…life on the synaptic firing range

Location: Los Angeles, United States

Bent but unbroken Southern California native seeks understanding, companionship, and resonance along and off the beaten path. Teresa plays well with others and makes every effort to perform to her potential. Usually. *processed in a facility that processes nuts and nut products

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

the pall of the wild

We were wrestling grocery bags into the house Saturday when a stranger came to our gate and asked whether we needed anyone to take care of our yard. As he spoke he gestured at the front yard as if to say, “We can all see, can't we, that you do need someone to take care of your yard?” My first instinct was to make him go away, both because that's what I do when strange men appear at my gate and because I'm defensive about the state of our yard. Whenever I do yard work I expect neighbors to take the opportunity to approach and tell me that I'm a terrible homeowner, that our yard is a pox on their neighborhood. It's one of the reasons I'm afraid of mail: I expect upstanding families with manicured lawns to send letters rebuking me for bringing down their property values.

We've let things get a bit rangy. In truth, we've let things remain rangy. We bought a corner lot with too much yard, most of which wasn't landscaped when we moved in. And while people dream of big yards, the reality is that you're better off with a condo unless you're really into gardening. Gardening appeals to me in the abstract—being one with the earth, munching carrots so freshly pulled they still taste vaguely of dirt, wielding sharp implements—but it isn't something I want to dedicate every weekend to.

Having a big yard makes me understand my father's zeal for cement, which he's fond of calling “gray gold” in recognition of the amount of money he's paid contractors over the years to pave his world. The house I grew up in was gradually transformed from one with your standard lawn, both front and back, to one hemmed completely by concrete and brick and therefore hostile to child's play of all sorts. We had fruit trees and flowers, but they dared not overgrow their carefully delineated plots. To paraphrase Joni Mitchell's “Big Yellow Taxi,” Dad paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

Despite that early trauma, I've lately been agitating to brick a certain strip of land around the corner from our house, the upkeep of which we're responsible for even though it's technically city property. We can't even see the damned strip without effort—once a week or so we stroll over to assess the graffiti situation or pick up the trash that routinely gets dumped there: This is where you'll find your soiled sofas and such. And it seems to me that the constant weeding the area demands just adds insult to injury; actually, it spits on the already insulted injury. So, yes, bricks would be nice.

But Luis, the strange man who appeared at my gate, wasn't a bricklayer. He was a plumber, a plumber who had recently invested in some lawn equipment and was eager to get his landscape business off the ground, so to speak. After surveying our front and back yards he said he'd mow it all for $60. You might be thinking $60 isn't a huge bargain for lawn care, but such was the height of our lawn by then it was successfully camouflaging our medium-size dog. (Alas, it's not technically a “lawn,” but if you can get your weeds to cluster just so, then mow them, they approximate lawn.) This would be no quick mow-and-edge affair—this job stopped just short of requiring a machete crew. In fact, after we hired Luis I panicked that our “lawn” might kill his mower and I'd feel somehow responsible for threatening his livelihood.

We couldn't just sack out on the couch watching TV while Luis engaged in a death match with our weeds, so I mopped the kitchen and generally steered clear of looking at all relaxed. I did suggest at one point, both to myself and to my partner, that we shouldn't feel guilty about hiring “help,” as people say. Luis didn't approach us hoping we would say, “Thanks for offering, but we can do it ourselves. We're not the lazy privileged white girls you think we are.” (Not that we reek of success, but we are just two people living in an 1,800-square-foot house situated next to a building where multiple families share single-bedroom apartments.) Nevertheless, once the mopping was complete, I started to vacuum.

About an hour into his labors, Luis knocked on the door and asked whether we had any lawn and leaf bags. He had filled our city-approved green trashcan as well as a secondary can, and he had only quelled half the back yard. The necessary bags were acquired and he continued…for the next four hours. Yes, such was the piteous state of the land abutting our home it took a grown and quite able-bodied man five hours to tame it. But what a magnificent job he did!

