Twice a week, my neighbor straps a gas-powered leaf blower onto her back and sets out to rid the neighborhood of its pervasive tranquility. Wearing headphones that look like Calphalon saucepans, she patrols her property at a rate of 70 decibels per 25 feet. When she passes between our houses, the window over my desk shivers and my dog hides in the bathroom; sometimes I think my molars will shake loose from the noise.
We visited briefly one morning, as I marveled at the straight line she'd created between our two houses. My lawn looked like the 'before' photo in an acne cream ad. "You ought to get one of these," she shouted over the idling machine. The backpack reverberated on her body like a jack-hammer. "I can have my whole yard clean in under an hour." Clean? Yards were supposed to be clean? Suddenly she revved up the engine, assumed a fighting stance and obliterated a pile of tree droppings as if fending off an advance of wild boars. "Just make sure you get one that's labeled 'California Compliant,'" she yelled. "They're quieter."
The suburbs are infested with leaf blowers. Every lawn care company owns them. Clusters of men armed with variable-speed backpacks and cotton in their ears march across the smallest squares of grass, blowing each blade clean of the dangerous infiltration of insidious pests known as leaves. And it's not just leaves. People use leaf blowers to clean out gutters and dislodge wasps' nests from corners and eaves. I saw one guy using a leaf blower to inflate a giant Halloween pumpkin (this was unsuccessful). The noise abates only when the land freezes. No leaves means no leaf blowers. That's almost reason to love winter.
How did this happen? When did it become necessary to clear the land of all natural elements? Is there some harm in allowing a leaf or twig to remain where it lands, in situ? For some reason, people cannot tolerate leaves lying quietly on the lawn, sidewalk or stoop? And, whatever happened to the rake? What could be more relaxing than the swish swish sound of a rake against the ground? As kids we raked leaves into a massive heap and then tossed our youngest sibling into the pile before anyone had a chance to sift out the thorns and sharps. Such fun! Remember the sound of leaves crunching under your shoes as you walked?
One Saturday morning, when my kids were small, I was awakened before eight to the thunder of leaf blowers. I threw on my robe and stormed out to the street where a lawn care truck was parked half way down the block. I called the phone number printed on the door.
"Your men are standing in the street with all their blowers blowing," I screeched. "It's not even eight in the morning. It's a Saturday for the love of God!" I wanted to tell him that I had small children in the house, that we never got to sleep late, that a single noise would wake the baby, but I didn't get the chance. He too quickly apologized and said: "The homeowner insisted we service the lawn today. Her mother in law is coming..."
Leaf blowers will not sputter out unless something truly ugly happens. Thanks to an angry, leaf blower-wielding man in Memphis, who purposefully sprayed a mound of debris directly at a woman, clogging her nose and mucking up her car, there is a lawsuit! A trial date is set. If the jury finds that the leaf blower in question was, as stated, used as an assault weapon things may change indeed. I hope she wins. In fact, I think I'm going to send her a "You Go Girl" card.