The reasons probably don't matter, and barely spring to mind. Miami Vice on TV, or multiple seasons of Magnum PI? I don’t believe I’d seen Scarface yet, but I’d certainly seen some Cheech & Chong films, most of them with my friend Kenny Dyer before he moved away and I took over all his lawn mowing yards.
Kenny deserves a mention here, because during ninth grade we were largely inseparable, at least until he moved away. His dad had been a truck driver for Jimmy Dean Sausage, so there was a deep freezer at his place with all the patties and links you could set the fire alarm off with. Kenny’s Mom I remember sort of like one of the teachers from Peanuts cartoons, muted trumpet sounds, a presence yet not, really. Not sure what that meant, and if that had bearing on why Kenny moved away.
Kenny had a PC, and an interest in programming it. Hopefully those skills took him far, farther than following his father’s footsteps as a truck driver, albeit a noble profession or his interest in those crazy racing dune buggies with that dogleg shaped comb-over foil sail on top.
We met in art class, the same one I shared with the genius artist and musician, the Mozart to my meager Antonio Salieri, Dan Iverson. I had such an envy hate on for Dan in that class, and it was Kenny that called me on it, got me to get over my self-imposed debilitation over not being able to render photo realistic nipples like Dan could on my Venus, the Object of My Desire. I still catch myself shading the aureolas on my cartoon women the way I learned from watching Dan in action, adding a drop shadow under the slightly jutting nipples regardless where the sun or lights are in the scene.
My first winter in Kentucky had a lot of snow, more than I would have expected for the South. East Tennessee had a fair amount, too, but we’d been at higher elevations there, close to the Smokey Mountains and Dollywood and all those ample peaks. Almost a week straight of snowdays, and that meant handing out at Kenny’s place, his Dad on the road, his Mom working or whatever it was she did, I wish I could remember. Hanging out pan frying Jimmy Dean meats and playing the Pac-Man derivative game Kenny had on his PC and trying to make Mad Max model cars by melting various Rydell model kits together with cigarette lighters and coat hanger wires heated into spot welders and held with over mitts. Fumes to die for.
Kenny loved Kiss, and like my brother in law Alex, he belonged to the Kiss Army, the framed letter and official patch in his wood paneled bedroom proved it. He also liked REO Speedwagon, but I elected not to hold that against him, he did like Ratt, after all, and Twisted Sister. When we went to what would be my first ever high school dance in Kentucky, we met a pair of girls that during the snow week were happy to come over to Kenny’s place, hang out, practice swapping gum, the sloppy petting and kissing kids do when they’ve seen too much TV and not enough real life romance. I remember the girl I was with outweighed me, and stood a good half foot taller, and liked to draw letters on her knuckles like Ozzy and the Blues Brothers. Hopefully a phase she outgrew, otherwise great skills to develop in lady prison, however that worked out for her. Hopefully she turned out to be a famous tattoo artist for rock god stars, that’d be cool to think I passed chewing gum back and forth with a bird that went on to peck Marilyn Manson or some such. Better than being a Kroger’s teamster.
Kenny had a variety of income sources, and he worked his ass off. He could fix cars, mowers, weed whackers, pretty much anything with a motor. When the announcement he’d be moving came down, he turned to me to take on his mowing routes, since I’d pitched in to help him a couple times, and thanks to mowing yards for my Dad and abundantly at Washington College Academy, I had the requisite skills. Kenny lived up the block from the first place my parents moved us into in Lexington, a skinny apartment in a complex skirting the bottom edge of my high school campus, the entry road to the school had our apartments on one side, and a shopping strip mall on the other with the drug store where the twenty something sales clerk flirted with me and gave me an overly enthusiastic smooch when I announced I would be moving into another hood that left me feeling severely confused, twenty something year old women don’t generally smooth ninth graders. Not attractive twenty something year old women, and especially not little geeks like me.
Near the end of my ninth grade year my folks found a better space over by Fayette Mall, where we’d stay until I finished high school and they took their jobs in Missouri and moved away. By the time we moved Kenny had been gone for months, and I’d gotten to hanging out with Steve, Joe, John Edwards, Steve Barker, and the rest of the gang. Regardless, I continued to mow the yards I picked up from Kenny until my Junior year of high school, when extracurricular activities like debate, speech, drama, and my job at the movie theater left me no more time to handle the yards.
The first yard, and one I had helped him with previously, was for an elderly woman named Granny Bentley. She met me with scrutiny, hands on hips, and a promise if I got up to any mischief she had a revolver under her pillow and she knew how to use it. Kenny subsequently assured me she did indeed have the firearm and had actually used it once to shoot a burglar on her porch, back before we’d been born.
