Mow-a-dope

When thin strips of chlorophyll defeat the heavily favored human being

The other morning -- and a fine morning it was -- I decided to mow my lawn.

The trouble is, I have a difficult, uncooperative lawn.

The grass in my lawn is long, thin and limp, much like my hair (or like me, as someone reading over my shoulder just pointed out). The blades don't stand brisk and firm, shoulder-to-shoulder, with their fellow blades. Instead, they just lie around -- like my hair and me.

It's not such a bad strategy for my grass, assuming that grass would rather not be cut. When I come striding along with my mower -- long, limp and determined -- my grass pulls the old rope-a-dope. It leans way over, so that my mower delivers only glancing blows.

Understand, there is no other context in which it makes sense to compare me to George Foreman, especially the stunningly athletic Foreman of 1974 who punched himself out thanks to Muhammad Ali's famous strategy. But, like Foreman that night in Zaire, I should be heavily favored against my grass. I'm bigger. I have a reach advantage. Plus -- and this is something Foreman did not possess -- I have a lawn mower.

But on this evening, the outcome was like all my other attempts. It isn't that no grass gets cut. A little does; that's probably what keeps me going. There are always little decoy blades hopping up at me from behind my mower, an old-fashioned non-powered rotary. Yet after several hours of walking back and forth, around and around, making short diagonal surprise forays, covering the same spots repeatedly, my lawn looks terrible. The most obvious failure lies along the paths traced by the wheels of my mower but is certainly not limited to those.

By the time I go in, the only way the lawns appears remotely "cut" is because it's been pushed completely over by my mower, so if you don't look too closely and can't see too well, it kind of looks shorter than it used to.

Some have pointed out that by using the kind of mower I do, it's as if Foreman had come out dressed in a little pink dress and limited his arsenal to arm's-length wrist-slaps.

Okay. I grant you that, for 90 percent of my grass, the worst it receives is a gentle reminder that there exists a man who would, were the universe organized slightly differently, be cutting it now and then.

Nevertheless, I ask: What is my responsibility here? My personal responsibility, that is?

I'm pretty sure a power mower, with its rapidly whirling cutting blades, would work a lot better, even on my lurid, lolling lawn.

I even suspect a good, brisk cutting would galvanize my lawn in ways I can't comprehend, having never witnessed it.

So do I make the leap to a power mower, to fulfill my responsibility to pay attention to details, offering a vigorous lawn as one small contribution to our overall effort to maintain faith that the details are worth it, the effort justified because life has meaning?

Or do I stick to my guns, full of blanks though they may be, and keep the hand mower, a small step in getting us past our fixation on lawns on the way toward something freer, more truly American?

One thing I'll say: I know how my lawn would vote. Keep using the hand mower. Better yet, keep writing and thinking about it and just leave us alone.