The View From Away: Every neighborhood needs its grasshopper

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Autumn is a season of change in Scarborough. The leaves, for instance, are changing, by which I mean falling off all the trees on my block and migrating to my yard.

My block is loaded with trees, which is good. In spring and summer they form a canopy over the street that softens the light. Trees behind the houses obscure the surrounding area. It is quite bucolic for being half a block off a major thoroughfare, like living in that painting of a mill pond your grandma had in her living room, if the stream was asphalt and the mill was an apartment complex at the end of the block (it’s more attractive than I make it sound).

My yard, however, is tree-infested. Tall, gnarly trees loom like The Walking Dead around the property, waiting for us to drop our guard so they can come in and get us. Some would call this fear irrational, a holdover from my childhood theory that the shadow of the tree outside my bedroom window belonged to a giant who was waiting to get me. I say that theory was never disproved, and nobody ever got eaten by a tree monster by being vigilant. Just sayin’.

Aside from the physical threat they may or may not represent, the trees cause other significant problems. We get about seven minutes of sunlight a day, living the rest of our lives in perpetual twilight, like vampires, only instead of eternal youth and hotness, we get mildew and vitamin D deficiency.

We have to make phone calls from a parking lot at the end of the block because the trees have created a black hole of cell reception (a decision was made to go without a land line in this house; it doesn’t matter who made it, and shut up).

The satellite TV installer searched the entire perimeter of our yard, even did a pirouette on our roof searching for a signal. He finally threw in the towel and left without putting up a dish. Apparently satellites cannot see our house, which means we have a better shot at concealing Jason Bourne from the international intelligence community than getting any of his movies on DirecTV.

And now it is autumn, when the leaves make the annual haj from neighboring properties to swirl around the oak in our front yard. Everybody else’s leaves aren’t on the ground long enough to make a positive identification. Mine pile up until shame drives me to a leaf removal guy. He does an excellent job. I pay his fee, plus a little extra for his trouble, and he thanks me graciously, almost concealing the mixture of contempt and pity Mainers feel for someone who would pay another person to rake his leaves. I get the same look in the winter from the snowplow guy. I will always be From Away.

Some would say I’m merely lazy. On one level, they have a point. Theoretically, I could rake my own leaves, but that would be the easy way out. I serve a higher purpose. The fable of the ant and the grasshopper doesn’t work without a grasshopper.

“Once upon a time there were two hard-working ants who saved enough food for the winter. Everybody lived happily ever. The end.” That’s not a fable, it’s a fairy tale. There has to be a frivolous wastrel parents can point at and say, “Don’t be like him;” parents like the ones in the relentlessly functional family across the street.

They practically live in their yard, bagging leaves and cleaning gutters while simultaneously playing touch football and quizzing each other on state capitals or whatever, generally having a better time working than I ever did playing.

Thanks to me, the slightly-better-than-I father does not have to lecture his children to make them appreciate their good fortune. All he has to do is point at my yard. Sometimes, for dramatic effect, I take the dogs out so the neighbors can see two miniature dachshunds visible only by their tails bobbing up and down in a sea of festive fall colors.

“Do you see, kids? Remember that talk we had about the complete breakdown of society?”

“We understand now. That can’t happen to us, can it, Dad?”

“I don’t know, son. First you see one yard like that, then another, and another. If good men do nothing, the next thing you know, everybody is stockpiling canned goods and propane stoves.”

“Stop it! You’re scaring us.”

Yeah, I could rake my leaves. I could clean up my yard. If society didn’t need a grasshopper. But it does. I have chosen to take that hit for all of us.

You’re welcome.

Plus, I’ve got this back thing that kicks up whenever I have a rake in my hand. Or a snow shovel. Or a broom.

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Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, now lives in Scarborough and is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter: @mikelangworthy.