Monday, September 18, 2006


The Resume (A Random Anecdote)

Job #11: Greens Guardian

(To refresh your memory about other jobs on my resume, go here.)

For years I've heard how effective smells can be at triggering memories, but I'd never really experienced it myself until last week.

It was trash day, and one of the extra duties of trash day in the summer is that I have to haul bags of lawn clippings to the curb for recycling. I get that recycling is good and all, but there is some part of me--a really large part of me, if you want to know the truth--that finds the whole enterprise useless and alien. So much of my acclimation to life as a domesticated suburban homeowner has been marked by this kind of culture shock. Her Lovely Self doesn't have this problem. She grew up in the endless sprawl of upper-middle-class domestic developments and knows well the lilt and language of local ordinances and homeowner covenants that dictate such things as, oh, when and how to install garden sheds (apparently, you cannot simply use the old siding you've just stripped off your house, nor those pieces of corrugated sheet metal you found on the highway); the rules covering height of fences, shrubs and, yes, even grass (in short: nothing over 5 feet); the legally established timetables for operating power equipment (9 to 5, unless you work for the county, in which case you can operate a backhoe to dig up the street in front of my bedroom window at the crack of fucking dawn); and the procedures for disposing of recyclable materials, including aluminum, glass and paper, of course, but also cardboard, plastic, and yard debris, assuming the debris is cut into prescribed sizes.

Thus it is that I own a lawn mower with more blade settings than a food processor and every week in the summer, I set the blade to process my lawn into the detachable bag, which I am forced to empty at intervals into other taller, flimsier paper bags. In the past, I was in the habit of mowing the night before trash day and thus could simply position my bags curbside and pour my lawn waste into them for collection the next morning (although strictly speaking, this is a violation of local law, as I am not supposed to curb any items more than 8 hours before official pick-up time, but fuck 'em).

Lately, though, my schedule has been off and I find myself mowing on odd days. Which is a problem, because if I let the grass sit around in those paper bags for more than a day or two, the clippings seem to triple their weight and then it's like hauling a corpse to the curb. Actually, hauling a corpse would be theoretically easier, since I assume I'd have the presence of mind to place it in something durable--a couple of Hefty bags, say, or a blood-stained carpet. But once those clippings start shedding moisture--as they always do--the damn paper bags get soaked through and then I might as well be hauling the grass in a couple of wads of Kleenex. Inevitably, the bag breaks and suddenly I'm caked in wet, slimy bits of sickly green vegetation, hacking and sneezing because among my many health concerns I am, predictably enough, allergic to all forms of grass.

Last week, I was the victim of my own bad timing. Not only did I mow the lawn almost a full week before pick-up, but I did so within hours of the onset of a serious amount of rain, almost three days' worth. I was pretty busy at work, so I didn't really think about the grass, until Thursday morning rolled around and I remembered the three bags I had stood under the eaves in the back yard.

What I found when I went in the back looked more like three giant brown mushrooms than county-approved, biodegradable lawn and leaf bags. Normally, that side of the house is protected from the elements, be we had got a good, soaking rain with lots of driving wind, thus ensuring that every side of the house--and anything immediately next to it--was wet through.

No, it hadn't occurred to me to throw a tarp over the things, and of course storing them in the garage was out of the question. Her Lovely Self is a gardener, after all, and she instructed me on the science of grass clippings, their high nitrogen content (which makes it useful as an ingredient in compost, but a little goes a long way), and the potential of our bags of grass to not only flood the house with ammonia (a byproduct of grass decomposition) but also to quite possibly burn the place down, since matted grass generates heat like nobody's business.

I knew this, by the way, but I couldn't begin to tell you how I came by the information. I certainly didn't learn this growing up at my house. There, our old mower had just one setting--Spew--and we never bagged our clippings. It was just part of the yard, and collecting the debris would have been as crazy as shoveling up 50 pounds of dirt and putting it by the curb for the hell of it. So how did I know about grass clippings? Well it would have been a mystery for rest of my days, if I hadn't laid hold of those soggy bags last week.

