I arrived at my office this morning and read a comment from some person I don’t know who suggested I’m a “chubby bitch” with size 44 pants, which is, in part, true. I am chubby, admittedly so. I workout but I also love pizza and things made with flour and butter and eggs, fried or baked, and so goes the struggle of my life. But I’m only a 38 pant, and in some makes I’m a more snug 36, so while this guy with his 2 am comment was clearly mistaken, it is good to know he wasn’t snooping through my closet. If he had been he’d likely see a fantastic collection of white pants and white shorts and blue shirts, both long and short sleeved, XL mostly. But before this comment adjusted my pleasant mood, something better happened.
I was driving down Geneva Street, as I do each and every morning, and a kid driving a lawn tractor caught my attention. His red tractor pulled a small trailer with a push mower and weed whip, and as he turned off of Williams Street into Herb’s, I was flooded with memories of my own adolescence. I didn’t want to be the guy that stopped to chat with a kid and his lawn mower, but I couldn’t help it. I circled the block and pulled up to the pump while he was topping off his two gallon gas can, the only difference between me in 1992 and this kid in 2022 was that my two gallons cost less than $2. I rolled down my window and asked him how many lawns he was mowing each week.
Twelve he said. I asked him how much money he’d make. $500 or so. I asked him how long it took to mow those lawns. A day, maybe a day and a half. I asked him how old he was. Fifteen. I told him to keep up the good work and that when I was his age I mowed lawns in town and drove my lawn tractor to the same gas station. Never mind my tractor was Simplicity orange and his was red, and my gas station was Herb’s and his is, well, Herb’s, the rest is the same. I told him I’d mow lawns on these beautiful summer days, my hands stained green from the morning grass that clogged my mower deck, while my friends were playing on the lake. I said I was certain they made fun of me for how silly I looked crossing Geneva Street with my tractor. I told him to keep up the good work and that he’ll ultimately have the last laugh. He thanked me and called me sir, which made me feel older than I am, and I drove away in a car that might have helped him think that I was right. The nostalgic tears in my eyes were hidden by my sunglasses.
It’s a funny thing to so vividly remember a regular day in your childhood. I used to think older people forgot what things were once like. That they were trapped in a loosening frame of mind where they thought only of the feeble things in front of them. That my grandma thought only of her jello that I had to set close to her right hand. But now I’m certain that the bright days that were our childhoods never fade from our memories. I saw that kid this morning and I saw myself. I thought of the days that I spent mowing lawns with my friend Eric stopping to buy bottles of Sprite and bags of Gardetto’s. When we stood in line at Doc’s to buy our fried egg rolls and how the sweet and sour sauce would make our hands sticky and our white Curry Enterprises t-shirts stained. We were free then, with a lifetime in front of us to make of it what we choose. But Eric died this spring and I think of him every single day and I wonder if there’s a particular reason why he had to die and I’m still alive. I wonder what happened to those fifteen year old kids that drove up and down that old street hoping for glimpse of a girl we both liked. We were curious about what would come next, but the future was never something we could picture. That inability to see what would come next was probably a good thing.
I think about the people who meet me today and think they know who I am. The commenter this morning thinks I’m a chubby bastard. I probably said something about a house that he didn’t like, and so now I play a side part where the credits will roll and it’ll say “CHUBBY BASTARD” next to my name. I see my life today and I cannot help but recognize the immense blessings that have been so undeservingly covering my life. But I don’t really think of myself the way that other people might think of me. I’m not a jerk with white pants and a nice house. I’m not just an okay father or a pretty mediocre husband. I don’t really think of myself that way, and I’m not sure why. When the end of this wonderful life comes and who I was is marked only with a stone on the grass I think it should just read that I was a Kid From The Bay. Because no matter what I spent my life doing, no matter what positive or negative impact I someday leave, I think I’m a lot more like that kid at the gas station this morning than the guy typing at this computer.