Perfect Lawn Man lived a block around the corner from 5313 Marshall Avenue. He would sit on his porch to glare at all the kids on their way home from the bus stop, threatening us with those black eyes to do the unthinkable and step on his grass. We used to dare each other, double and triple dog—but we'd only ever venture a toe, at most, because he would yell if he saw or call your parents if he didn't and noticed in his post-after-school-crowd yard examination. This was the legend.
We attempted to work through our fears—elementary cognitive therapy, you know—by speculating as to why he cared so much. If he was just a grumpy oldish man who needed cookies, we guessed we could do some good for humankind, whip some up, and be romping free on his property the next day. But maybe, maybe he had a disease, and the weed whacker eased the symptoms. Or maybe his child got lost in a field of unkempt greenery and he vowed to balance the universe with an overly KEMPT patch of grass. Maybe he just didn't actually know what fun was, maybe he grew up with wild beasts and didn't know how to speak, so lawn mowing eased that frustration. or he was maybe brought up in an orphanage and never held, and never had any toys so he didn’t know about playing. It never occurred to us that he was probably OCD, and/or had a nasty set of ownership issues, or just plain hated kids and joy.
But we had a secret love for him, the way all kids love trouble and challenges. It was no fun if he was downright mean for no good reason, with no mental illness or beast-parents to speak of. We loved the legend, the invented stories, the mystery. We loved the fear, too—because we could control it. And then, simultaneously, we wanted to give away our control. Maybe if we were ready to do that, we were ready to give away our fear, too. We wanted him to catch us tip-toeing on his manicured lawn. We—I mean all of us crazy humans—all want to be caught, really. That’s how we express our secret desires and stifled needs, how we tell each other the things we can’t form with our own mouths and tongues and lips.
We knew it was ridiculous that he cared about this green weed so much—we tried to prove it to him. If enough kids trampled his treasure, maybe he would realize how foolish he was being. But we humans and our treasure, we don’t readily let it go, no matter what useless junk it can be labeled by popular consent. There’s something noble about holding on to your treasure when people are telling you it’s the stupidest thing in the world, to give it up, get a life. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes they are jealous.
Perfect Lawn Man slowly gave away his dream, blade by blade. He let chunks of the middle go bad first, watching from his window as they faded to a parched yellow-white and the grass gradually gave away its dewy, flat green. The shape went next. The stuff seemed to have been tugged out like tufts of hair, and placed on top of other patches to prove that it still had a place; nobody believed. His lawn was still one of the best, even after he buried his love for it below the sinking, yellowing clumps. And then, somehow imperceptibly, (no one could tell me exactly it happened) Perfect Lawn Man moved away; it seemed his last act of shame, for selling his precious treasure away by popular consent to Neglect.