The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor. Camus
The archetypal resemblance between the Grim Reaper’s scythe and your lawnmower, surely it’s no coincidence the Big D carries a yard tool rather than a metal-detector, .357, or pool cue. To explain the particular, start with the general. Take a step back with Gus Sanders, founder of Segmentarianism. During a Peak Experience (aka Satori) he realized the gods made Sisyphus push a boulder because their mower was in the shop. Based on a true story.
Gus Sanders rested his hands on bulbous knees jutting above black socks and gulped for air. With desperate eyes he sized up his abhorrent foe, his Goliath. Its silence, a snide boast of invulnerability, mocked him more than howls of laughter. Unknown muscles in his shoulder and back twitched. He spat and probed for weaknesses. Then the fifty-sixth attack met the same ignominious fate as its predecessors.
He sought sustenance in Hate, which is not a fickle flame contingent on the fuel of man’s misfortunes but a great wind impelling warriors in all ages. His Aussie slouch hat provided scant protection from the jaundiced eye in the heavens. How many conflicts has it beheld, delighted or appalled but never indifferent. That would be intolerable. If it doesn’t care, who does?
Impervious, the start chord awaited, an Excalibur only the salesman could effectively extract from the LawnMaster Easy-Start Deluxe Mulching Mower. Gus shielded his eyes and looked to the horizon for strength, for perspective. The earth, is it not a vast coliseum?
Rivulets of sweat added a shimmering gloss to what he saw, but they didn’t create it. Certainly an electrolyte deficiency played a role, but not as a sufficient cause. When he attempted to stretch, the crackle from his back was disturbing but extraneous to what followed. Not all enigmatic visions can be dismissed as pathologies. The smug little skeptics who deify first principles forget that philosophic fundamentalism is as inbred and ill-kempt as its bucktoothed religious cousin.
Above a Bucky Badger weather-vane on the garage, cumulus clouds morphed into a ghostly figure pushing a mower across a lawn punctured by iridescent dandelions. He dissolved but the grass remained, as if to ridicule and defile the purpose of his fleeting existence. Gus collapsed. “How many hours of my life have I spent cutting the lawn?” he cried, recoiling from the leprous growth surrounding him.
Mentholated smoke wafted through the den where his wife played Mah Jong on the computer amid the sonorous thunder of “Song Sung Blue.” “Why don’t you wait until the sun goes down?”
“Because it will be dark then. We’d need to add a guide dog to the other five.” He tottered to the kitchen and poured a gin-and-tonic sans tonic and found a scratch-pad. “Must have started when I was twelve. That’s an hour each week walking behind a deafening machine, choking on exhaust in the scalding sun. Have to do it at least twenty times a year. Forty years times twenty equals … sweet Jesus. That’s over a month of cutting the lawn non-stop. Look at that segment of my life. Stolen. And I never would have known.”
“Gussy, what are you shouting about? Why don’t we pay one of the neighbor kids to do it?”
“Because cutting the grass isn’t a video game, and we can’t afford the special helmets they need.” He stared at the numbers like a scientist examining a lethal virus through a microscope. “All the evidence is right here. Anyone could have found it. Unless they’re afraid or brainwashed, why haven’t they? Maybe it’s like people stuck in a communist country who have no idea how restricted their lives are.”
He poured another gin-and-tonic sans tonic and looked out the window at the insidious LawnMaster Easy-Start Deluxe Mulching Mower. Its chrome handle extruded from an orange plastic shell: a monstrous, rapacious crustacean waiting to attack him and devour more of his life. “You’ve been sucking up my time. What sane man would consent to being born if he knew his life would involve an entire month of cutting the grass?”
Propelled by the mysterious dynamism animating all beings, the analysis took on a life of its own. During his weekend shifts, Gus ignored college football, Cops, and even the adventures of Mary Weatherworth to begin a Segmentarian Critique. The calculations were simple to perform, but contemplating the sums proved no less daunting than the observation of crime scene photos. Worse than the outrage was the lack of a culprit.
“Shaving averages out to five minutes a day since I was fifteen. If I live to be eighty that’s … Who would consent to being born if he knew he’d have to spend three months shaving?”
“Tossing and turning in bed is at least four hours a week, which comes to … another twelve months. After all these segments are chopped off, what’s left? And if the government isn’t behind this, who is? It’s too organized and systematic to be a coincidence. Has anyone else calculated it? Maybe this is what pushed John Nash over the edge.”
With the weariness of all lonely soldiers of fortune fighting a war of ideas, Gus wishes his LawnMaster Easy-Start Deluxe Mulching Mower had started on the fifty-sixth try that afternoon. Once you start exposing life to the terrifying clarity of Segmentarianism there is no turning back. Amazing how a happenstance brush with an idea can change a man.
“Some day all the grass will look like this. When there’s no one round to cut it, it’ll just grow and grow, all long and messy.”
To remedy the Lawnmower Blues, contemplate things less ephemeral than your absurd chore. You, dream of a shadow, while you change the length of your lawn each week, devoting your fleeting days to glorifications of futility, the cluster of gasses recently nicknamed Jupiter remain chaotic as they were in the Permian. Oblivion is patient; permanence, relative. That even it shall die, this cherub who shone in a wondrous way for billenium, should its mortality bring you comfort, a sense of familial affinity, or despair? If nothing be permanent, then only Nothing is permanent. And ultimately triumphant. There is no Ontological anchor in Heraclitus’ rapids.