Postcards from Tradocia

The Subtle Pleasures of Suburban Life

Though I never consciously sought to avoid it, I never imagined myself becoming the quintessential suburban man, wielding mower and grill tongs and sprinkler apparatus; and indeed, I’m amazed by the speed at which the transformation occurred. I never looked down on suburban dwellers, like some – I spent my formative years as one, after all – but I certainly had no great desire to fertilize a lawn or paint a shed or any of that other homeowner-type crap. Additionally, most of my lawn care has been in the context of Army duty, which leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth about the whole process.

However, after a little more than a year in our new house, I’ve found that there’s a subtle pleasure in those mundane tasks of nurturing and building, improving and organizing, structuring the home in a pleasing manner for yourself and others. The lawn seems like some echo of humanity’s tendencies since the development of agriculture: a man’s plot, tending and observing it with a critical eye, dealing with living things but bending them to his will, rather than living wild among them. Or maybe it’s a metaphor for the American family farm, writ small, a green square of earth in miniature for our enjoyment rather than for sustenance.

A more cynical sort (spare me your laughter, those of you reading this who know me well) might describe the lawn as a representation of the American propensity for tacky, pointless ornamentation, promiscuous consumerism, and blatant disregard for the order of nature. They might also hold it up as a symbol of the crushing, soulless conformity inherited from the most hated of American eras, the 1950s, where the suburban ideal began to emerge. They might be right about all those things, but I would also argue that the suburban lifestyle developed because people wanted it that way.

People move to the suburbs for many reasons – to raise a family, have more space, peace and quiet, to be in a lower-density area in case of a zombie apocalypse – but mostly, they’re voluntary. I didn’t read a glossy brochure that blared, “Move to Conform-O Town! It’s Great Here!” – I moved here because I didn’t like living in the city. (Mrs. Melobi moved here because I twisted her arm, but that’s another story.)

I’ve adapted well to my new role, in any case; as an example, the house came with a lawn mower (a Honda of roughly 1986 vintage) and I immediately set about fixing it up, going so far as to paint it black so that it looked better. Who cares what your lawn mower looks like? I did, damn it – and let me tell you, that thing not only looks good, but it cuts a mean blade of grass, too. Thing purrs right along, too, despite being nearly as old as I am, and it also lacks a dead-man switch (thanks to having been built before we had things like “safety” and “liability concerns”), which is quite convenient.

See how thoroughly adapted I am? I just wrote a paragraph about my fucking lawn mower. But seriously, it’s awesome!

It’s not like I’m spending hours a day out there and thousands of dollars on grass care; I keep the mowing to thirty minutes each for front and back, with a quick trim and occasional watering. But it’s a strangely pleasant diversion to listen to my badass old lawn mower thrum along and wave at the neighbors and make things look nice (though not quite as nice as the neighbors, who probably have a lot more money invested in their lawn).

While mowing, I even had an encounter that I never would have had otherwise, when an old guy and his wife pulled up in a minivan with Illinois plates. They rolled down the window and related that he had grown up in the farmhouse where my house now stood, and he graduated from the local high school, class of 1943. The old man was completely deaf, and fairly screamed out the window at me about working at the gas station and raising sheep and chasing cows and joining the Navy. His wife said that the visited every year or so, to see how the old neighborhood was getting along, and that it had changed quite a bit (since all the houses on our block were built in 2003). It was nice chat, and interesting to hear about the history of the land that had once been farmed and was now my own little slice of green to tend. And I never would have talked to them, had I not been out mowing my suburban yard with my sweet custom-painted Honda.

1 Comment

  1. Matt

    Mowing is my meditation time.

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