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Power Washing the Shrubbery

My son and I lead a fairly standard, suburban life. I take him to before-school care and then I go off to work. After work I go and get him and we go home for dinner. He has various after school activities that he attends and I take him around to those, too. On the weekends we try to do something fun, and if the weather is decent we do a bit of yard work. That description could probably cover a large percentage of suburban households with school age kids.

My next door neighbor is retired. When I say he is retired, I mean he is properly retired. He used to work, and now he does not. No second jobs. No going in to the office once in a while. He and his wife have an Airstream trailer and they use it fairly often. His primary hobby, bordering on obsession, is yard maintenance.

My yard is OK. Just OK. Bits of it are kind of nice, and other bits of it are almost feral. I do lawn care because I must. Since it rains 9 months of the year here, and never really gets very cold, the vegetation is lush. As soon as one ray of sunlight strikes my yard in the Spring, the whole yard explodes with growth. Flowers bloom, the grass grows, and this is fine, but the weeds take off, too. Japanese knot weed (a.k.a fake bamboo) crawls under my back fence and spreads like an alien virus. Actual bamboo sends runners out into my yard and grows at an alarming rate. Blackberry vines pop up everywhere, and dandelions seem to spring up by the minute. At one point a couple of weeks ago I pulled every yellow dandelion in my front yard and then went into the house. Two hours later I went back out and there was a new crop.

My neighbor's yard is Per-fect! I don't mean that he grass is mowed and the bushes are trimmed. I mean that there are zero weeds and everything is fertilized, trimmed, and beautiful. He uses a leaf blower and a yard vac to ensure that not a leaf or pine needle is out of place. He thatches, mulches, and irrigates every nook and cranny of his yard expertly. His yard is nicer than any park - even the ones in the yuppy suburbs. He is up at the crack of dawn working in his yard every day. Sometimes a bush in my yard annoys him and he trims it so it does not spoil the view from his window. He washes the street in front of his house to make sure that it is perfect, too. The neighbors call him Mr. Clean.

For me, yard work items are tasks on a prioritized to-do list. Mowing the lawn is higher on the list than weed whacking, but lower than taking my son to the beach to fly a kite. My retirement savings have gone through Black Friday, the Dot Bomb period, and the new depression. My house is losing value by the minute, so no equity there, either. Since the Baby Boomers are poised to suck Social Security dry, it appears that I will be working until I fall over dead, or until I have to go live in a tent under the overpass. I read about one guy that built a shack in the woods in a freeway cloverleaf, so that might work, too.

Today I went home at lunch time and when I pulled up to my house I saw my neighbor power washing the shrubs in front of his house. A lot of things sprang to mind. At first I thought, you know you have too much free time on your hands if you have time to power wash your shrubs, followed closely by - you might be a neat freak if you power wash your shrubs. Then it occurred to me that I might be witnessing a dying breed. Who do I know who is my age or younger who has enough free time on their hands to power wash their shrubs? I can't think of anyone. Is it likely that I will ever be retired while still a) owning a power washer and shrubs, and b) still being physically able to use said power washer on said shrubs? It sure doesn't seem like it. If I do live long enough and have enough money to be retired and still be in possession of shrubs and a power washer, will I want to spend my time making my yard spotless, or will I be inside using my new XBox 2040 to play Halo 20 online with my old codger friends? Is my neighbor one of the last of the crazy old men with perfect yards? He might be, especially since housing experts are saying that the time of single family houses in the suburbs is coming to an end. So power wash away, Mr. Clean. Your obsessive compulsive behavior might actually represent the end of the golden era of perfect suburban lawns.


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