Sometimes the inconsistency of my anal retentive personality surprises me.
The inside of my house is organized with care. Everything has its place and, by God, if everything isn’t in its place, I—with furrowed brow and hands on hips—will demand an explanation.
I’m only slightly less meticulous with cleaning. During my House Husband Days, I did it all willingly—sometimes cheerfully. When a writing deadline loomed or if I felt a cold coming on, however, I’d let some things slide. A clean shower could wait another day or three, I reasoned. My sociopathic pet shrimp never minds a little algae on the walls of his tank. And I can always tolerate a layer of dust—provided the dust is covering objects that are all in their proper places. Once my deadline is met or my sniffles disappear, however, I pick up my can of Pledge and get to work.
Once I leave my house and survey my yard, however, my organizational/neatness philosophy goes right out the window. With the exception of raking leaves and shoveling snow, I hate yard work. With a passion.
I chalk this up to my hatred of sweating. Italians sweat a lot. I am only one-quarter Italian, but that one-quarter makes up the entirety of my sweat glands.
Oh, why couldn’t my sweat glands be German? I often lament as I take my place behind the lawn mower. Even on a cool day I know that before I finish the front lawn I’ll be able to wring out my underpants.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a single German sweat gland. I do, however, have a German temperament. In other words, when I sweat like an Italian, it makes me angry like a German.
Perhaps my hatred of yard work can also be tracked back to my childhood. My dad, always on the lookout to get out of chores, made me the designated lawn mower. I didn’t sweat as much back then, but I was no less angry with my lot in life. Why am I cutting this stupid lawn?, I often thought. No one has been in this part of the yard since I cut the grass last week!
At that time I had a subscription to Ranger Rick magazine. (Think about that for a moment; I was cutting the lawn at such a tender age I was a subscriber to Ranger Rick). In one issue, there was a feature story on the benefits of not mowing the lawn. This intrigued me.
“Wildflowers will grow!” The magazine exclaimed. “That will attract butterflies! And honey bees! You like honey, don’t you?”
I did like honey! Especially if honey kept me from cutting the lawn.
This new information made me feel smart and powerful. Waving my copy of Ranger Rick like a battle flag, I was ready to argue my anti-mowing stance to The Boss.
“Mom!” I shouted.
“What?” Mom was stationed behind the ironing board, spray starching a dress shirt within an inch of its life. Ironing was her hobby.
“Do you like honey?” I asked her.
“No,” Mom replied.
I should’ve known. Mom was the type of person who ate a plain donut and then complained that it tasted “too sweet.”
“Do you like butterflies?” I tried again.
“Eh,” she shrugged. She released a fresh mist of starch. It sizzled against the piping hot ironing board.
“Do you like nature?” I asked, a little desperate now.
“Yes, of course,” Mom replied.
She looked from me to the Ranger Rick then back to me again. She cocked a penciled eyebrow.
“But I like my nature mowed,” she said.
If Mom hadn’t been a mother (and an Episcopalian), she would’ve been a great nun. Mom spent her entire professional career teaching public school in Paterson, NJ, but one summer, she changed things up by teaching a few math classes at St. Elizabeth’s College. She preferred the inner city to the cushier life of a professor, but her brief time at St. E’s still made an indelible impression.
“Every day, I see old nuns—in the full black habits—tending the flowers,” she had told me at the time, her eyes sparkling with delight. “And, by God, every single flower was standing at attention. In perfectly straight rows!”
That was the way Mom liked her nature: obedient.
And, with a shooing wave, I was sent out to the mower.
These days, I have my own lawn, one that I may neglect as I see fit. My excuses for this negligence come surprisingly easy.
“Clover is taking over the yard,” My wife, Ellen, says.
“Bunnies like to eat clover,” I reply.
“The grass is much too long,” she says.
“That’s so the bunnies can hide from predators.”
“What about all the dead patches?” she says.
“That’s where birds can scratch for bugs.”
“And the dandelions?” she asks.
“Bees,” I say, silently thanking God for Ranger Rick magazine. “Don’t you like honey?”
She responded to my question with a different question.
“Michael?” Ellen asks.
“Yes, sweetie?” I reply.
“Cut the damn lawn,” she says.
“Dang,” I say.