I Lawn for Better Days
by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith
At first I had no idea that global warming would actually visit me at my very own house. Of course I’d heard all about the loss of species and the danger that was being faced by polar bears and penguins and bats. Tiny bats with big pointed teeth, navigating through the winter solstice, lost renegade bats navigating all alone through the dark of old primordial caverns.
I left work and was walking across the parking lot heading for my car. A man approached me. He looked troubled. I tried to hand him a dollar.
“That’s not why I’m here.” he said. “I’m here with a warning.”
I added three more dollars to my hand.
“For you a day will come,” he said “and suddenly everything will stand very still. And you will smell land where there is no land, and the gathered men will stand before the white weald. And then the boss will beckon, and one must surely die.”
I threw down the money and ran to the car.
I got home from work at six o’clock and wandering about on my very own lawn were five men mowing and trimming, raking, shaping the gully, climbing the trees. All the men looked familiar; they looked just like the men from the movie Moby Dick. They looked like the harpoon men.
Malta, Denmark, India, Spain, Africa. Tough men who weren’t afraid of ivy or pull-start fatigue. And the man in charge of the group had a patch over one eye and he walked a little like Gregory Peck because a lawn mower had swallowed his toes.
And there was a big truck outside my house. It was their truck. A truck owned by a lawn service company. It stood there half-bus and half-bulldozer, and strapped to its huge sides there were strange implements: hatchets and pikes, reach-up-high guillotines, lanyards, harpoons, ladders, barrels of blubber and barrels of agent orange.
I had to look past the clutter before I could actually glean the company name from the eclipsed billboard towering before me. It said Quequeg’s Lawn Service, and I wanted to stop and ask what was happening. But every time I stood still, barrels of grass started hitting me from all sides and all directions. If I stood still long enough I would have soon began to look like a sculpture of myself, done in hyacinth and hedge.
I shook off my chia pet coating and went inside.
She was sitting on the couch sorting through the mail.
I said, “I thought we discussed cutting back on expenses. What are you doing hiring out stuff I’m supposed to do?”
She said, “I’m tired of you complaining about having to cut the grass.”
“I complain about going to work. Will we be hiring somebody to do that?”
“I thought you’d be happy,” she said.
I said, “What’s wrong with the way I cut the grass?”
“You know that Dodge Dart we thought was stolen? Using a weed whacker, they found it in the back yard.”
“So what?” I said. “Big deal.” I said. But I couldn’t look at her. I went to the basement and dropped down on the couch and reached for the remote control. The TV came on. It was a commercial. A commercial for a ‘garden weasel’. I yelled up the stairs asking for the credit card number.
All night we bickered. For dinner all I ate was a big plate of sprouts making sounds like a mower as I moved them to my mouth.
When she came out to the living room I was on my hands and knees with scissors trimming some of the taller fibers of the shag carpet.
“This was starting to bother me,” I said.
“You’re a jerk,” she said. “This is why I didn’t talk to you. You always overreact.”
She started slamming doors so I backed off a little. I did the dishes and swept the kitchen, worked a little on the computer, getting closer and closer to my goal of translating into 99 different languages the lyrics to the song “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”
An hour later she said, “I’m going to Blockbuster. Do you want to go?”
I started towards the door.
She was holding the keys. “You can go if you shut up about the lawn. I did what I had to do. We can get a sno cone afterwards and sit and talk about this like two adults,” she added.
I nodded. I meant it at the time. We drove silently to the video store. Silently, because she owned a hybrid car which I also felt we couldn’t afford.
At first, at Blockbuster, I actually started looking at selections that might have helped. I started looking for a movie my wife might want to see, and pictured us sitting together and having popcorn and laughing while some traveling pants went traveling, or watching some Princess write out her diary.
But my moment of weakness vanished like a twig in a stump grinder. She was already at the front of the building with her selections. She looked amazed at the pile of movies in my hands. I walked over and started lining them up on the counter.
It only took two titles before she caught on. She pushed The Constant Gardener right off the counter and also pushed Splendor in The Grass off onto the floor. She cussed and walked past ten other herb-laden titles, the last one being a stupid science fiction yawner called The Lawnmower Man. She went out to the car and drove off, leaving me stranded.
Picking up the debris I explained the situation to the clerk. “We can’t rent these movies,” I said. “She spent all our money on a hedge fund.”
