Monday, September 17, 2012


Clipping and Flipping  

            There are those to whom mowing grass is a gas, but I find a lawn a yawn. Some feel that heaven is clipping a hedge, but I’d rather camp on a seventh story ledge. Many find flowers their cup of tea, but a dandelion can get the best of me. It shouldn’t be that way. I was raised by a man who took a well-groomed lawn very seriously; he mowed a lot, so did I. I even did a stint for a time as a groundsman on the campus of the University of Illinois, mowing for a living, until I screwed up my knee by falling off an eight-foot wall of a raised yard near the office of non-academic personnel. Employed in the lawn and garden department of a large store one spring, my job was to assemble lawnmowers for the unsuspecting public. Some of them actually worked. I know the difference between Kentucky Blue, Fescue and Zoysia. I know privet when I see it. I can easily determine between Northern Birch and the river variety…I am not ignorant…just ineffectual.

My first paying job was to cut old man Hale’s grass. I was only about seven years old, and he lived just across the street. He promised me two whole dollars for the deed if I would bring my own mower and gas. Reluctantly my grandfather agreed, and off I went, a workingman at last. The yard in question had not been mowed in some time. On the west side of the back yard the grass was over a foot tall, easily concealing the two dozen rare Japanese pine seedlings old man Hale had planted near the fence line. Straining and huffing, I mowed them and the grass down. Realizing my propensity for disaster, my grandfather didn’t press me to mow much after that. In gratitude, some years later I bought him a riding lawn mower. I can vividly remember him practicing wheel stands in the back yard.

            I grew older, got married, rented a duplex, and had a yard of my own. My neighbor, a terribly well organized veterinary-med student with a mousy wife and a thoroughly obnoxious three year old daughter, volunteered to mow the yard weekly if I would trim the hedge. How hard could it be? Then I saw the hedge. Extending around three sides of the back yard, it was an overgrown privet monstrosity. Ten to twelve feet tall and seven or eight feet wide at the top, it had not been clipped in years. I hedged on the hedge. He persisted. I weakened. He insisted. I caved.

            Two weeks later I journeyed to an equipment rental store and inquired about hedge clippers. The man behind the counter produced the average suburban-sized utensil.

            “Too small,” I said.

            He returned with another, a saw-toothed machine with wicked blades protruding from a nasty snout, gleaming with oil and possibilities.

            “There ya go,” he stated, dropping the device on the counter.

            “Not big enough,” I replied.

            He stared at me for a moment, then vanished into the rear of the emporium. Shortly he returned with a colossus of a clipper. A massive, well-worn, multi-fanged Goliath of a hedge trimmer. Its bar was fifty inches long, its incisors glowed with malice, it’s extension cord, only slightly smaller than a hay rope, coiled in bulging black loops. This demon of destruction could easily mow down parking meters.

            “Biggest one we got,” he said.

            “I’ll take it,” said I.

            Back at the duplex I plugged it in. Pulling the trigger for practice, the machine torqued to the right in my hands, it blades flashing in the sunlight, its power coursing through my forearms. My God! If William Wallace had had such an instrument, the Highlanders would have pushed Longshanks into the sea! This was not a hedge trimmer, it was a hedge slayer! A Claymore of a clipper! I scurried to the garage for my five-foot step ladder, climbed it, and set to work.

            Even balanced precariously on the top of the ladder, I found the hedge still to be above my head in places. I also found the clipper to be significantly hard to handle when held at arms length by only one hand. It was August. Sweat streaming in my eyes, displaced bugs sticking to my every pore, I worked, I strained, I endeavored to persevere, I cut privet. Slowly I worked my way down the side yard, slashing the hedge down to about eight feet in height, lurching under the weight of the clipper, reeling in the heat. At the corner, before I started on the segment between my back yard and the back yard of the duplex behind us, I stopped for a glass of tea on the rear stoop. To enter the kitchen in my condition would have been grounds for divorce. As it turned out, the inevitable was only prolonged.

