Anything but average.
As del Volante (1962) by Remedios Varo
On Friday I mowed the grass for an hour while listening to Hop Along’s “Tibetan Pop Stars” on repeat, singing along at the top of my voice, which you couldn’t hear because the lawn mower is incredibly loud when the blades are engaged. I’ve considered using noise canceling headphones but I feel like I need to listen, just in case the motor starts making a fucked up sound that means “I’m about to explode like a dirty bomb just to dice up this worthless mortal on my back who listens to the same song on repeat fifteen times in a row.”
I think of my lawn mower as an unpredictable Southern man, definitely vicious but built like a farmer, sinewy and disastrously hot, aging in an appealing way, like old wood floors or a rusted-out shed on an empty country road, like Harrison Ford in his 50s or Paul Newman in his 70s. My lawn mower doesn’t love me yet, but he will. I’ll find all of his grease points eventually and I’ll pump that bright blue grease in there so expertly that he’ll warm up to the low growl of my voice approaching through the bright slots in the barn door. I’ll locate the fuel filter and verify that it doesn’t need replacing yet just by glancing at it casually, kind of like taking one quick look at your husband while he’s folding clothes and sensing immediately that he’s not stewing on your last conversation, he said he felt a little hurt but he’s not carrying it around with him, he’s thinking about what he wants to eat for lunch instead.
My lawn mower doesn’t stew over my mistakes, either. I forget to put in the clutch the first time I start him up and he makes a stuttering sound like bitch are you serious and then I remember about the clutch and he’s like that’s it girl, you got it now.
The lawn mower mechanic was the same way. I drove down to Pittsboro, which is maybe the most North Carolina-sounding name for a town I can think of, and we stood around in a big old barn together, assessing the health of my disastrously hot grass-slaying lover. Over the phone, I’d asked the mechanic if the user manual was just a useless pile of legal protections or if I actually had to find thirty-some grease points and shove some grease in there every few months. He said that the manual was for real and it would behoove me to purchase a grease gun and some grease and get at it. Then he invited me to come on down to Pittsboro and he’d show me how to treat my new lover to the most gentle and attentive ministrations possible.
So I drove down and met the mechanic, who looked a little different than I expected. He was maybe ten years younger than me, sort of scruffy and soft-ish but with a mathematician’s core personality, a love of technical details and mechanical mysteries and jobs that necessitate standing around in big old barns with oil and grease on your hands instead of talking to dull office types. His brother, who is his partner in the business but had been described to me over the phone as being less involved in customer relations, emerged from a trailer on the property looking smudgy and gaunt with a wolfish aspect, like imagine a charismatic villain with his own fiefdom from The Walking Dead, and then imagine his sinister-looking right-hand man, way more handsome and definitely fresh from prison but only because his dirtbag friend Kyle, who is a fucking idiot, had a scheme and fucked it up and blamed him for all of it. He was completely innocent, but because he has a textbook “convict look,” he was heavily recruited by the dogged central casting agents employed by the local police department.
This guy would never explain all of that to you, though. You could buy him multiple drinks and he still wouldn’t elaborate on his crimes or declare his innocence. Even if he found out that you graduated high school with Kyle, his idiot friend, he’d only raise one eyebrow slightly and say, “Kyle Turner? I know that guy.” And that would be it.
I like that kind of dignity when I see it, so naturally I decided to win him over with my countless charms. Nope, nope, don’t you roll your eyes at me. I fucking grew up here, dude, and when I get a hint of BRAINS and HUMOR and MISFIT inside a grease-smudged motherfucker, I’ve pretty much already won.
There was also a professorial guy in his 60s there, kind of nerdy, also covered in black grease, completely 100% out of place and a total surprise, but I paid less attention to him because a 60-something professor who likes motors better than people is just such a laughably easy mark for me that he’s hardly worth my effort. I mean there is no man fitting that description on the face of the earth who wouldn’t find the deeply unstable and self-loathing forest fire of my personality appealing. So that guy was less of a main character and more of an extra on set meant to silently cheer on each of my masterful maneuvers and encourage my absolutely pointless charm offensive at large.
Now we’ve come pretty far afield from our focus on the protagonist of this story, my lawn mower lover and his seemingly never-ending needs and demands. The point is, I stood around in the dark barn and listened and watched and paid attention and maybe I cracked one too many jokes, but the upshot was that I learned a few things as well as I could while mostly focusing on trying to seem like the best owner of a lawn mower who ever walked the face of the planet and also the most agreeable and dangerously foxy human person anywhere.
