Laundry day can be a very dangerous day
The back door of our third-floor apartment leads out to a wooden balcony (shared with the neighbors) and a flight of stairs that goes all the way down to the fenced-in courtyard between buildings. These stairs are important to me mainly as a way of taking out the trash and doing my laundry. The laundry situation here is 50 percent better than in Japan. We have real, fully automatic washers and dryers; but we share them with neighbors, and competition for dryer time is fierce. Also they need four quarters per load, making quarters into a scarce resource worthy of hoarding. The final downside: they are in the basement of another building, reachable through the courtyard. Which is reachable by the stairs. Stairs which were apparently built by the same contractors who built that bridge over the gorge in "Temple of Doom". Last year a dozen people were killed when a similar back balcony collapsed under the weight of too many partygoers. Ours has not collapsed yet, but it is creaky and mildewing and feels none too sturdy. Heavy snowfall makes the always-treacherous stairs into a beautiful deathtrap. I remember the last snowfall, when the treading of many feet packed down the snow on each step into more or less a single continuous tobaggan run. When I got up today I resolved to sweep off the stairs immediately before the snow could get packed down. I discovered a different problem: the constant river of meltwater from our roof (our gutterless, drainage-free, flat roof, which pours off solid sheets of water during summer rainstorms) had saturated the top flight of stairs, soaked through it, dripped off the bottom onto the flight of stairs below, saturated that... and so on all the way down to the ground. On its way it created some lovely clumps of icicles on the underside of each flight of stairs. No worries there, until they break off and fall on our heads and kill us. The real problem is at the beginning and end of each flight, where the water is falling on the topside of the stairs, it forms thick icy crusts. Sparkling lumpy shells of crystallized water, adorned with icy stalagmites. Literally! Stalagmites! Beauteous to look upon. Impossible to walk on. Too solid to move with the broom. Perhaps I can break them up by stabbing them with the handle end. I paused. These ethereal shapes, formed in this moment by complex interactions of snow, water, ice, sunlight, and gravity, are doomed to exist only for a few days, on the cusp between snowing and melting, their exact likeness never to be seen again in this world or any other. Am I to destroy such wonder, I wondered, merely so I can carry this basket down to the washing machine? Is cleaning my clothes -- which ultimately I do only so that I will not be proclaimed uncivilized and filthy by my co-workers -- more important than this artwork of nature? Is that what it means to be a grown-up? Smashing fairy ice-castles for the sake of laundry? But I have to get down there and I don't want to slip and smash my head. The broom-handle of destruction had better get with the crushing. I was secretly delighted when most of the ice chunks proved too thick to crack. Just now I carried my last load of laundry out of the gate, into the street, and around to the front stairs.