May 12, 2009

Mow My Lawn, Can’t You?

I got the call in early April — a message on my answering machine from a man in Vermont who wanted to mow my lawn.

“Hi, David. My name is Tim and I’m calling from Dairy, Vermont, where, as you know, you own a house on School Street. I’m calling because I do some landscaping work for your neighbors, the Cunninghams, and they thought you might need someone to mow your lawn, since, as I understand it, you’re hardly ever there. Mr. Cunningham gave me your number and said I should give you call. Now, I should say that even though I’m calling about mowing your lawn, that’s not actually what I do, and in fact, I don’t even own a lawn mower. So in all honesty, I’m not quite sure how I can help you. But please call me tonight so we can talk about what I can or cannot do for you.”

He had an intense, young sounding voice, the kind that masks age. He spoke in the autodidact’s way of engagingly enunciating his words and stringing out his sentences in curious constructions.

“I don’t mow lawns much,” Tim told me when I called him back. “I hate the noise, actually. I live in a rental, so the owner mows our lawn.”

“But I really do need to find someone to mow my lawn. How long do I have?”

“Nothing’s growing now, David. It’s been a long winter, as you might have heard. You can probably hold off until the middle of May.”

“That long?”

I know, of course, nothing about lawns and mowing. But I knew that it had been a long, hard winter, because the caretaker of the house had told me he had plowed the driveway 13 times over the course of it. I had bought the house in October, but had only stayed there once for a few days when it happened to be 10 below. I had worn fur-lined snow boots for the first time in my life.

“So I’m a little unclear, Tim, about whether you’re proposing to mow my lawn or not. I definitely will need to get it mowed.”

“That’s a good question. Let me give you just a little bit of background. Your neighbor, Mr. Cunningham, and I peered through your garage window to see if you had a lawn mower in there, but we couldn’t tell. We saw something big that could be a riding mower, but it was hard to see.”

“It’s a snow blower.  I don’t even know how to use it. And there’s no lawn mower.”

“Ah, that’s what we thought. It’s actually okay, because I can’t stand the gas powered ones. They’re too noisy. I hate the sound of lawn mowers.”

“So what do you think I should do?”

“Well, first, let me give you even more background. There are three — no, four — types of lawnmowers out there. There’s the gas — no, maybe there’s more like five or six. There’s the gas mower that can come in either self-propelled or push type.  There’s the riding mower — that’s what Mr. Cunningham uses.  Then you can also find the corded electric and the cordless mowers.”

My aunt in Germany owns a corded mower. It’s very quiet. Her lawn isn’t big, but even so the cord is incredibly long. I ran over it accidentally with her mower once and cut it in half. All the lights in her house went out.

“And finally,” Tim continued, “there’s yet another type of mower, the kind I grew up with. It’s the manual kind. They call it a reel mower, R‑E-E‑L. I’ve been thinking about getting one of those. I’m just not sure. If I get one, David, I could mow your lawn.”

We had been talking for a long time now; my rice was almost done cooking.

“That would be a lot of work,” I said. “The lawn’s pretty big. That would take hours. Maybe I could get one of my friends up there to run over to Sears and pick up a mower for me. Maybe a cordless one.”

“Those types of mowers are very expensive, David.”

We fell silent for a moment, thinking. It was the Vermont experience to a tee. The endless circular chatting, the incapability of coming to a solution without publicly examining each and every possible route. I knew that we would not get an answer during this conversation. And yet I couldn’t get off the phone with Tim;  I was in his hands.

“So what do you think our next steps should be?”

“Well, David, I’m going to have to think more about this.”

“Yeah, we should mull this over,” I said.

“And talk in a couple of weeks.”

That sounded like the perfect plan.