Updated: Jun 28, 2018
Well, there goes the neighborhood.
That’s what I thought when I came home to find my next-door neighbor cutting his grass – for the first time since autumn. This was bad news. With the front yard of my other neighbor already short-cropped and neatly clipped, my own bedraggled lawn now stood out in sharp, unpretty relief.
For some mysterious reason, the zoysia grass that dominates my front lawn is the last in the neighborhood to awaken each year from dormancy. Even worse, a variety of other grasses shoot up energetically with the outbreak of spring, speckling my lawn in malignant clumps that make the zoysia appear all the more anemic. In contrast to the golf course-like greens on either side of me, my patch of stringy yellow turf seemed to beckon for a rough-cut, whitewashed sign proclaiming CONDEMNED!
My yard guys had yet to appear after the winter hiatus and hadn’t returned my phone calls. Were they out of town? Had they given up yard work for house painting or auto repair? It didn’t matter. Only one course of action remained: I would have to cut the grass myself.
My sensibilities cried out against the wrongness of it all. The Creator did not plant grass upon His earth that it should be cut. He intended that it should grow, that it should go to seed, that it should produce new grass, and that the cycle should continue, uninterrupted by the meddling hands of Man. Cutting the lawn was a symbol of the same intrusive practices responsible for the destruction of the ozone layer and global warming, for deforestation and the extinction of new species every day, for Japanese kudzu smothering the southwest and Venezuelan hyacinths choking the Everglades. It all starts here, hacking down new growth sown by the Divine Hand to conform to some arbitrary aesthetic mean, branding every bayou a quagmire to justify turning it into a landfill or a parking lot. Was I now to become a part of this?
“How about doing mine when you finish yours?” I called to my neighbor. Let him be the one to destroy the planet.
“You’re welcome to borrow my mower when I finish,” he said.
Terrific. Out of the frying pan, into the quagmire.
Should I leave my lawn uncut to protest the destruction of the world’s ecosystem? No, my neighbors wouldn’t understand that I was making a political statement. Even worse, I would likely be cited by the city for crimes against civilization.
And, worst of all, a small inner voice insisted that as an upstanding community member, as a father and a teacher, I had an obligation to uphold standards and preserve the status quo for the general welfare of the collective.
My neighbor finished. “You want to use it now?” he asked.
Of course not, you infidel. But I didn’t say that: he would only have thought me rude.
Instead I just smiled and nodded.
He showed me how to operate the mower then went inside, mercifully, so not to behold me in my degradation.
You know what? It wasn’t so bad. I even felt a kind of thrill as I assumed mastery over nature, subduing the power of the untamed wilderness, imposing order upon chaos. In fifteen minutes, the lawn looked great. I felt great. Maybe I should buy shares in John Deere. My only worry was that my wife might now expect me to mow the grass every two weeks. Well, maybe she wouldn’t notice.
Half an hour later, as I was throwing the baseball with my son on our newly manicured front yard, my wife pulled into the driveway.
“Honey,” she cried. “The lawn looks great. You cut it yourself?”
Rats. She noticed.
Originally published in 2000 by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Jewish World Review