To my credit, I tried to be gentle. I grasped those big, wet, warm bags as gingerly as if I was palpating a giant's scrotum. But it didn't matter. The moment I lifted the first bag from the ground, the whole thing disintegrated and as it did, I was overwhelmed by a hot, moist, putrid smell. It was a complex aroma, that's for sure. First, there was the too-heavy, too-sharp whiff of ammonia, cascading over me like a physical thing, like a stream of dinosaur urine. My eyes--and every orifice in my body--squeezed shut involuntarily. Then the horrible, loamy, fungal smell of moldy decay hit as the grass fell in clinging, burning glops at my feet. If the old EC horror comics of the 50s could have distilled the odor of the crypt onto its pages, this is what it would have smelled like. I've smelled bad, dead things before, but this was so awful it was like a caricature of a bad, dead smell. It brought to mind the image of stacked wheels of blue-veined cheese, sitting in a greenhouse, putrefying. I imagined sick cows vomiting up half-digested grass. From all four stomachs. All over my shoes.

And then, just before I started heaving myself, I had a perfect, clear image of a hot, humid summer day in 1987, half my life ago. The memory was so vivid it felt like what I imagined time travel would be like. I mean, I was practically there, man. I was wearing my old acid-wash jeans and my sleeveless t-shirt and my hi-top sneakers with the holes in them because I had no money to buy new ones.

I remembered it all: the summer job at the country club, the unexpected task of being appointed supervisor of the grounds crew (my first management experience), my surprise encounter with a golf legend, a brief reprise as a boy detective when my crew and I had to solve the Mystery of the Missing Flags, and that weird, awful gully of doom, where I first smelled that horrible, hot, damp, deathlike smell.

And where I saved someone's life, even though no one--not even I--realized it at the time...


Ooh, a life-saving cliffhanger!

I've smelled rotten eggs and other putrifying produce but that's been about the extent of my experience. All dead higher organisms I've smelled had been thoroughly bathed in formaldehyde. I'd have to assume the smell of a corpsified body to be much, much worse than just rotting eggs.
YOU SODDING &$()#)@^&!

Yay! A post! Shafa, hahaha~ that sucks.
The Mystery of the Missing Flags.



So, the golf legend asked you, "Where are the flags?" And since you were in charge, you had to go looking for them. And while hunting for said flags, you came across someone asleep in a shed full of grass clippings. And you woke them up because they were supposed to be working.

And only later did you realize that they could have died in there.


See, that was terrible.

Now you tell it.

I shake my fist at you and your cursed cliffhangers!
what would my tuesday morning be like without another cliffhanger! and a life or death cliffhanger to boot!

for what it's worth, we had a "working" rabbit in our back yard whose poops my mom would catch with a pan under his cage and then add to our compost pile to marinate with grass clippings, corn cobs, vegetable parts, and other organic matter. stunk like a hobo after a rain storm, but we had the best gardens in the whole neighborhood!
Guess who's soon to be returning to his mow-the-night-before routine?

I hated bagging and knew, as a kid, that the only time I would have to bag would be if I let it grow for more than a week. So I never let it happen.

The only time a lawnmower bag was willingly used by yours truly was when I was forced to rake leaves at home. Since those wound up needing to be bagged anyway, I would simply attach the bag to the mower and pick up leaves that way. Rake? We don't need no stinking rake.
That seems like a lot of work for a lawn. Maybe you should xeriscape.
Get a mulching blade for your mower. It shreds the clipping so small they are not noticable and merrily and nonstinkily compost themselves into nice grass nutrients.

Adn contrary to popular myth, it doesnt promote thatch.

Not that I would care if it did. My mulching mower was great but I currenlty use a humanpowered reel mower. It leaves big clumps of clippings which i mostly ignore. The big stuff compposts in too, it just dried up and leaves visble clumps whcih I dont mind but I suppose HLS or your neighbors would.

I hate covenant housing, and i suspect yours wont let you have a compost pile. Since I lives in a woodsy area with lots of shrubs and a veggie patch, I get lots of yummy yard waste for mine, plus the kitchen garbage. it doesnt even smell much if I keep the squishy stuff covered, but even if it did the neighbors arent close enough to be bothered.
OOoh Heather, that story was really really something! It filled in the hole those awful ... leave after a post.

Thanks for helping!

Top that MM!
Oh man, you sound like my hubby! I also grew up in the 'burbs, and was therefore used to such rules. When my husband (who did NOT grow up in any such environment) and I bought our first house in said suburbs, he was appalled and overwhelmed with the rules and regulations...particularly those referring to grass-mowing and grass disposal. I've never known any different so I kind of blew off his rants about this, but reading your post, well...maybe you guys have a point. It does seem a bit silly and pretentious doesn't it?
Glad you're posting another story by the way...especially one where you retell some event from the past. Those are my fave.
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