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The lawn

05/30/06 12:00AM By Caleb Daniloff
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(HOST) With the long rains of May, many residents had trouble tending their lawns. But when commentator Caleb Daniloff finally managed to get his mower out between showers, he found more than just long grass.

(DANILOFF) The lawn around my house had grown out of control. Countless dandelions had risen above the waves of grass, their long necks protruding curiously as if from a fleet of earthen submarines. I hadn't mowed in more than two weeks. It'd been showering for days and more rain was forecast. The thought of the grass growing any higher made me sick. My mental landscape had already taken on the wild, unkempt character of my lawn, complete with dirty candy wrappers and plastic bags caught in the tall blades. But then one evening, the sprinkles suddenly let up. Just back from work, I threw down my bag, strapped on boots and hauled out my heavy, unwieldy mower.

The thick patches of grass kept choking out the motor, usually halfway through a pass, so I started running through them, trying to beat the sputtering. My pant-cuffs were soon coated green. I was the only growling trumpeter in the neighborhood, soloing in the damp evening air, a curiosity perhaps to faces in nearby windows. Will he beat the rain? Will he slip down the hill and send the mower into Route 7 traffic? Should I get out there and do my lawn? I'd never mowed so fast, racing against the whim of clouds, pushing and dragging the heavy beast like a stubborn child.

Sweat dripped on my dress shirt and smeared my glasses. When I stopped for a breather, I felt my heart galloping in my chest and couldn't help but think of Ray Pellegrini. Ray was a beloved local educator, a big guy, a funny guy. While mowing his own lawn a few weeks ago, he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 56. When I worked the public school beat for the local paper, Ray Pellegrini was the principal of the middle school. I interviewed him on multiple occasions and watched him in action at board meetings. There was always humor and patience in eyes, an easy smile, a fresh quote. He loved his kids, and by that I mean his students. The last time I typed out his name on my keyboard was more than ten years ago. He'd probably not have recognized me all this time later, and for all I know had passed me in the store, on the road, or downtown. I don't know his family or friends, and didn't know him outside of work. But at that moment, in that throaty wind, I felt his absence. Even the motor seemed to grow quiet.

I wiped my brow and pressed on. Forty minutes later, I was done. As I surveyed my work in the darkening light, I spotted a patch of dandelions my mower had missed. I couldn't stand the unevenness and wheeled the beast around. As I got closer, I slowed down. I'd been reading a lot of Charles Bukowski and remembered that as a kid, his father made him mow the yard twice in a go, once lengthwise, once width-wise. If but a single blade of grass was higher than the others, he was whipped with a leather shaving strap. Leaning into the engine noise, I thought of Bukowski - his raw and startling poetry, his plain gutter wisdom - and I let the mower sputter out. I called the lawn done, leaving the dandelions as a bouquet for Bukowski's grave. And for Ray Pellegrini's, too.

Caleb Daniloff is a copywriter, book reviewer and freelance journalist.
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