I hadn't expected he would do much more than cut the weeds down to size such that we could once again move about our backyard, get to our fruit-heavy tangerine tree, locate the dog. I had fully intended to spend the next weekend pulling leftover, awkwardly situated weeds that sprouted between steppingstones and planters like hair from the ears of old men.

Luis had transformed our yard into more than a habitable environment: It was one gazebo and a jaunty border of pansies away from the pages of Better Homes & Gardens. I saw land I had never seen, ground around the side of the house that had been covered by rogue ivy since we moved in, jungle that had been used by generations of stray cats as a birthing environment and hideout for their young. Uncontracted by us, Luis had also attacked the cursed strip, leveling the weeds and manicuring our fence line. He had defunked the miracle oleander, so named because despite our paying zero attention to the bush, it grows like a teenager and continually spews flowers. (I guess the relative indestructibility of oleanders explains why every public school campus is lousy with them.)

Luis himself was a miracle, which is why we gave him a 66% raise his first day on the job. How could we pay the man just $60 after what he had done for us? He had given us back our yard; he had given us hope. He had given me the courage to look my neighbors in the eye and say, “Ha! How do you like me now?” To which they would undoubtedly reply, “About your trees…”


Blogger sporksforall said...

While I all to well recognize the top picture as one from the part of the country I love despite its deep red hue on election day and as evocative of our yard, Luis' miracle working aside, where can I find the bottom picture in our world? I'm willing to squint. But I'm not seeing it...

3:46 PM  
Blogger bryduck said...

Yeah, I was going to say that if this is what you see when you look at your lawn/house, you might indeed have an unsound mind. ; )
Nonetheless, good story!

12:34 PM  
Blogger WordsRock said...

Excellent tale. I can relate to having too much unlandscaped yard and also to having clustered weeds mimicking a lawn.

$60, even $60 plus 66%, would be a bargain in my neck of the woods for someone to perform yard cleanup. You are fortunate Luis popped by. :)

Thanks for the comment on my site. Hope to see you back. I like what I've read here so far. You've got a good thing going on. Thanks for sharing!


4:53 AM  
Anonymous hopskipjump said...

Hi, cyclist! Hope you're feeling better (?)

I follow your wonderful essays, but, for some reason, I feel I'm being intrusive if I send you comments. If it's OK though, I'll let you know when I chuckle, laugh, grimace, nod, smile, etc.

I think you guys should have us over for tea in your new backyard! Ta ta dhalings...


12:48 PM  
Anonymous jkt said...

you should see our yard. luis would refuse. i wish i was exaggerating. good thing it's fenced in so the neighbors can't see it...

4:56 PM  
Anonymous ani said...

I got a real chuckle out of this one, especially the illustrations. ;) Yeah, I had a yard when I had a house (when I lived in another part of the country). A yard is nice in theory... When I hired someone to clean it up for sale, he brought in some kind of giant vacuum thing. That's because I had at least a season's worth of leaves from a giant beech tree. (It wasn't actually a big property -- just a big tree.)

My mom had someone come up to her once with a different kind of request. He had noticed her breadfruit tree laden with fruit and wondered if she would mind if he picked them sometimes. (Breadfruit is a staple food, like rice or wheat or potatoes.) Well, breadfruit don't fall until they're soft and then if you don't pick them up right away they turn slimy and make a big mess. Plus they might sprout little breadfruit trees. She said yes. He comes pretty regularly with his wife, they pick them, and sometimes he prunes the tree. I suspect that helps keep it producing breadfruit regularly. :D

10:16 PM  
Anonymous Smoke said...

Drugs are just bad, you should try to use Herbal Alternatives as a temporary replacement to loose the dependance!

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Guitar Master said...

I wish I could blog as good as you, but what I can do is give you a nice Guitar Lesson!

2:31 PM  

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