The Sunday View, 2007
My neighbor is a retired admiral. When we first moved here and I learned that we would be sharing a dock with a retired admiral, I feared that life might turn into one long exercise in white glove inspections, discourses on “this man’s navy” and lectures on marlinspike seamanship.
Fortunately, none of that happened. The admiral and his wife couldn’t be nicer or more relaxed and thoughtful neighbors. If there's one thing, though, you can count on when dealing with retired military officers, it's a propensity for neatness and order. A career in the military, especially at the top brass level, breeds respect for the formality of fixed social structure.
The people in our neighborhood look out for each other. We're far enough away from each other to respect each other's space. But we're also clustered on a little neck of land that sticks out into a river and that compels a certain amount of shared journey. When the river rises or trees fall or someone gets sick, we’re there for each other.
When we go on vacation, we look out for each other’s yards and pets. That’s how I learned that the admiral and I have different attitudes about cutting grass. He doesn’t care for yard work. He cuts his grass close to the ground so that he doesn't have to cut it often. When things are dry the result can be a dust bowl. His wife’s from Oklahoma, though, so maybe she’s used to that.
I, on the other hand, let my grass grow longer. Whenever we go out of town I make a point of mowing the lawn just before we leave so that the admiral won’t feel the need to come over and mow it. He continues to offer to cut it whenever I’m away. I always politely decline.
One summer when we were away for a couple of weeks during a drought, the admiral couldn’t leave it alone. He brought his lawn mower over and, with the best of intentions, scalped the lawn. When we got home the lawn was brown. It wouldn’t have surprised me if a few tumbleweeds had blown by. I’d never risk insulting the admiral by asking him to leave my lawn alone. But this has become one of those minor domestic quandaries like a noisy cat, an invasive plant or a troublesome tree limb that I just couldn’t figure out.
It turns out the design of our yard might have taken care of this problem for me. I was recently standing out in the yard talking to the admiral. His yard is all straight lines and right angles. He was commenting about how the layout of our yard makes it difficult to mow the lawn in a series of efficient straight line passes. “I don’t know how you do it,” he observed with amazement. “You’ve got every kind of curve there is out there in your yard.” He was still muttering about the curves as he wandered back through a break in the hedge to his own yard.