I stopped by to mow her lawn once a week, a small fenced in yard that is more than we have now in Vancouver, but tiny by Lexington standards at the time. I made extra cash helping white wash her porch. I did a horrible job of according to her, yet I still got paid. I trimmed some hedges, cut the ivy back from the windows, and sometimes just sat with her on her wooden porch, enjoying some shade and some lemonade that occasionally tasted odd as her eyesight played tricks on her, salt and sugar looked about the same to her, I guessed, though the lemons were real.
Her son, delivering her groceries, became my next client. She’d paid me $10 a week for the lawn; he’d paid $15 to $25 depending on the amount needed to be done. He had a great yard, a far more serious mower, and occasional odd jobs like cleaning out, sorting, and tidying the garage. His neighbor saw the work I did and offered me $25 steady to handle his yard, a vast expanse of open grass with a solitary tree at the back, and a flat rock I had to move out of the way, first time a real treat as there were a nest of baby black snakes under it.
When baby black snakes see you and hear the motor, they take off in every direction like an exploding ball of string. After recovering myself and checking to see if I’d peed from shock, I shut off the mower for fear of having one slither into the blades, waited a bit and got some water, then when the coast seemed clear I tugged the mower back to life and resumed crew cutting the yard’s shaggy mane.
My next to last time coming to mow Ms. Bentley’s son’s lawn, I arrived on my trusty hand-me-down Cannondale, Active Ingredients blaring from my orange foam headphones, to discover cops parked in the driveway and Ronald Bentley’s instant puppy love inducing daughter answering questions, a distraught look on her face. She spot me and waved me to the garage door, already standing open, so I nodded, pulled my bike in and laid it on its side, and got the mower out, filled the tank, and wheeled around to the front side of the house before yanking the starter cord. I could see Ms. Bentley’s son inside the house through the bay window, pacing and talking to a cop, no, not pacing, he’s pointing at things. His eyes met mine and he tried to smile. I smiled back, attempting to be reassuring though I had no idea for what. Had Ms. Bentley died? I felt anxiety creep in, worry, doubt.
Ronald Bentley, the man I mowed for, was also superintendent for the Fayette County school system. A friendly demeanor, while also direct and straight forward, not the sort of guy I would ever expect to see fettered or distressed, and now that I could see the concern on his face, I shared his concern. Something must be wrong, something bigger than the weeds i forgot to trim back along the landscaped flower bed in the thin ribbon of front lawn.
The cops packed up and left while I worked on mowing the back lawn, bagging as I went. When I finished Mr. Bentley’s daughter, late twenties looking late forties around the eyes from whatever had happened, met me with an envelope of my pay. I’d never been paid with an envelope before; I usually just got a check. Remember when people still regularly used those? Now kids probably scan payments off cards or via Paypal with their smart phones. Inside the envelope, cash. Apparently the check book had been among the items stolen.
She told me that her dad had come home for lunch and found the place robbed. They were still trying to identify everything that was missing.
Robbed. Their house, the sort of modest, roomy abode with a decent, well shaded backyard, the kind of place I hoped, and still hope, to have someday, had been robed, violated, broken into. To me, unthinkable. And then she asked me if I’d noticed anything unusual or out of place. It’d been over a week since I’d last been around to mow, so my best observations would be stale had I any, and I didn’t. What I did have was a sudden flash of stealing flags and signs, and irrational guilt when the crimes had nothing to do with one another. Still, a guilty conscious can yank you a wedgie when you least expect it, and while she nor anyone ever gave me the slightest reason to think they considered me suspect, I only mowed their lawn a couple more times before citing a lack of time and availability, somewhat true, mostly bullshit.
I’d been shy of time for a while already, mowing the lawns had stopped being about the money and started being about the smell of the cut lawn, the music in my headphones over the din of the engine, the vibration of the handle in my hands, making my fingers tingle and palms numb. I enjoyed the sunshine, the work outdoors, the sense of completion, to look with hands on hips at a fished job well done, just as I miss those same things quite often now.
The next time I mowed Mr. Bentley’s lawn, he met me with a check, and apologized for the scene before, as though he needed to apologize to me for being robbed. He told me about the new security system they’d invested in, an alarm that called the police if someone broke in. He wanted me to know in case I tried to go inside for a glass of water and no one was home. I had another flash of associated guilt, as though for the sake of all thieves, though home invasion is worlds apart from mischief with street signs of Herbie-Curbies.
Still, the awkwardness distracted me from being able to enjoy the afterglow of a job well done. I tried to recapture the magic one more time, then relinquished my duties, gave him the names of a few kids I knew would like to take on some extra yards to mow.
I never cashed the last two checks. I tore them up and dropped them down a storm drain. The man’d been robbed. Those last couple trims? On the house. For Kenny's trust to take care of Ms. Bentley, and by association, her kin folk. For messing around with other people's property. For not being able to make anyone else's misfortunes any better.
Coming up, the biggest and best of the best absolutely absurd non-heist my friends and I ever attempted, to little, as in pretty much absolutely no affect...