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.

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