Is it always my primary goal to assert my foxiness, in any given situation, at the cost of gaining knowledge or forging real connections with the people involved? The answer is no, not necessarily! But I had driven all the way down to Pittsboro in my excellent farmer pants and my extremely thin long sleeved t-shirt and my impeccable muddy farmer boots, which I’d copied from the expert gardener who briefly advised me on how to manage my garden until she decided the whole project seemed impossible and I seemed naïve and annoying (guilty as charged) and she ghosted me forever. In fact, I had shown up to the mechanic’s country lot on this fine fall day in order to reassure myself that even though I was naïve and annoying, I was open to learning new things, and I could even set my big-city-writer-lady arrogance aside enough to figure out where all the grease points were because there really are dozens of them and the diagram in the user manual is absolutely illegible.
There were too many grease points, in fact, to locate them all on the spot even with three grown men gathered in tightly, willing to help for reasons I like to think are related to the fact that my suspiciously enthusiastic and self-immolating personality was a curiosity they simply could not resist. The gaunt brother started out skeptical but he almost immediately caught a whiff of something fucked up in the air and soon he was cracking a smile and fixing me with a look like what in the fuck are you about, which was exactly what I wanted to happen.
So I managed to handle a few of the grease points with the grease gun I’d purchased on my way down there, and I wasn’t all that great at it but the mechanic said it was good that I was at least interested in my lawn mower because some people just foist their mowers on other people without expressing the tiniest bit of curiosity about their mower’s innermost needs and secret desires. (I shook my head at this like those careless, bad people!) And then they pick up their mowers and they don’t even notice how much more relaxed and happy they look because someone has actually been showing them some sweetness and affection for a change! (Ouch, that’s so unfair! I tried to say using only my giant adorable lady-cat eyeballs.) And then they work their mowers into the ground all over again without expressing the least bit of gratitude or delight!
Determined to distinguish myself from these ingrates, I asked him if I needed to let the mower idle a little after it had been doing its thing for a few hours. Because I never did that, but it seemed like my neighbor did, based on what I’d been hearing from the lot next door.
“You just ride it hard and then bam, turn it off?” he asked, incredulously.
“Yeah,” I said, starting to smile. (I love being completely wrong about things, it’s exciting!)
“No, you don’t do that,” he said. “You have to let it idle for a while.”
“Why? What does that do?” I asked.
The gaunt brother and the professor exchanged a look as the mechanic took a deep breath like Jesus, where do I start? But that didn’t fool me, because I know full well that it’s fun to meet a normally-arrogant city stranger who actually likes being wrong and also likes to learn what she’s doing wrong from three guys who spend most of their day in a big barn thinking about the one thing this reasonably smart and, let’s just admit it, smoking hot stranger doesn’t know shit about.
Writing this is going to make it hard to go back down to Pittsboro. I wouldn’t put it past the main guy to have more than a glancing familiarity with the woolier, weedier corners of the internet where I lurk in my stubborn awfulness. But moving to a Southern town is kind of like a slow-motion coming out party for a person like me no matter what I do. I’m gradually coming into focus, becoming less pixelated to the people around me. They’re starting to realize exactly what they’re dealing with, and let me tell you what, *some* of them do not seem all that impressed anymore, and that’s exactly how nature wants it to be.
That said, the people here are far more aberrant than I expected. Lots of interesting people are hiding out in big, dark barns and farms and restaurant kitchens and clubs and even faculty lounges and hospitals. This place is filthy with smart freaks of all ages, and also a few of your more basic varietals of blowhard and hipster and drunk and drunken hipster blowhard.
Anyway, the wolfish brother smiled and drew closer and closer as I insulted myself aggressively and cheerfully (but genuinely, of course, I don’t say shit I don’t mean, do you even know me at all?) and by the time I left, they all seemed happy with how the morning had unfolded. As I was leaving, I thanked them repeatedly until it got a little awkward, because that’s just how I do it.
I’m sure they’ve forgotten about me by now, but I still feel pretty confident that I could drink beers with those guys any day of the week and we’d have a good time and I’d probably learn a lot about a million other things beyond the basics of combustion engines. I wouldn’t talk too much, either. I’d shut the fuck up and really learn. Because it’s relaxing to hang out with people who are unfamiliar to you, once you’ve snagged them with your curious mind and of course your perfect ass, which is already controlling their minds whether they know it or not.
Ho hum! Just another day in the life! The important thing is that I learned more about my lawn mower lover, who is so dear to me. We only met last August, so our love is pretty new. It was such a surprise, too, pure kismet! After we closed the deal on the house and the yard (it’s more than a yard, will explain later) we met with the owner and she told us that she was giving us her very expensive commercial lawnmower, which she had bought used, because it was simply unthinkable that we would cut the perfect grass without that perfect machine.
