One of the things I’ve found myself doing the most with my new iPhone 9 is a game – apparently an indie, although who knows anymore – called “It’s Literally Just Mowing.” I paid $5 to get rid of the ads, because things cost money, and wound up with a very simple game. You control a riding lawnmower with a cartoon avatar, going door to door, mowing yards (or parks, or soccer fields, or sometimes vacant lots with artwork in their grass beneath). The mower turns very tight and you don’t actually have to get out the Weed Eater to trim the flower beds or edge up, and the grass shoots out behind and fades so you don’t have to worry about whether you go clockwise or counter-clockwise and making a pile of blown clippings to get your blades hung up in.
But damn, how the memories roll in.
I started being tasked with grass-cutting at the age of 12. I had taken the old yellow Cub Cadet around the vacant lot across from our house more than once, because it had some uneven terrain but nothing you had to move around. No trees or flower beds or mailboxes or anything like that. After a few months, I had it together enough to inherit the position of Neighborhood Kid Lawn Mower To The Local Dentist/Mayor/City Councilman, which at the time paid I think $15 a cut twice a month. And so, for the next four summers or so, I was the presumptive cutter of grass for our front yard, our back yard, the vacant lot and the Mayor’s grass.
My hay fever wasn’t that bad yet. I mean, I noticed when I got in a sneezing fit, but it wasn’t the debilitating allergy it would be in college (or worse, in grad school and in DC). And I wasn’t wearing contacts at first; it would be 1986 before the eyes would become a problem (and by then, my little brother would be in on the game and we had a couple more neighborhood yards to look after. He wound up running his own landscaping business for a decade in his 30s. But I digress). This was 1985, when fifteen dollars would keep me in Marvel Comics for a month with money besides for twenty-five cent cans of ginger ale or draft style root beer from Piggly Wiggly’s store brand. I hadn’t really discovered girls yet, although there was a blond sax player a year older than me who seemed strangely interesting somehow. I had finally discovered pop music, and had a slew of mix cassettes dubbed off of Kicks 106 and I-95 (always cut off at one end or the other or with some other song or DJ chatter over top) in my fairly cheap knockoff Walkman.
And so “Money For Nothing” and “Get It On (Bang A Gong)” and “Wild Boys” and excerpts from the Miami Vice soundtrack played through cheap headphones as I wheeled around in tight turns, making sure the clippings were evenly sprayed from the right-hand side as I made my counterclockwise revolutions of one yard or another, edging ever so tight against brick or tree to minimize how much I’d have to use the damned Weed Eater. (I hated that thing. HATED it. You had to wear jeans to protect your legs, a horrifying prospect in the Alabama summer sun, and its shitty two-cycle engine never wanted to start without about a hundred squirts of starter fluid and a thousand yanks of the pull-starter. My right arm was overdeveloped for completely different reasons than most thirteen year old boys.) And there was nothing more satisfying than drawing a bead on a giant fire ant mound, gunning the engine, and hearing the growling WHOOMP as the whole thing was vaporized in a brown cloud jetting out from under your right hip. Take that, you little bastards.
By the summer of ’88, I had more remunerative employment than $20 every other week (oh yes, the price went up as I got older) could afford me. But I would still occasionally hop on the mower and do our own front yard, or the lot, just to pass the time and clear my head on a summer day while home from school. Even as late as that last summer in ’97, I’m pretty sure I cut the grass at least once on an idle weekend waiting for my life to start again. I must have done, but I don’t remember for sure, and I definitely didn’t think that was the last time I’d ever sit on the lawnmower. But sure enough. Twenty-three years later, I’ve only ever cut the grass exactly once since, because I’ve only ever lived one place that needed grass cut. (It was way too tall to be cutting with an unpowered old-style push mower, and I did it in a rage after the Skins lost to the Cowboys on an overtime kick return, and I blistered my hands so bad that I invited the neighbor kid to take over in future. $30, for something half the size of that Mayor’s front yard alone in Alabama. Inflation, you know.) But in the last twenty years, I’ve never lived anywhere with a yard to cut at all.
It doesn’t seem like the worst chore, looking back. As long as you don’t have to trim. Three acres or so on a riding lawnmower and an ice cold beer in the shade after? That’s the sort of dream they write country songs about.