance, or Tanzania. But ingenious expedients are being employed. One Persian Gulf sheikh recently took up the sport after orderhis army to whitewash the desert. And a Houston plastics manufacturer will deliver tons of Styrofoam flakes to your driveway at wildly exorbitant rates. "Better than the real thing," he boasts. "Won't melt, won't freeze your tootsies. One load lasts you a lifetime."
Actually, the U.S. has been lagging in international snow-shoveling competition. The Russians are currently world champions with an estimated total of 18 billion tons shoveled in the 20th century alone. There are Siberians reported to eat the snow out of their driveways but this is dismissed by Western observers as chauvinist hyperbole.
Experts say that 80 to 90 percent of shoveling is the grip. All 10 fingers should be used.Grasp the handle, never the blade. Be firm but don't "strangle" it. Start with small loads and smooth strokes. Don't try anything fancy till you've mastered the basics. Later you can progress to sophisticated moves such as "the windmill" or "double bite." Perhaps you may someday enter the top ranks of spoonies, that small group of chafed, wind-burned, goggle-eyed pros who speak only of catching the perfect drift.