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Monday, August 3, 2009

The Guilt of Suburbia

It only takes one.

One neighbor. One lawn-mower. One weed-whacker. One whiff of freshly-clipped grass.'

It only takes one.

Instantly, upon hearing a lawnmower roar to life two doors down, I am instantly filled with the guilt of suburbia.

It's a well-documented fact that, as soon as one asshole starts buzzing his hedges, seven other homeowners will gradually trickle out of their houses and sheepishly grab their clippers or their buzzers or their trimmers and silently, diligently go to work.

Today, I learned that I am no different.

Our street is one block long and it is populated by twin homes built around 1928. Our house is connected to another and the houses themselves are cuddle-up-close to each other, so, when one neighbor fires up the Toro, well, you just can't sit back and pretend it isn't happening. Because it is. The 60-year-old widow next door with her hairsprayed pompadour is sweating behind her John Deere and, brother, so should you.

Hell, you should be mowing her lawn for her, let alone your own.

Our hedges were severely out-of-whack and I had ignored them for three weeks or so, since the last time my wife clipped them. We pointedly refuse to purchase an electric hedge trimmer, because we enjoy the intimacy of getting lip-to-leaf with our hedges. Plus, really, our property is so small that, seriously, it's not that much work. That said, though, to clip the hedges with our manual clippers and to do it well, it takes around an hour. To do a shitty job, with the left side obviously higher than the right, it only takes around forty minutes. That's what I did today.

If you didn't know me better, you'd think I'd been drinking or inhaling ReddiWip.

I would love to bravely exclaim that I am immune from the guilt of suburbia but, obviously, I am not. I cannot stand knowing that there are others out there spending countless hours tending and mending while our flora casts a pall over the street. I watch these middle-aged and elderly people breaking their backs over weeds and and lawns and gardens and I feel responsible, not just to my home and my pride, but to theirs as well. I love to shop myself around as a don't-give-a-fuck guy, but I'm not. I do give a fuck.

I can't help it.

I don't give a fuck, though, about my hedges. I could let them grow until they're thirty-six feet high-- wouldn't bother me a bit. In fact, I'd probably prefer it that way. I don't like people looking at me, so a shroud of shrubbery would suit me just fine. But they'd still look at me, even with a thirty-six foot high shrub. They'd look through the fronds at me. The heat of their glowers and their glares would penetrate the leaves and twigs.

I know it.

See, the people who lived in this house for sixty-three years before us kept house very well for a very long time. They are mythologized by the neighbors who remember them in their heyday, through the rose-colored Victorian glass of sentimental memory. The neighbors recall the former residents of our home fondly, they recall a sweet couple who kept their garden and the gentleman who trimmed his hedges constantly and measured his work with a yardstick. Our next-door neighbor recalls them with a misty-eyed fondness that I cannot help but receive with jealousy and scorn because only my wife and I know the modern, unkind truth about the former occupants of our home-- deed transfers up the wazoo, second and third and fourth mortgages on the house, reverse mortgages, unpaid mortgage payments, unpaid school and real estate taxes, even unpaid sewer rental fees, summonses from lawyers, creditors, banks-- and the inside, left to rot in a detritus of old lady wallpaper, a hopelessly outdated kitchen with a fucked up oven, broken two-by-fours, roofing shingles left on the backyard lawn for half-a-years, all held together by strapping tape... on... everything.

And still, I am motivated to get out there and keep house, not just by the sounds of my neighbors lawnmowers, but by the undead spirits of the former owners of this house, whose tenure here ended in a personal shame that could not overshadow the great glory they had built for themselves amongst the diehards. I know that, no matter how hard I try, no matter how I may slice up my hand while tearing stumps out of the ground, no matter how straight I try to cut my hedges, no matter how much I water the pachysandra or keep clean the front porch that nobody will ever remember me when I'm gone with wistful and melancholy compliments of my yardwork, for a green thumb have I not.

And nobody sings your praises for paying your mortgage on time.

1 comment:

  1. It's kind of unfortunate that no one praises you for paying mortgages on's quite a feat!

    I used to live in south Philly, where I didn't even have a front yard. Now I live in the burbs by the Main Line, where it's exponentially worse. I'm fairly sure people have called in with complaints about my yard.

    Somehow I stumbled upon your blog from Craftster. Unfortunately my first impression of you was as Grandma Stolzfus...but it was great! Your blog is awesome. :)


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