Johnny America




On Sat­ur­day morn­ings the lawns are green and short, but men mow them any­way. They sit in break­fast nooks and on porch­es, or clean up their garages, or sweep their side­walks know­ing they will on­ly have to sweep them lat­er when grass clip­pings are dust­ed across the sur­face. Each man plays a wait­ing game; it’s nine in the morn­ing and a pane of si­lence caps the neigh­bor­hood. Start­ing the mow­er too ear­ly would be dis­cour­te­ous. Start­ing the mow­er too late means a morn­ing of wives ask­ing, “when will you be done with the grass?”

Frank Can­ton starts his mow­er first, as he does most Sat­ur­days be­cause he does­n’t care if any­one is asleep at nine o’­clock; if they are, they are lazy pricks and need to get up and get their shit to­geth­er. He’s push­ing eighty, and has half a colon. He gave the oth­er half to can­cer, as if bar­ter­ing for a few more years. He mows in a square pat­tern, but al­ways fin­ish­es mow­ing in a cir­cu­lar pat­tern be­cause he rounds the turns, dri­ving slow­ly, tak­ing his time be­cause there’s not an­oth­er god damned thing to do around the house when you’re eighty and don’t work and the wife is dead and the god damned kids don’t both­er com­ing around any­more. They call and tell him things like the news­peo­ple on CNN, re­port­ing things, up­dat­ing things, and their sig­noff is “I love you, dad,” and he knows they do but in a dif­fer­ent way than it used to be when he sat on the same mow­er, a Mur­ray with a fad­ed red chas­sis, beer in his right hand with Tim steer­ing be­tween his legs. He dri­ves and turns and thinks as the longer grass evap­o­rates, giv­ing way to the blade. He stares straight ahead. The grass cuts it­self, the du­ty a re­flex, and he in­stead counts down the days to Thanks­giv­ing when they’ll all be home, even though it’s just now Au­gust. He thinks that af­ter the grass, he will read the rest of the news­pa­per and turn on CNN and drink cof­fee dur­ing a hot af­ter­noon, maybe watch some west­erns, and go to bed ear­ly, around six, be­cause he’s bored, and then he’ll wake up at three and take a dump and pray to God that there is­n’t any blood in the toi­let. There were some spots two days ago, as if can­cer were telling him, I’ll be back soon, Frank, for the rest of you, and if can­cer wants these old and bro­ken parts, fuck can­cer, the joke’s on can­cer, and can­cer can take a mid­dle fin­ger with all the rest.

Bruce Lan­g­ley’s lawn is most­ly Bermu­da grass, twist­ing and turn­ing un­der­neath the soil, curv­ing around con­crete and stone, around roots and holes, pop­ping up in any spot of dirt on the lawn. Bright green and waxy, cray­on-like, shin­ing in the heat, Bruce is thir­ty and cuts his grass with ear­buds stuffed in­to the sides of his head and an iPod tucked in­to the waist­band of his shorts. He does­n’t fin­ish any of the songs; there are over two-thou­sand songs on the iPod, and the po­ten­tial of the un­played thou­sands al­ways trumps the qual­i­ty of the song in his ears. He flips through songs with his thumb, nev­er fin­ish­ing any­thing, afraid to hear him­self think be­cause when he’s by him­self and all is qui­et, he tells him­self the truth.