            Moving to the center of the next stretch, the place where the growth seemed to be the thickest and widest, I again climbed the ladder and went to work. Balancing on the top of the ladder and leaning as far forward as possible, I activated the trimmer. The torque pulled me forward toward the hedge. In mindless reflex, I stuck out my free hand to keep from falling, inserting my gloved thumb into the cutting bar. The near decapitation of my thumb caused me to turn to my left, bringing the still whirring bar into contact with the extension cord. The 110 volts surging through my body as the blades cut the cord caused me to launch forward onto the hedge. The spring effect of the foliage propelled me airborne into the rear of the yard behind our duplex and directly on top of the unsuspecting buxom young woman in the two-piece bathing suit who’d come outside to sun herself on a chaise lounge during the lull in the action while I was drinking tea. 

            Yard work? No thanks. Too dangerous.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Planting the Seed

            “Got a minute?” he asked.
I’d seen him around the area for the past few days. He was busy, landscaping mostly, installing water features, planting trees. He was a hard worker and so old that I couldn’t even guess at his age. It didn’t seem to affect him. He labored like a young man, full of energy, vital. He stretched his back out and walked over.
            “If you’re not busy, I have a job for you,” he continued, wincing a bit as he worked out some kinks. “It won’t be very difficult. I just need a little help to get some things started around here, and I think you’d be perfect. Once you get the ball rolling, it’ll be more of a supervisory position. Mostly just consultations.”
            His eyes seemed to look through me. Lying to this guy would be damned near impossible. I squirmed a little when he looked right at me, but his face was so kind it took the sting out of his gaze. And his voice was so warm it felt sorta like a blanket, ya know? I glanced around.
            “Great job you’ve done to this place,” I said. “Really beautiful.”
            “Hey, thanks,” he grinned. “This garden is the showplace of the whole project. It turned out even better than the sketches. There’s a lot more that you can’t see from here, miles and miles, but this is the highpoint.”
            “You do great work,” I said and smiled. “Seems like a lot of effort, though, for a man your age.”
            He chuckled. “I’ve been around a while, no doubt about that. I think it’s important to stay busy if you wanna stay young. Every now and then I get this creative urge and the years just slip away. Next thing you know, I’m back at it, working my tail off. I don’t know. I need it, I guess.”
            We sat in silence for a while. I could hear water rushing in the distance and the call of a Killdeer. A bumblebee droned by.
            “Well, how ‘bout it?” he asked, putting his hands on his knees and levering himself to his feet. “The job, I mean.”
            “Why not?” I replied. “This is wonderful. I’d love to be a part of it.”
            “Great!” he grinned. He had very white teeth. “But I’ve gotta be completely honest with you. Even though you will be vital to this project, history will judge you harshly, I’m afraid. Over the years you will be much maligned. They’ll probably even forget your real identity. Can you handle that?”
            I didn’t hesitate. “As long as you and I know the truth, who cares?”
            “Wonderful!” he beamed. “I’ve just got a couple of more things to attend to,” he went on, walking off toward the sound of the water. “I noticed some great clay on the riverbank. This won’t take very long at all. Thanks in advance for all your help. You and I won’t be seeing each other again.”
            “Hang on a minute,” I said. “What’s gonna happen?”
            “Oh, yeah,” he chuckled, reining in his enthusiasm a little. “I guess you’d like to know that. There’ll be a couple of people along shortly. I need you to spend some time with them.”
            “Okay, but where will you be?”
            A wistful look came into his eyes. “I’ll be around,” he replied a little sadly. “I just won’t be around.”
            As he headed off down the slope, I shouted. “Yeah, but what am I supposed to do with these people?”
            His yell carried up through the trees.
“Just offer them choices!”