I was grateful but also, what the fuck was she actually talking about?
Even so, I knew I should be the one to ride it first. And once I did? I understood. It’s a thrillingly effective machine — so much power but so limber, so attuned to the slightest gesture. It sucks up all of the cut grass into a big bin that sits behind you as you mow, and occasionally you dump out the grass onto the compost pile (which is enormous btw), and that’s satisfying to do, also. It requires exertion, which is good because it makes you feel macho.
In the fall, my fussy, insatiable lover sucks all the leaves off the grass in addition to all of the cut grass, so I never have to rake the lawn, plus the lawn looks roughly a million times better than it would if I had raked it by hand (so primitive) and then mowed it with a normal piece of shit mower that spits cut grass all over the place like a complete savage.
Now I do realize that it’s not that great to be growing vast swaths of grass in your yard. It’s also not great to suck all of the leaves off your grass constantly. And I’ve been informed that it’s impossibly bad for the environment to use a gas-powered lawn mower. It’s far worse than a car. I like to tell myself that at least I’m not watering anything in the middle of a desert now. There is no watering at all on my property, zero irrigation, because we live in what is essentially a tropical rain forest. I’ve also got my eyes on a battery-operated riding mower.
BUT! There is no way in hell that battery mower isn’t going to be a huge disappointment. Like imagine you’re dating Laird Hamilton and he dumps you out of the blue and you have to start fucking, I don’t know, Tobey Maguire. (No offense, Tobey.) You’re going to be thinking about Laird the whole time.
So until my lawn mower lover’s ass falls out on the grass, hopefully without exploding like a dirty bomb first, I’m going to treat him well and ride him in impeccably straight lines across the yard while listening to the same song over and over and over again, singing at the top of my lungs
NOBODY DESERVES YOU THE WAY THAT I DO
NOOOOOO BODY DESERVES YOU THE WAY… THAT I DO.
Once Bill and my brother finished setting up the trampoline, which is why I was cutting the grass in the first place, I turned “Tibetan Pop Stars” on repeat on my little speaker and set it on the lawn. This is the sort of nonsense you can get up to when you live in the country. Then I jumped on the trampoline and did toe touches over and over again, flying through the air while singing:
My love is average.
I obey an average law.
I love that line so much. Because no matter how amazing you are, you’re really just average: your thoughts are average, your needs are average, your love is average.
And the truth is, no one really cares that much about what you are or even whether or not your perfect ass is controlling their brains like the goddamn wizard of Oz from behind the curtain of your excellent farmer pants. You can tell yourself stories but most encounters, even the ones with a good kind of energy that immediately draws you in, are wickedly brief and fleeting. Most people just aren’t paying that much attention to each other. I mean, look, part of the appeal of men who spend their days in dark barns is that when you show up, they pay some fucking attention. You are a novelty item. But the truth is, you could present most people with a perfect machine, give it to them for free, tell them that you just want them to enjoy it, hint that they deserve it more than anyone else does, and they’d hardly even wake up out of their usual unseeing stupor.
That’s the despair of being alive, isn’t it? People just aren’t that curious about your innermost needs and secret desires. You have to foist it on them. You have to repeat yourself. You have to keep showing up and talking about what you love the most. You have to demonstrate your willingness to be wrong, repeatedly. And most of all, you have to know your own power. You have to keep reminding yourself of everything you are and everything you deserve.
And when you get exactly what you wanted? You have to say thank you and be a little loud about it. You might even have to make it awkward, just so you know they heard you, and they felt it, and it’s real.
Last night Bill and I were waiting to eat at a restaurant with the kids and it was just so average, the whole scene was just so middle American and so regular, kids running around on the sidewalk in the June humidity, parents milling about and mumbling about regular things, cumulus clouds forming in the north. I think I had an aversion to average things for a while there in Los Angeles, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, but here in North Carolina being average feels pretty good to me.
Then Bill said the weather is such a dramatic part of life here, and I said yeah I know, I’ve been telling you that for sixteen years now, and he said yeah and also the clouds change constantly, I had no idea clouds could be so mesmerizing, and I said yes exactly, that’s why I never shut up about it and he said I know but the air is also part of the weather, it changes all the time, and I said yes, this is what I’ve said to you so many times, the air feels different from day to day, it embraces you or touches you or smothers you. And he said yes I know I’m saying I finally get it now, and I love it.
And I said I love it, too. I love it so much that it’s overwhelming sometimes, how good it feels to be embraced and touched and smothered. It feels so good to be home again.