As this is being written, two men dressed in rubber suits are ripping out the pipes in my faltering, eight-year old leech field. Here’s the long story short—the pipes (called, in this case, infiltrators) were of a faulty design and have begun to fail prematurely all over the county in which I live.
What this means on my end is that I will sit back and do nothing for two days while the new-fangled pipes are removed and replaced with old-fangled (yet highly functional) pipes, which should last until I’m well into my eighties. When that’s all done, I can rake and seed about five thousand square feet of dirt and keep our dog, Milo, off of the area until it can properly be called a lawn. It could be worse, I suppose. I could be one of the guys ripping out the pipes. That’s a little different for me since I’ve often been one of those guys that does dreadful work while people point and say, “Man, I’m glad I’m not doing that.” It’s nice, for once, to be on the outside looking in.
As I watch these guys go about their job, I’m not thinking about how awful it is because I’ve done my share of awful jobs. Some of them boring, some tedious, some downright dangerous but what always got me through them was not thinking about any of those things and focusing on getting the job done the best that I could. Sometimes the only difference between doing something that is outrageously mundane and something that is interesting is simply the attitude applied to the task. Sure, performing spinal surgery is a challenge, but so is planting a tree in rocky soil, mowing a lawn, painting and weeding a garden. Rather than doing our mundane tasks half-assed, wouldn’t it be better to challenge oneself to do them full-assed? Sweeping that garage better than anyone has ever swept a garage before, now there’s a challenge.
Probably the most insightful piece of advice I ever got was from a professional house painter that, upon looking at something I had painted, smiled and said, “You paint like someone who hates painting.” He wasn’t wrong, but he made me think about how I approached painting. The skills to paint a wall aren’t that complex, but a lousy attitude will make the end result look as if it is the most difficult thing in the world. By simply replacing “good enough” with “I’m going to do that better,” things often get a lot more interesting.
A few days later …
Every spring when the grass starts growing, it has to be mowed. All grass does is grow, so it’s an interminable cycle until winter. Everybody else on my street has a sit-down tractor device of some kind, but I like my little John Deere walk-behind mower. It’s a trifle moody, as it can sometimes be a little stubborn to start, but if I tug on the rope long enough, it’ll fire up, and off I go for close to two hours. It’s mindless work, but that’s the challenge.
We have a lot of planting beds and shrubs and trees to mow around and most of the time, I’ll try to cut every single blade of grass. The little mower allows me to maneuver around and get closer than I could ever get on a big machine. Sometimes I’m in a hurry and I’ll slapdash it, but most of the time I’ll try to cut every blade on the acre. It’s not hard, in fact it couldn’t be simpler, but that’s what makes it interesting—to do a simple thing well. Some days, I’ll mow in a geometric pattern, being sure to connect the lines so that if a low flying plane buzzed overhead, people would think the house fell out of the sky and onto a lawn that was cut into a perfect chevron pattern. Other days I might go east to west, which is easier, or I might carry a curve out through the entire lawn. When it’s all done, I can sit back and be proud of what I did—at least for a few days until it has to be done all over again.
After the guys finished up with the septic system on Friday, I had all day Saturday to rake everything out and reseed it. It was a beautiful day, and I was looking forward to doing it. Mrs. G. and I put the original lawn in by hand eight years ago and everybody looked at us as if we had lost our minds. “They have trucks that’ll come out and spray that, you know,” people told me. Sure, if I was driving the truck and doing the spraying it might be fun, but I’m not, so I’d rather seed it and rake it myself.
It didn’t take long to fix what had just been torn up. Maybe three hours start to finish. The sprinklers and hoses are on a splitter and they’re doing all the heavy lifting now, but as I was raking, I thought about someone who has taken another perfectly mundane task and elevated it to something special.
For years, Thomas Gobot has sold beer and snacks during Rochester Red Wings baseball games. I hear he also does the same thing in Buffalo for the Buffalo Bisons and Buffalo Sabers games. What makes him a little different is the rubber Conehead headpiece that he has worn since the 1980s while plying his trade. It’s not just a gimmick anymore, although it certainly is, it’s now a part of the game. People look for Conehead and they buy what he’s selling, which makes him extremely successful at selling beer and snacks at sporting events. The man has the energy of a teenager as he covers his zone on the hottest of days as Conehead, the concession guy.
Is this a job I’d ever want to do? No, not at all, but I can appreciate the heck out of someone who does it well. As I was raking the last few feet of seed into the dirt, there was a moment when I contemplated what it would be like to wear the cone while I was working. As I thought about it a little more, I realized that the neighbors really would think I was nuts, so I finished the job, poured myself a glass of iced coffee and then watched the sprinklers spritz over the dirt. The rhythmic tch-tch-tch-tch sound was oddly satisfying.
In about a month, I’ll cut the fresh grass in a diagonal pattern just to let the new lawn know what to expect from now on, but I’ll probably wear a baseball cap. I think the dog might bark at a Conehead.
Postscript – Sunday, June 15, 2014. The seeded area is now covered with a nice green peach fuzz, one week after it was planted and right on schedule. The rest of the lawn needed to be mowed, but it was such a beautiful day, Mrs. G. and I and our daughter and her fiancé took in a ball game. The home team lost, but that didn’t matter. Not on a gorgeous day like this.