            The ground was a little damp, so I climbed up into a tree to wait. The old man was right. In almost no time at all, a young couple came walking up the trail. I drew back into the branches so they couldn’t see me and watched them for a while. Great kids. Innocent, loving, fearless, happy, not a care in the world. I gotta confess, I was really tempted to just go on my way and leave them to hell alone, but I’d promised the old guy and, as they say, a promise is a promise. Pretty soon the young man wandered off. When the young woman passed under my tree, I eased out onto a branch where she could see me and rattled some leaves. She looked up.
            “How ya doin’?” I said.
            “Oh, hi!” she replied. “I haven’t seen you before.”
            “That’s because I was hiding.”
            “Why would you hide?” she asked.
The bumblebee returned and settled on her shoulder. She gently caressed its wings as it waddled around.
            “I didn’t want to make you self-conscious by openly watching you,” I said. “You’re not wearing any clothes.”
            “That’s okay,” she smiled. “I’m not cold.” The bee lifted off and bumbled away on the breeze.
            “Do you like the garden?” I asked.
            “A lot!” she gushed. “It’s very beautiful.”
            “It is, isn’t it?” I said. “That old guy did a great job.”
            “I love it here,” she said, turning in a circle and stretching, her skin dappled by sunshine through the trees.
            “What about outside the garden?” I asked.
            “Sure. There’s a whole world outside this garden. It’s huge. Much bigger than here. Maybe there’s a nicer place than this out there somewhere.”
            “How could there be?” she asked, looking a little pensive.
            “You never know,” I smiled.
            “No, I’m almost sure there isn’t,” she replied, biting her lip a little and glancing around. “This place is fine.”
A butterfly jittered by, circled her, and landed on her left breast.
            “Where’s your friend?” I asked.
            “Uh, I don’t know. He walked off somewhere, I guess.”
            “He left you? Wow.”
            “No, he didn’t leave me. He’s just not here right now.”
            “It’s probably for the best,” I assured her. “It gives us time for a little chat.” I smiled down at the girl. “After all, he doesn’t have to know everything you do. You’re entitled to a little privacy.”
            Her brow furrowed. “I guess,” she said, brushing the butterfly off her breast and swatting at it.
            “Maybe he’s off chatting with somebody else,” I went on. “Maybe he’s learning a lot of stuff you don’t know. I mean, he left you, didn’t he? He went off by himself, didn’t he?”
            “He’ll be back,” she said, peering into the trees.
            “Of course he will,” I smiled. “I can only speak for myself, but if I had someone as lovely as you are waiting for me, I’d certainly return.” I let my eyes briefly roam over her body.
            “Thank you,” she blushed. “Maybe if I put some flowers in my hair I’d be prettier, and he’d like me more.”
            “Now you’re catching on,” I said. I shook the branch on which I lay and a piece of fruit fell to the ground. “Why not have a snack before he gets back, and we’ll talk a while and get to know each other.”
            “Is it ripe?”
            “Oh, Darlin’, more than you know,” I replied.
            A few moments later, when she noticed me watching juice from the fruit as it dribbled across her chest, she covered herself with an arm and turned partially sideways.
            “This is really good,” she said. “It’s so sweet.”
            I gave her my best smile. “Yes, you are,” I said.
            “Thank you,” she giggled, and turned again to face me.
            “You’ll have to share the fruit with your friend when he comes back.”
            “Sure,” she said, “but before he does, we’re going to have that chat, right?”
            “And,” she continued, “maybe you could help choose some flowers for my hair.”
            I nodded. “That’s what it’s all about, Sweetheart. Choices.”

            It didn’t take long. Those kids were candy. Soon they were keeping secrets, doubting themselves and each other, struggling for power, helping one another be wrong, trying to find happiness in useless things. Hell, you know what I mean. You know exactly what I mean. It’s the same kind of nonsense you go through every day. I’m not particularly proud of it, but I did my job very well. And I’m still doing it. I have amazing job security.

Oh, by the way, I never did introduce myself. It’s very nice to meet you. 
My name is Ego.