Keep your eyes on the road. Keep your eyes on the road.

I repeat this mantra every time I turn onto my street, willing my eyes to focus above the wheel, straight ahead. I shouldn’t have to do this, but I do. I don’t have the freedom to let my eyes wander freely, lest they fall upon the unsightly sprawl of overgrowth my neighbor calls a yard.

I don’t let myself look, but I know that right this moment his grass stands four inches, minimum, taller than mine. And mine is due for a cut tomorrow. To call it grass is a complement. He has a yard full of weeds.

Click. My engine’s off. I make it into the driveway without looking. It’s for the best. I had to spend hours listening to clients complain about the database deployment and all the ways it didn’t quite go as planned. Things would have gone smoothly if they followed the proper process, but they never do.

“Looks like rain!”

It’s him. I look up to the sight of his feet propped up on the railing of his porch, his seat sagging into an aging lawn chair. I’ve heard his wife tell him to throw that old thing out. He responded by buying her a matching one. That’s just the sort of inconsiderate prick he is.

“Better get to the grass before then,” I say, looking up at the sky. He’s right. Rain’s on its way, but there’s enough of a window to knock out the yard real quick.

He has the nerve to smile and go back to staring at his phone without so much of a glance at his own yard.

“You got gas for your mower?” I ask.

“Yeah, you need some?”

“Nah, mine’s electric, remember?” Cheaper that way. Just plug it into the nearest outlet, and as long as I cut in the right direction, the cord isn’t a problem.

“That’s right.” His eyes go right back to the phone.

I feel my nostrils flare. Look away, get your laptop bag out of the back seat, and go into the house. Coming home requires more than a one mantra.

I like to take a shower immediately after work. Washing the dirt off my body feels like a metaphor that actually works. Today it will have to wait. The grass needs tending before the rain hits, and I’m not so wasteful as to take two showers.

I will have that beer though. It takes at least one to knock the edge off of seeing my neighbor. I pair it with a handful of barbeque chips and head out back.

The mower’s in the shed, where it has sat for the past six days. I plug it into the outlet by the back door, pull the lever that starts the engine, and begin walking in horizontal rows away from the house.

I wish I could say I enjoy mowing the grass. I hate it, really. I hate the smell of grass. I hate the repetition. At least now I no longer have to deal with smoke and fumes.

What gets me out here is the look of a maintained yard. It’s a sight I’ve always loved. People dream of having a home of their own someday. I dreamed of having a yard. Pristine yard after pristine yard is America at its best, and I love my country.

Just not all the people in it.

My neighbor hollers something as I come around the side of the house. My electric motor isn’t as loud as a gas one, but I still need to turn it off to hear what he said. He knows this. He should, anyway.

“Back outside already?” He repeats after I turn the motor off. “I like that about you. I wish I had your drive.”

“All it takes is getting off your butt.” I say back.

He laughs. “I guess when you put it that way.”

And then he doesn’t move. When he’s done laughing, he looks back down at his phone.

“What’s so important anyway?”

He looks up. I motion toward his phone with my eyes.

“Cats,” he says. “Gotta unwind somehow.”

Cats. Cats. You mean to tell me that someone actually does look at cats online? I thought that was a joke.

He’s my age, old enough to remember legitimate ways to kill time, before this age of stilted animations on an infinite loop.

“You do that.” I restart the motor and go back to mowing. After a while, he pulls a banana from somewhere and starts going to town. Then – then – he tosses the peel toward the bushes near the fence that divides our yards. It lands mere inches away.

He always does this. Leaving food to rot out in the open like his yard is a dump. I walk by it once.

Then again.

And again.

I cut off the mower.

I’m standing by the fence.

“Can you not do that?” I ask.


“That!” I say, pointing at the banana.

“What’s the problem?” he asks, like he has no idea what I’m talking about. No idea!

I throw my legs over the fence and walk towards his porch. As I climb the steps, now he stands up.

He starts to speak, and I punch him in the gut.

I don’t mean to break a rib. He doesn’t press charges, but there’s still an investigation. He works in the state legislature, and a story like this manages to, ever so briefly, make cable news.

My neighbor, to his credit, doesn’t give the press much to work with. He’s just that kind of guy. When he’s back home, he says to me he’ll try to throw his goods out into a corner of the yard that I can’t see. That’s his idea of compromise. Admittedly, he doesn’t ask me to do a thing. I offer to cut his grass while he recovers. He says not to worry about it. I insist, but he says his son can handle it.

The grass continues to go over a month between cuts. For the rest of the summer, it’s back to my routine.

Keep your eyes on the road. Keep your eyes on the road.

Half out of guilt, I don’t say a thing.

Then autumn comes. And those leaves.