The lawn guy

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Oct. 8, 2009

Dear Leslie,

Who hasn't survived a bad haircut? A few years ago I made a full recovery from my first-ever flattop, which actually was not a bad haircut but a bad idea on my part. Most bad haircuts are probably just bad ideas.

Thirty years ago, while visiting my friend Carolyn on the Navajo reservation where she was teaching, I suggested a new look might help get her through the long and lonely winter she was facing. She emerged from a Flagstaff hair salon looking way too much like Harpo Marx.

We laugh about it now.

Earlier this week my bad idea was to mow the lawn of our friends Frank and Robyn before they arrived home from some time in Europe. Frank is Danish and lives in Copenhagen part of the year. He was returning to the U.S. with Robyn when her three-week working vacation was complete. Knowing Frank's love of order and organization, DC had tidied the area around our back door to welcome him home.

Their grass was high when Robyn left and grew thick and deep with recent rains. I figured Robyn forgot to contact her lawn guy before leaving, but she is unpredictable enough to wonder if she intentionally wanted to let their grass grow long. Maybe she knew a horticultural secret I don't. In the interest of science, DC measured grass as long as 9 inches with her ruler and saw seeds growing at the tips. Robyn was reseeding the lawn!

Or maybe she was mad at Frank and, knowing his Danish predilection for neatness, wanted to demonstrate her American taste for rebelliousness. That made more sense.

Attempts to contact her lawn guy failed. As the day when Robyn and Frank were to return approached I grew worried. How would Frank feel about arriving home to find his lawn had become a thicket? Jet lagged, he would pull his mower from their shed and begin cutting. Frank often prefers to use a push mower.

Overcome by the guilt of possibly allowing that to happen, I started mowing on the morning of the day they were to arrive. The lawn isn't huge. Forty-five minutes ought to take care of it, I calculated, not bargaining for the depth and thickness of the grass. Not bargaining is where bad ideas are born.

Half of Frank and Robyn's front yard is sewn in thick, single-bladed grass with the consistency of a well-waxed flattop haircut. The mower died with every step. This would take determination.

Eventually it occurred to me to raise the height of the mower. Unfortunately, my brain didn't immediately deduce how that is done, so instead of setting the mower higher I set it lower. The result is that part of Robyn and Frank's lawn looks like a tribute to skinheads.

On I pushed, hoping to finish and sweep the evidence off the sidewalk before they pulled up in front of the house.

Eventually the sheer struggle helped me realize that setting the wheels low meant the blade would be high. The carnage stopped. The rest of the lawn looks hardly mowed at all. Just a little off the top.

We've all seen haircuts like Robyn and Frank's lawn and only wondered how long they would take to grow out.

Robyn and Frank noticed their new landscaping the moment they arrived. Robyn said they wondered if aliens had visited in their absence.

But crop circles are artistically and intricately designed and formed. Our friends' aliens needed a designated driver.

Robyn forgot to call the lawn guy. Frank assures me he and the lawn will survive.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a former reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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