We have this neighbor who loves his lawn.
In and of itself, this is not uncommon, nor cause for concern. Most of the California suburban dream is embodied by that perfect patch of manicured green grass in front of a single-family, ranch-style home on a block of single-family, ranch-style homes, and we collectively spend a hearty portion of our limited water capital maintaining this grand illusion, not to mention Sunday morning mows and rakes.
And let’s be honest here: It is an illusion. California boasts one of the most temperate climates on Earth and lush soil that would make any farmer blush, but it’s not built for Bermuda grass. And as we continue to urbanize, taking up half a lot with expensive, inefficient, and ultimately vain landscaping looks more and more like a pointless proposition.
But we have this neighbor who loves his lawn…
We first started to notice last fall while walking our dog a couple blocks from home, lawns all down the street covered by leaves in a dazzling array of colors typical of the season.
And. Then. This. Lawn.
Perfectly clear of leaves and any other debris. Immaculately groomed. An almost surreal shade of green. The home itself was nondescript—remodeled but not rebuilt—a uniquely humble abode surrounded by rapidly flipping lots covered in expansive McMansions, the only patches of yard running right up to the legally mandated setback of the underlying zoning.
But. That. Lawn.
In the daylight, it was like an oasis. In the moonlight, it resembled the surface of another planet in a galaxy far far away. The grass was so expertly trimmed each day that we started to make up stories about who—or what—performed the maintenance. Was it a team of elves? A midnight gardener? Some form of artificial intelligence—like a lawn Roomba?
The mystery was solved one day when we happened upon our neighbor, crouched in his front yard with a plastic trash can, picking individual leaves off his lawn. One. At. A. Time. And placing them in the can. One. At. A. Time.
We approached the yard with our dog in tow and watched as he moved methodically across the grass, as though he had already plotted the location of each leaf and pre-programmed his body to follow the most expeditious route to pluck them all off the ground. No gloves. No kneepads. Like he did this multiple times. Every day.
It suddenly occurred to us that we should move across the street, as we were starting to stare, and our dog still had at least one good dump left in her. The thought of that dump ending up on this dude’s lawn was too much for us to process on a Thursday afternoon, so we followed our own advice, keeping our eyes trained on lawn boy as he made his rounds.
All the while, he never looked up, never noticed us ogling him like an iguana in a terrarium, never seemed to care about anything but those leaves.
And. That. Lawn.
This encounter has repeated itself a number of times in the intervening year, and it never fails to elicit a sense of amazement from your humble narrator, his wife, and our dog. I’ll admit to being a bit of a perfectionist for much of my life, but I couldn’t imagine what would motivate me to be so obsessed with perfection and ignorant of entropy. And then I remember where we live.
Without getting specific, our neighborhood is awash in white privilege and multi-million dollar homes, affordable only for the lucky, the long-timers, and the Silicon Valley elite. Our neighbors are the types who have the time to worry about the leaves on their lawns. Most of us hire gardeners, who fill the air with leaf blower exhaust once a week. Some of us do the raking ourselves. And then, there’s lawn boy.
We really have a problem as a society if anyone has that kind of time.
I’m reminded of a comment from a recent city council meeting, when a young activist reprimanded a council majority for rolling back protections on renters and funding for affordable housing, just as they were about to take a break for dinner. “Imagine if finding time to eat dinner was the biggest problem you had today,” she said. (Or something like that. It was a brilliant moment, and you can watch the tape.)
I’d ask you to stop reading this, close your eyes for a moment, and imagine if the biggest problem you had today was a lonely leaf landing on your lawn…
It’s easy if you try.
It should be noted that we have yet to see our neighbor grooming his grass, but I’ll be sure to update this piece when and if we do!