Walking home, I passed a Lowe’s hardware store and stood there looking at a riding mower, fingering the credit card in my pants pocket. The only thing that kept me from buying one and heading home — mowing my way home, across ten thousand lawns, leaving a trail across the planet like the trail left by the burning jettisoned fuel Spock used to rescue his first command — the only thing that kept me from buying a huge riding mower was some advice I’d gotten from some Oprah Winfrey Doctor Phil episode. Doctor Phil said, “In marriage, one must always avoid the unforgivable.”
So I became the reasonable one.
A pillow was on the couch when I got home so I wasn’t in complete disregard. There had been other times when the pillow was on the front porch and the door locked. At least she wasn’t being entirely stupid.
I felt she was beginning to see my point.
Early the next morning we sat at the breakfast table. It was like that famous breakfast scene from Citizen Kane, where Orson Wells and his actress-wife Ruth Warrick become more and more distant. Only, our scene was running in reverse, running backwards, with our marriage leaping over the hedges of bad communication, trimming back the thorn bushes of non-cooperation.
She explained her reasons while eating some tiny powdered donuts, and they proved sufficient.
I told her about my feelings while eating some eggs, though they were still raw.
It turns out she was only spending very little money on the lawn.
She buttered her toast.
I explained that for the next few times the lawn people were present, I’d still have to go out and mow right where they were mowing, bumping my mower into their equipment, snipping their plastic line short with scissors, trimming off entire bushes after they’d been carefully pruned.
She felt this would be acceptable. She appreciated how measured and restrained this would be, unlike all the other times when I had displayed unwarranted obstinacy. She appreciated the reasonableness of this restraint, considering the circumstances.
Brightly, she said, I could use the extra time on Saturdays to work on my inventions.
I told her I still had plans to build the world’s biggest bookshelf, that I was in the final stages of completing my automatic paint roller self-loading painting extender, that I was still working on my automatic rope coiling equipment, that I was busily perfecting my sweeper nozzle dry-land beginnings, offshore drilling experimental equipment.
I was determined to find a way to do offshore drilling in areas that were still high-and-dry but would soon be underwater due to the use of fossil fuels, making the whole issue of whether to drill offshore moot.
To drill I used a special nozzle on the end of a garden hose. After removing a small divot of grass, I push the spewing hose down into dirt, and it acts like a drill, with the mud and extra water forced upwards like a mini-Yellowstone geyser.
So, on the very next Saturday I placed everything on the front lawn. I got the drill started first, by adding the next section of hose. The hole was probably 600 feet deep, as I was adding hose in thirty-foot sections and couldn’t quite remember exactly how many I’d already committed to the task.
I already had the shelf pieces cut. There were sixty pieces; all of them two feet wide and twelve feet long. I placed them side by side and edge to edge, and they covered the entire surface area of the lawn, even the part where the lawn curved down towards the street.
Next I loaded 16 gallons of eggshell white into the paint piston and watched in awe as the extension flashed back and forth, leaving near-white explosions of paint onto the sea of pine shelving. Clicking and splashing, the roller progressed, and in a short time everything had turned white.
The bottom half of the nine cars parked in front of my house were white. The lower panels of siding, the neighbor’s cat, the azalea bushes were all freshly painted and eggy white.
I was working on the rope coiling machine when the water drill exploded. The nozzle, which I believed was heading straight down towards oil, was actually snaking its way across boundaries and along scant time zones. It broke into Mr. Riceman’s septic tank, which was upstream and uphill from my house. And all the oceans of the septic world traveled along the drilled tunnel and roared out like burst bilge water.
As it hit, the coil of rope I was working on uncoiled, and I found myself sliding up and across the great spine of the great beast. I was caught from sliding off only by great networks of rope crossing my legs and arms. The beast belched out one huge spewing gusher, and I was forced to cry out, “Thar she blows!”
It was like the last scene from the movie Moby Dick with Gregory Peck tangled in rope and hanging on as the great white beast rushes headlong.
At that moment the lawn crew came idling past in their huge truck. They were driving past very slowly, and very slowly I crooked my arm and beckoned for them. “Join me.” I cried. “Stab with me at the beast.”
Inside the cabin of the truck someone actually said, “There he is. He beckons.”
But someone said, “No way.” And they drove past and spent an hour at a Starbucks.
Inside the house, immune to my antics, not listening to the turmoil at her own front door, my wife read the want ads in the paper, looking to hire help from a cleaning service.
Copyright © 2009 by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith