Steppin’ Out

Posted By on April 5, 2009

“Only One Man Can Make The Difference”

.: Every semester Baylor sponsors a program of concerted community service called Steppin’ Out. Participating student groups, sororities, and fraternities are assigned special projects (e.g., painting a community center, cleaning up a playground, organizing items at a donation center) which they all do on the same day. This semester’s Steppin’ Out was yesterday, and my group was assigned lawn care at a home for mentally disabled people.

.: I arrived at the same time as Oscar, the only other person to show at the designated start time. He spent a few minutes calling other members of the group to remind them, but they had other plans for their Saturday morning (“I’m grading papers,” “I’m asleep and won’t answer my phone,” or “I’m going to New York”). I looked at the papers Oscar handed me and learned the details of our assignment. Supposedly, fifteen people had volunteered. I didn’t even know we had that many people in our group.

.: While Oscar raked the leaves, I decided to eradicate every weed I could find, plus every non-weed that had the bad sense to get in my way. I wasn’t entirely convinced that the weeds were on the whole more unpleasant than the gaping holes left behind by their extirpation. In fact, ever since I was forced into lawn care labor as a child, I never understood the animosity humans harbored towards weeds. Part of the problem is the word “weed” itself which basically means “any undesirable plant.” It makes sense that humans would want to rid their lawns of undesirable plants, but what made the plants undesirable in the first place? I happen to like dandelions; their resilience is nothing short of amazing, and their iconic fruits are just too much fun on a windy day. Nevertheless, these wonderful little organisms are considered a nuisance by most gardeners, so I spent the better part of the morning mercilessly slaughtering them with my bare hands. By afternoon, I was slaughtering them with blistered hands.

.: Shortly after we started, Ryatt arrived and increased our workforce 50%. He was followed by Melissa whose assistance, while appreciated, could have been easily replaced by a $15 wire. At some point, a few unknown students showed up and asked us if we needed anything. I interpreted their question as an offer to help, so I pointed out some sticks that needed gathering and some hedges that needed clipping. They explained that they weren’t there to help with specific tasks; rather, they were assigned by the Steppin’ Out organizers to patrol the various projects underway by our group and others and assist us in ways that let them use the word “assist” without regard to its actual meaning.

.: The rake to person ratio had fallen to 40% with the arrival of Morgan, so Oscar moved to hedge duties. However, the two large hedge clippers provided by the Steppin’ Out organizers suffered from the same affliction: someone had bent one of the blades so that, instead of cutting what was place between them, the shears would cut themselves, creating a small cavity in the metal that would snag the blades every time. The problem was such that, unlike all other problems, applying more force actually made it worse. My solution was an ingenious adaptation of the fight fire with fire approach: I used the blade of one clipper to file down the sides of the cavity on the blade of the other clipper. If the problem resulted from the arrangement of two blades in the first place, then clearly the solution required the use of even more blades.

.: To make the experience of lawn care more enjoyable I turned on my $19,000 stereo system. The fun was short-lived, however, as a neighbor across the street emerged from his garage with an industrial-sized riding lawn mower, overpowering my music with its awesome excess of rotating blades and torque. He finished his lawn in a matter of minutes and, drunk with lawn mowing power, turned his attention to his neighbor’s lawn. One by one he powered through the succession of lawns on his side of the street, eventually escaping from the cul de sac and leaving our sights. With the Road Warrior gone, we could finally listen to my music again.

.: Towards the end of the event several unexpectedly large piles of leaves had been accumulated in the lawn. The two trash bags given by the Steppin’ Out organizers were clearly inadequate for the job, so we called the roving crew of assistants for more. In the meantime I asked one of the neighbors if he could spare us a bag or two. I figured he owed us since, moments before, his dog marked one of the leaf piles as its own.

.: Still waiting for the crew to arrive, Ryatt and I made a snack run on a local gas station. The local in line ahead of us giddily announced his intentions to buy a $50 lotto ticket and nonchalantly mentioned his stint in jail just six months ago, further cementing my opinion that anyone who willingly buys lotto tickets deserves to.

.: We returned bearing bottled water and Gatorade to our comrades. A few minutes later the crew arrived with additional trash bags and a cooler of water, though they neglected to bring cups with which we may drink the water. Right before they left the Road Warrior returned, this time on our side of the street. He motioned for us to step out of the way, and we watched as our leaf piles — painstakingly assembled over the course of hours — were devoured in a matter of minutes by his mower.

.: We made a token effort to finish the job, but seeing a whole afternoon’s worth of work undermined by an overeager neighbor with a (most likely unsolicited) sense of duty towards his community kind of takes the wind out of one’s sails. At least we didn’t have to touch the pile with dog pee in it.

About The Author


Leave a Reply