Down my street there lives a minister and his family. Once or twice a week I see him or his son out in front of their house, cutting the lawn with a push mower. This humble, quiet, environmentally friendly solution has always earned my admiration, but I realize that doing it the old fashioned way isn't a realistic option for many families.
For instance: You spend all morning waiting to get actual work done because you're stuck in a meeting, listening to your boss drone about how positive attitude can increase productivity. By the time the meeting is over, you are twenty years older, your sciatica is killing you, and you could write a anthropological paper on the behavior of primate pecking order as it pertains to who gets the "good" donuts at the snack table.
After lunch, you spend another five hours waiting for the person who has key information you need to get back to you, which they do an hour after you hoped to leave for the day. On the way home, your two hour commute drags on for three hours as you find yourself stuck the whole way behind someone who purchased a gas guzzler, then had a environmental conversion experience, and now drives their behemoth ten miles under the speed limit to eke an extra mile-to-the-gallon out of it.
Do you pull into your driveway and then bound joyfully out to putter slowly around your front yard behind a push mower? Perhaps you want to spend the last five minutes of daylight left encouraging the pansies to make "I statements" to shed some light on why they are turning yellow and languishing.
Or maybe the cost of hiring someone to do it for you is cheaper than posting bail every time the neighbors call the cops on you for screaming, "GROW, YOU INGRATES" at the flower beds.
So up and down our street, it's not uncommon to see neighborhood kids pushing gas mowers from house to house, towing a little red wagon of gardening implements behind them. And almost every day you can see a little mini-truck with landscaper logos on the side parked somewhere, with a hard working soul creating another green masterpiece.
But twice a week, something terrifying happens in our neighborhood.
It starts with a rumbling in the distance. Birds stop chirping. Mothers pull their children in off the streets. Hobbits shout at each other to get off the road. And then you see it.
A giant, black extended cab, full sized pick-up. A huge, shiny black beast, pulling a huge, shiny black trailer, the size of which is usually reserved for contractors and eighteen-wheelers. Behind this Nazgul-like vehicle comes a procession of lesser vehicles. They park in front of the neighbor's house. And in front of the houses of the neighbor's neighbors. And most of the rest of the houses on that side of the street.
The first time I saw them, I thought for sure that either space aliens or Osama bin Laden had been found in the neighbor's back yard, and that the feds had been sent in to do a catch-and-clean-up mission. Then I saw people pile out of these vehicles bearing industrial strength lawn equipment and protective gear.
There were leaf blowers powered by jet engines. Lawn edgers by "Ditch Witch". A weed trimmer with a Volkswagen motor hooked up to it. I'm pretty sure I had seen their rider mower giving Jeff Gordon a run for his money at one or two NASCAR events, and I thought maybe it was the same one Dubya drove on an aircraft carrier not long ago.
I watched one grim faced, steely-eyed gardener don a bulky helmet with a protective visor that covered his entire face, then fasten on bright orange protective chaps over his law-enforcement style tactical canvas pants and for a minute, I changed my mind. Maybe they weren't spooks. Maybe they were the Village People and their road crew, setting up for a big concert.
But then they went to work.
I don't know who these people are, but they're not your average gardening service. These are mafia hit men with green thumbs. They're a passel of Tim Allens with a license to kill. And apply herbicide.
When they fired up their weed trimmers, all the Harley owners on the street came out to look for the new guys with the really loud pipes. And more than one biker crept back inside his house, humbled and perhaps a little bit afraid.
These people descended upon my neighbor's lawn like the Mongolian Horde. The sound of engines roaring, mowing, trimming, edging, blowing, sounded like a full-scale military invasion, heavy on the Shock and Awe.
When they walked away and our ears recovered from the sheer decibel damage, that lawn looked perfect. It had to. The plants were all afraid for their families.
These gardeners were obviously the people you call when things have gone wrong.
That puzzles me a little, though, because that particular neighbor has a lawn encompassing roughly three square feet of grass, a planter with two pansies, and a lone hackberry sapling that now has emotional problems.
Still, when the dust dies down, and the choking exhaust fumes have dissipated; when we no longer have to shout at each other to be heard over the roar and can stop ducking debris kicked up over the fence; when all is said and done, those are the best-looking three square feet of lawn on the block. And you better believe those pansies have been served, yo.
I wonder if that gardening service does office cubicles, too.
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This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.