Marc Craw­ford has a date tonight. If he cuts the grass, Mom’s go­ing to let him bor­row the car. He has the mow­er in high gear, tak­ing wide turns, miss­ing stripes he has to go back and hit be­cause Mom will def­i­nite­ly no­tice. She would no­tice a fin­ger­print on the cof­fee ta­ble or a crooked pic­ture, just get drawn to dis­or­der the way a cats ears perk up at the howl of a dog, so he’s got to hur­ry to feel like hur­ry­ing but still has to go back and make sure things are done right or she’ll get pissed and pull the car keys on him. Dana’s the date tonight; she’s old­er, go­ing to be a se­nior at Collins U. next year and she’s juicy in all the right places, a re­al knock­out. He goes through it, un­spool­ing the night in the way that most ex­cites him:the ex­cite­ment of a date is pos­si­bil­i­ty, not the date it­self, which usu­al­ly does­n’t live up to his ex­pec­ta­tions. Even if he does get laid, those hon­est mo­ments set­tle in like fog; she’s easy, she’s not the one, all the guys must get her this easy, I’m go­ing to have to go wash the stain out of the back­seat of Mom’s car now. But tonight is dif­fer­ent be­cause it has­n’t hap­pened yet. Tonight, she’ll laugh at his jokes dur­ing din­ner. She’ll have a drink be­cause she does­n’t care if she los­es her in­hi­bi­tions around him. They’ll touch legs, fin­gers, hands dur­ing the movie; a slow kiss will un­fold on her porch, turn­ing in­to a wild­fire of tongues and teeth, but he’ll stop short of go­ing any fur­ther, even though she’ll want to. He’ll dri­ve away, park down the block, then walk back and leave a rose on her win­dowsill. He’ll text her cell­phone and tell her to open her win­dow: she’ll open it, ex­pect­ing to see him, but will see the rose in­stead. She will text him back and he will text her back and even­tu­al­ly, she’ll show up at his win­dow, still in her night­clothes: flan­nel jam­my pants, a worn tee shirt, and she’ll have a bra un­der­neath, for sure:and she’ll climb in through his win­dow. Her skin will be hot un­der­neath those flan­nel pants, and with just one flick of the fin­ger, they’ll fall away en­tire­ly, and just when the good porno stuff is re­al­ly about to start, Mar­c’s park­ing the lawn­mow­er with a hard-on he’ll have to drain in the shower.

Alan Finn is one of the dozen or so men think­ing about the one time they slipped up and cheat­ed on their wives. About half of them are guilty about it, and lash them­selves with mem­o­ries while they mow. Alan is no dif­fer­ent. He thinks about the stub­ble on the wom­an’s legs, and can’t re­mem­ber her face or her name but re­mem­bers the back of her head, the greasy feel of her hair against his palm and how she spread her legs in the back of his pick­up truck say­ing, “If I knew we were go­ing to do this tonight, I would have shaved my legs,” and he does­n’t last long be­cause it’s so wrong, so down­right fuck­ing wrong and naughty no man can stand up to the heat of it. He pulls out and ejac­u­lates on the long grass of the ditch of a coun­try road, al­ready wet with the dew of that time that is nei­ther night nor morn­ing, and he re­grets it right away and tells her he loves his wife and she says she’s no home-wreck­er and they don’t speak again. All of them, even the guilty ones, get horny re­call­ing their af­fairs. All of them oc­ca­sion­al­ly mas­tur­bate to them. None of them have told their wives, and feel there is some­thing no­ble about tak­ing this se­cret to the grave, and promise God and them­selves that it will nev­er hap­pen again, that this was a one-time on­ly mis­take and it’s out of their sys­tems and they love their wives. About half of them will break that promise.

Jim­my Pugh cares about his lawn, and takes care­ful mea­sures to pun­ish dan­de­lions, ground ivy, and any­thing else that com­pro­mis­es its pu­ri­ty, but that god-damned fuck­ing cock­suck­er Bruce Lan­g­ley has that fuck­ing cock­suck­ing Bermu­da grass that is in­vad­ing his Ken­tucky Blue. Bermu­da is a weed, not a grass, and once it’s there, it’s there for­ev­er, like a se­cret or love or a mem­o­ry. On­ly one sure way to get rid of Bermu­da: pave the lawn. He mows his grass star­ing care­ful­ly, mon­i­tor­ing for weed ac­tiv­i­ty, hat­ing Bruce, think­ing of putting cop­per nails in Bruce’s trees to kill them off and cause that fuck­er some heartache.

Shaun Kim­ble cuts the grass and smiles a lot. He waves at neigh­bors and is al­ways outside:washing his car, tak­ing care of his lawn, help­ing el­der­ly neigh­bors with er­rands. He has his shirt off on many af­ter­noons, in­clud­ing this one. When the high school is out at 3:15, he is usu­al­ly out­side tak­ing out the trash or sweep­ing his dri­ve­way, with­out his shirt on, and lots of girls honk. On Sat­ur­days he mows and thinks about those girls, about them mov­ing in with him and Mis­sy Samp­son, who is buried in his base­ment be­cause she’s a tease and need­ed to be punished.

