Saturday, February 11, 2012
"Hi, how ya doin'?"
"Fine, fine. How 'bout you?"
"Well, just fine, thank you. And your wife?"
The whole rigmarole takes three minutes, during which your average Midwesterner would have said "hi," and gone back to shoveling snow.
But today, at last, is grey. No snow, no rain, but indisputably grey; the sky with a flat, cats-eye sheen. I've responded with a grateful hunkering, a ready retreat to my unmade bed. I have books, tea, windows against which the grey world, so unexpectedly taut, thrums.
Or is that motorized lawn equipment?
I sit up. The next-door neighbor becomes visible, he of the power saw and the annual resodding of the lawn, he of the biannual gutter cleanings and impeccable patio. I know very little about this neighbor, but I do know that he cares, deeply, whether the bushes on our property along his fenceline are pruned, so much so that among the things he first imparted to me, after his name and the name of his wife, was the nature of the "deal" he had with the last neighbor, whereby he, user of leaf-blowers, would regularly trim said bushes in exchange for...well, nothing. And would I like to continue the "deal?"
I would. I understand the drive to control one's own environment, and the messy ways in which that campaign overlaps with, and is infringed upon by, one's neighbors and loved ones.
What I don't understand is deriving pleasure from lawn care.
Which, clearly, the neighbor must, or why would he be out there on this day, this most rare and precious and grayest of days, manicuring his shrubs? I hear the clop clop of the shears through the walls of my house, the thunk of sticks hitting the bottom of the specially-designed wastebucket. There must be joy here, headiness, exhilaration, or else, why today? Why yesterday? Why every day of this too-long, too-bright year?
The neighbor's lawn makes my lawn look shabby, but the truth is, my lawn would look shabby anyway. My husband is a reluctant mower; I am a desultory weeder. We're not even sure what edging is. If a stick falls off the tree (river birch, my neighbor has informed me, "kind of a trashy tree"), it will be weeks before I get around, grumblingly, to picking it up. I'd rather be reading, or eating, or watching bad TV, or writing, or talking on the phone, or staring into space. Heck, I'd rather be doing my taxes.
We claim to understand one another, we human beings. We read books and blogs; we watch movies; we talk it through over dinner. We ask ourselves what-would-you-do-if? and would-you-rather? We say, "If I were you..."
And to a certain extent, we're right. We sympathize. We understand other people's pain because we've been there; we recognize, and respond to, hurt in others.
It's other people's pleasures that are inexplicable. Other folks' joys, those small, potent signifiers of how wide, how howlingly, unbridgeably vast, are the gulfs between us.
I head out for a grey-day stroll.
"Hi, how ya doin?" I nod to my neighbor.
"Oh, fine, just fine. How bout you?"
"I'm doing OK," I tell him. "Thanks."