Shoveling Snow, Mowing Lawns
When I was a kid I used to earn spending money by shoveling snow off other people’s driveways, in winter, and mowing their lawns and planting their trees in summer. This was the ’60s. Winter snow was great fun to go sled riding in, on the biggest hills I could find, some pasture and some very wooded. I’d sweat inside my sweater and coat doing the work, and the play, and it would then freeze hard on the way home (it used to be cold back then). When a job or play finished after sunset the walk home through the hush-white quiet was quite wonderful, especially if moonlit. In December there would be Christmas lights on houses casting their colored lights out from star-like pinpoints. I’d think of music, like Rachmaninoff, on such walks: magical. The summer lawn jobs were an altogether different experience. First off, it was always hot and muggy; you’d get sweaty and grimy doing the job, and also hay fever. But the one compensation was the panorama when you got paid. The suburban housewives were always in stretch-tops and shorts not doing housework inside, and come to the door, often a step up, with Cinerama at eye level. Once one came to the door and stood there with a cocktail in her hand and a Gloria Grahame smile on her face. That was my tip. Others would be out back in their bikinis sunning themselves by their pools. I’d have to go back there when there would be no answer at the door. I had repeat customers for a few years because I was cheaper than the professional services, with snow-blowers, gardening trucks and power tools. But my favorite customer was an old wheelchair-bound disabled man who had a painting studio. He showed me how to paint clouds, with oils, correctly. A great tip. Honest work always deserves just and decent pay, but sometimes the tip is the best part of the job.
Where is the place you’re describing, Manuel? For some reason I thought you were Californian, past and present. Nicely evocative writing, particularly for someone roughly your age with similar memories.
New York, NYC and Long Island, till 1978, when I left with a fresh Ph.D. for California.
My youth was spent in the same town as the late Louis Proyect in what used to be “the borscht belt” in upstate New York. We had plenty of hills to slide down in winter, mountains of snow. And gorgeous women staying at the hotels where we had summer jobs.
I had fun Upstate, too.
Eureka! I’ve finally understood what separates me from Manuel. While he worked the lawns with teen zeal in the Pacific breeze, I, earlier, mowed the grass in Chicago’s Holy Olive Cemetery. I learned about capitalism from the grave up and became a lifelong pessimist. He, no grave dodger, gathered all the bad news and nevertheless managed a sliver of optimism. More power to him.
The breeze was Atlantic, wafting across Long Island for East and West Egg to Fire Island, but all else is true. I wanted to “save the world” by unlocking nuclear fusion, and championing solar energy systems any do-it-yourselfer could assemble. I also wanted a Ferrari, so youthful (and very unrealistic) optimism for sure. But even “knowing the score”, from an 11-year-old during the Bay of Pigs (cutting me off from my desired “homeland”) on through the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 (when both the Havana and NYC branches of the family were targeted for the fryer), and all through my junior high and high school years following the daily news of Vietnam and Laos, trying to steel my mind to somehow cope with the draft I was invited to join at the peak of the war, 1968-1969, I knew the score and that optimism was whittled down to a sliver. Life thereafter only whittled it down to a hair, but I had sweet kids who needed positive dreams to grow into their own happy lives, so I hung onto that hair and tried to shine its luster into the wider world, for them. But, they’re all grown and gone now, as of this year, and I am now purposeless, and have fallen quiet because that is the best “positivity” I can offer the wider world — the Eloi — whom I am left to watch drift thoughtlessly into their unnecessary but self-selected certain fates. My creativity is exhausted, as is my “knowledge”, I have nothing left to “teach”, so silence is good for me since I have nothing of value to offer, and it won’t matter anyway, just as it never mattered for the Eloi I offered my arts and works to since the beginning. What I have for compensation now are my physical senses with which to observe the flow of Nature about me — today the rain onto my forested canyon, and the tweeting of the hummingbirds ever vigilant to make sure I keep their sugar-water feeders fresh, other days with sun and hawks wheeling overhead — and I have books to read so my mind can wander in other worlds, both real and fictional, that writers with sound hearts and clear minds wrote to speak their truths to the ages. And I have music. My art now is entirely in seeking to know, just for myself. And also to remember, just for the pure pleasure. Sometimes, there is even another wise soul to talk to. So it goes.
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