We had this landlord, tanned and wiry, creepy, and he always had this look like what the hell?
He would park his truck sometimes out front and wait there all day. One time he’d gone fishing I guess, so he left a bag of fish in the bushes by the mailbox. Nobody knows why.
Then he came by one morning extremely unexpected “to get something” from the basement. When he went down there, it was like he was beating the furnace with a wrench. When he came back up, he had a three-foot bong made from PVC pipe and a bird’s skeleton swept into a dustpan.
Then he left. The landlord in his acid-washed cut-off jean-shorts.
My roommate said the landlord was probably sexually frustrated. Said he reminded him of a rodeo clown. But the dumpy house he rented us had a pool.
Per the agreement we were to mow the yard. But the mower the landlord left us was a death trap. Its safety bar had to be held with vice grips and the throttle set to “rabbit,” otherwise it wouldn’t run. Let go of the safety bar—like in an emergency or something—and the mower would ride off without you, just mowing away. And you couldn’t stand behind it either, not directly, because its warped deflection chute made you a target for whatever shot back. And the blades were dull. They didn’t cut grass so much as rip at it, shred it. Which caused the chute to clog every five minutes. Then you had to undo the vice grips, pull the spark plug connection, flip the mower over and hose the blades.
There’s something else I should mention. The landlord had planted, in no discernable pattern, tall wooden posts around the yard. Rigging for a giant curtain to surround the house. The landlord actually told us this. “For privacy,” he said. “From the city.”
And these posts increased exponentially the misery of mowing the yard. In fact the last time we ever mowed it—it was my roommate’s turn—the mower got away as he tried to slalom around a post. So it rode off without him, just mowing away, my roommate chasing it. And when he nearly had it again, something—a fistful of acorns probably—fired out the chute and caught him in the balls. Nuts in the nuts. My roommate hit the deck. The mower banked off another post, then motored off at the speed of “rabbit” toward some shrubs where actual rabbits—baby rabbits—were hiding terrified and too paralyzed to move.
There was a horrible choking sound in mower, heavy and purposeful, as the bunnies chuck-chucked through the blades. They never made it through the chute. We had to hose them out and down the drive and into the sewer.
Before he wheeled the mower back to the shed—a tin shed by the way, that got as hot as a sauna in summer—my roommate wedged some blocks of cheese up in the blades.
Later we had a pool party. And the party filled the pool with an assortment of stuff. Some rubber duckies, a big exercise ball, empty beer bottles, blown up condoms. There was even a single goldfish safely sealed in a sandwich bag, which I thought was totally genius. Then at some point my roommate got the idea to tip-toe along the aluminum rail around the pool.
Something happened. One of the panels bowed out, like the pool was flexing or taking a breath, and then it ruptured spilling skinny-dippers and hundreds of gallons of water into the yard. End of party.
What woke us up the next morning was the lawnmower. The landlord had come over. He was cutting the grass—it had sprung up like crazy overnight because of the pool. The pool that was now ruined. My roommate lit a joint—he was always doing that—and then we flipped a coin. Then he went out there to smooth things over while I watched from the kitchen window.
I could see the landlord chewing out my roommate over the roar of the mower, threatening to evict us both, when the first foaming concoction of grass and rank cheese started gumming up at the mower’s edge.
My roommate will always say it was one of those things. First the landlord tried toeing the gunk free. When he pulled back his boot strings of cheesy-grass (or grassy-cheese, or greasy grass cheese, whatever) clung to it. Then the landlord let go of the safety handle.
I remember feeling sick. And the cicadas were buzzing way too loud.
Meanwhile my roommate had corralled the mower at the end of the yard. The vice grips were off. He had it on its back like a bully deserves, pulling fistfuls of glop and goo from its blades.