Don Pe­ter­son has a Snap­per hy­dro­sta­t­ic lawn­mow­er with a six­ty two inch deck. He can mow his postage stamp of a lawn in eight min­utes: no shit, eight min­utes. He’ll tell you as much while he’s buy­ing shot­gun shells and beef jerky and pay­ing for diesel fu­el at the lo­cal Shell sta­tion; these pur­chas­es fi­nanced by the many lawns he mows with his ten thou­sand dol­lar mow­er. He’s se­mi-re­tired, which means he re­tired and it was a mis­take and now he’s al­most broke and mows the grass to keep things afloat, and what self-re­spect­ing man is go­ing to cut lawns with­out a lawn­mow­er that costs more than the cars in the dri­ve­ways of the places he cuts. He spends al­most thir­ty hours a week cut­ting lawns, with a red head­set to keep out the noise and yel­low-tint­ed safe­ty glass­es. In this co­coon, he wish­es he was still out at the in­sur­ance of­fice, wear­ing a tie to work, and still earn­ing enough to not wor­ry about the util­i­ty bill. He won­ders how to calm his wife down; she is think­ing about go­ing back to work at the age of six­ty-five, at the bank, to sup­ple­ment their dwin­dling in­come. He tells him­self over some lawns that he can cut more grass, make more mon­ey, maybe start a job search him­self. Over oth­er lawns he tells him­self that at 300 pounds, he is­n’t healthy and be­ing de­pressed on­ly makes him eat more things that make him need more pills. The first bill he pays each month is his life in­sur­ance pol­i­cy. He thinks about how com­fy she’ll be when he’s gone, and search­es his chest in his mind for ticks and pains. He runs a lit­tle sta­tus re­port, al­most ex­pect­ing the big one to come and stop his heart. Over some lawns he wants to live. Oth­er lawns he wants the big one to hit. When there are no lawns left, he show­ers and watch­es tele­vi­sion while his wife reads in the oth­er room. She can’t even look at him, so he goes in­to the kitchen to put to­geth­er a fried egg sand­wich and ac­ci­den­tal­ly throw away some of his heart medication.

El­liot Samp­son cuts the grass and miss­es his daugh­ter, won­der­ing if maybe she re­al­ly did run away for good. He waves to Shaun Kim­ble, who’s a nice guy and al­ways of­fers to help him with er­rands. Once, El­liot re­moved the trees in his front yard. He scat­tered seed on the two cir­cles of dirt, and while he was in­side get­ting an iced tea, Shaun came over and was scat­ter­ing straw over the seed. He had some ex­tra straw, he said, and asked about Mis­sy. He asked if El­liot was do­ing okay with every­thing, if she would re­al­ly run away. He’d al­ways liked Mis­sy, he said. El­liot cuts the grass, and be­hind his sun­glass­es, keeps catch­ing Shaun look­ing at him. Maybe he’s a fag like that Miller boy down the street, but still, he’s a damn nice guy and must keep that fag stuff to himself.

Night falls, and pock­ets of cool­ness hov­er over the lawns. The grass bleeds a sweet scent in­to the air, and crick­ets hum their tune as land­scape lights be­gin to pop on. Oc­ca­sion­al­ly, a pair of head­lights will carve down the street. Most men think these head­lights are trav­el­ing too fast, there’s kids around, what the fuck are they think­ing? Most men go to bed and sleep like rocks, er­rands hav­ing drained their bod­ies of en­er­gy, and the med­i­ta­tion of yard­work hav­ing se­dat­ed the thoughts they will car­ry un­til they die.

Some men go to bed, and lay awake, their win­dows open to save mon­ey on util­i­ty bills, their wives ask­ing them, are you awake? Men ig­nore this ques­tion. Of course they are asleep, not keen for talk­ing, and she does­n’t want to hear it anyway.

The next morn­ing, Frank Can­ton’s body will be dis­cov­ered. His well-at­tend­ed wake will be on Wednes­day. His fu­ner­al will be on Thurs­day. On Sat­ur­day, garage doors will rise in near-uni­son, and the neigh­bor­hood will fill with the sound of en­gines and blades, the scream of the town that no one seems to hear.

Filed under Fiction on July 29th, 2009

Care to Share?

Reader Comments

debbie ketteman wrote:

I love how I can pic­ture each per­son from the first sen­tence on. That is what is most ap­peal­ing to me about your sto­ries Fred. I love how they make a movie in my head and I am on the street where they live.

Consider posting a note of comment on this item:


Previous Post


Next Post


Join our Irregular Mailing List

For very occasional ramblings, word about new print ephemera, and of course exciting investment opportunities.