It’s a beautiful balmy slightly humid August afternoon in a Tinker Toy town version of suburbia along either side of the backwater street that I lope along. The houses are all third and fourth generation ownership now. Many of the new occupants are from foreign shores adapting to their version of the fabled American dream. I am far past that now, alone, living in bitter circumstances of a woven net of my own woven web of bad decisions and self-indulgent stubbornness. And maybe just the fact that sixty plus years doesn’t play as well as in decades past? Old women sit on lounge chairs before the entrances to their houses and occasionally groups of children spill out onto the sidewalk in loud raucous unsupervised chaos. I walk along quietly like a ghostly stranger just a momentary apparition passing through. The sound of lawnmowers and cicadas break the hush dragged along int he wake of a gentle wind. My mind is focuses upon ascertaining the level of comparative exhaustion my limbs are enduring. I am not particularly melancholy but simply alone.
I round a corner on the way to a long forgotten landlocked hot dog stand. After succumbing to a nice greasy burger with even greasier fries my conscience has gotten the better of me. I am compensation walking in part for counter balancing exercise as well as to seek out another unhealthful holy grail of a meal to offer to my poor sick ninety-two year old mother. If I were to think about it, the whole scenario being so absurdly maudlin that I would be embarrassed by the fact of actively participating in it. Yet my mind is elsewhere today, so here I am. The concrete sidewalk ahead is encroached by a diagonally parked car spread across the driveway forcing my progress towards an open garage door. The sour smell of gasoline and musty wood lingers as I pass through the narrow channel. A young man ahead is pushing a power lawnmower definitely aware of my presence. His weather eye cocked in my direction to see if I intend to dart into the garage to spirit off some musty mildew dampened family treasures. Is that disappointment that I sense as my wobbly pace never varies?
The mowed sections of grass have sloppily overflowed in every direction upon sidewalk and the remaining uncut portions. A heavy moist overpowering smell of green floods up over me. I am nine years old again an standing at the helm of a brand new Sears electric powered lawnmower in the front yard of our new house. The only one that we had ever known for a short span of five years. The grass is flying from the horizontal blade, its paint partially obscured by the wet mulch of the progeny of the sod that was relayed after the family of Hebrews that were briefly tenants has temporarily despoiled it. The humidity and violence of the mortal instrument that I pushed about at the end of its bright orange tether leaving blades of grass everywhere that they should not be. Especially down my shirt. I am drowning in this relentless summer heat wrestling this mechanical beast back and forth in my approximation of neat rows. Trying my best not to chew the cord with the voraciously careless blades. This unit being one of the moderately priced technological marvels that my father picked up at the new Sears outlet in the recently opened shopping centers. It is the golden era of the prosperity of the nineteen-fifties deferring to the beginning sixties and this is the greatest country on earth! I am my father’s version of a modern Prometheus who much like the version of same in the book of the previous century will one day confound my creator.
The rows have now been successfully cut with no casualties except the fact of the cheap metal fan of a rake that I must use to comb the shortened tresses of verdant green masses of hot wet grass to leave a clean immaculate butch cut. To fail in this task is of course as unthinkable as to find random brown patches of decapitated clumps by the desiccation of tomorrow’s sun. “Stroke, stroke, stroke!”, my arm pound the ground with the rake tearing out the residue. The tangs signing the song of a rattlesnake. “Stroke, stroke, stroke!”, and a clump of sweat makes a break for it from the steamy matte of thick hair down the back of my neck. The singing of the metal breaching herb to concrete sounding like the cicadas. I pass the young man glancing at the intensity of his pent up anger and distrust. I recall that if they would have let me alone instead of reminding me three of four times a day that the grass would need trimming, I would have done so automatically. I look at him and instantly know his pain. The overpowering smell of grass is fading now drawing back a wave of melancholy in its absence. I miss my father and all his flaws. He shines in my memory like some apparition significant of everything fundamentally good. Flawed, its true but in a well-meaning way, but I wish I was half the man he was on the worst of his days.
The blocks pass and see the tops of the cell phone towers that stand just behind the small trailer obscured by buildings and the trees. The same old broken down gasoline station lots that have laid abandoned now for thirty years or more. Just behind the fence of one is a strange little compound of the last small business still thriving not under corporate control. A small court lined with picnic tables beneath strings of colored incandescent bulbs. An old man and his son behind the counter. The clients all overweight, old and misshapen by their portion of the good life in a time when exercise and proper eating habits encompassed a beer and a brat. Here I am ordering a hot dog and fries that I personally am unwilling to consume most probably out of vainglorious stubbornness. No worse than that greasy combo downed at the top of the hour. I wait and wait and wait as the previous orders are prepared, the time dragging on forcing me to think of what once were my father’s routines. To think of my own self-imposed absentia that robbed me of what could have been more pleasant memories of sharing an unsophisticated moment of mindless pleasure. The bag is packed and the grease from the fries invades its crown as the owner hands it to me. Just like life it is flawed from the start by the pristine standards of the present day.
I walk the opposite direction of the path back home jogging over to a quieter older street a half a block away. The rounding of another corner reveals and old blue and white late nineteen-fifties sedan parked upon the street. The little girl sitting on the pavement in line of sight must be the same age I was when the car was new. A few paces up and I turn in the other direction to a long cordoned off abandoned construction project. A few inches of green brackish water subsuming what might have been some years back a new foundation had it not been for the governmental bank bailout. The metal numbers on the weather beaten wooden plaque hanging cockeyed from the fence spelling out, “1942”. My father must have been all of sixteen years old that year? He enlisted when he was seventeen.
Another block down and their is Maria’s Mexican Restaurant where a quarter of a century ago all three of us used to come each night for Margaritas and steak. For three decades or more when business was good, we used to go to all the better places to eat. Most all of them torn down now. I could still here the little ritual here where my mother would always ask after the menus were handed out, “Would anyone like some nachos?” It could have been last week as fresh as that was in my latent consciousness. Like locusts we all had enjoyed the good times both together and apart until the health of my father and mother not to mention the country had just plain given out like his myocardial infarcted heart. Everything that we loved had been replaced or converted to the iconoclastic sensibilities of the modern day agnostic Puritanical values over the last twenty years. Scarcity had come to represent the principle of proper morality. Big and comfortable demoted to a significance of the lower castes. After my father’s death, this world had been turned upside down.