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Mow 

Wednesday, Feb 21 2001
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Illustration by Mike Lee

Seymour Parity couldn’t sleep. His body lay sweating, draining, waiting to be disconnected, but his mind refused to pull the plug. Instead it painted eidetic images across his inner eyelids, patterns meticulously rendered and choreographed, synchronized, as if by some analog mechanism, to the rhythm of his wife’s Valium-enriched snores. Mrs. Parity had a tendency to roll over at regular intervals. Between the rollovers, she breathed in a strict cadence: four-second intake, four-second exhaust. Parity’s brain began to replicate a television-show theme that he did not particularly like, but which had attached itself to his wife’s breathing in such a way that he could no longer separate the two. And having gone so long without sleep, he began to question, seriously, whether Grace Parity might die if he allowed the song to stop. It wasn’t a very interesting song. But it seemed to go with the imagery behind his eyelids: a generic gridwork of young suburban lawns, too many to count, partitioned by beige cinder-block fences, sparsely planted with saplings and L-shape rooftops, dawn. The sun rose, the dew dried. Hundreds of men emerged simultaneously from their garages and began pushing mowers across their congruent green lawns. Now and then a random lawn mower would stall. Its owner would refill the reservoir or clean the spark plug with a rag, a file, a piece of emery cloth, then restart and continue mowing, every movement robotically choreographed to the television song, to his wife’s snoring. Parity watched it all from above. The sun rolled quickly through the afternoon and into dusk; the men stopped, shut down their mowers, wiped their brows with forearms or rags, and rolled their machines back into their hundreds of garages. As the sky thickened and turned black, each living room spilled soft, animated light onto each front lawn, and each house began generating a strong, pure and distinct tone, as if it were a finely tuned, unidentifiable wind instrument playing along with the television song. And then the sun rose and the dew dried and the whole thing began again.

Parity watched this spectacle through 21 complete cycles, three weeks of dedicated lawn care. Then he pushed the pillows back against the wall and sat up in bed. Pushed aside the blanket, scooted to the edge of the bed and into a pair of brown vinyl slippers. He found his cigarettes in the pocket of his flannel robe and, wearing both, quietly padded down the hallway.

Three sons, three doors, two shut. Parity paused at the open door — his eldest son’s room, the door left open for the dog — and thought about waking Steven to talk. Then he thought better and made his way around the corner into the living room, into the recliner by the bay window that faced the front lawn. For a moment, he allowed himself to sink into the Naugahyde; then he sat up, sighed and lit a cigarette. Thinking about the lawns and the television song, about snoring and about Plato the man and Plato the computer-programming language he worked with at the university. Something about the nature of opinions versus knowledge, something he’d been taught in college but only recently, through experience, come to believe. And he stared at the small, dark television screen across the room, at the tiny orange reflection of his cigarette.

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He finished six more cigarettes the same way, until the white curtains began to glow faintly with impending dawn. Parity stood and stretched and figured he’d finally be able to sleep. Heading back down the hallway, he paused before his eldest son’s open door; stood there a moment, observing the dark blobs of his son and his dog.

“Steven?” Parity said at last, timidly clearing his throat. Then, just a little louder, “Steven?”

The blobs shifted. “Dad?” Steven whispered. “What time is it?”

“It’s real late,” Parity replied. “It’s almost morning.”

Steven sat up and turned on his bedside lamp, sending a 75-watt laser beam into his father’s eyes.

“Jesus, that’s bright!”

“Sorry. Is something burning?”

“I was smoking cigarettes in the living room.”

“Oh. Is everything all right?”

“I guess so,” said his father. “I was just — sorry I woke you up — I was . . . I couldn’t sleep, and I was thinking about — and I don’t know if this’ll make sense, exactly — but I was thinking that I’m 46 years old next week — and it’s not as if this is an original thought or anything — but I was thinking that I really do only know two things: I know that right now I’m alive, and I know that someday I’ll be dead. In terms of accountability, you know. In terms of one’s ability to determine the content of knowledge versus the capacity to acquire knowledge. Know what I mean? So everything other than being alive and being dead is either an opinion or a belief. Does that make any sense?”

“No, not really,” Steven replied. “But I’m only 12. Is it all right if we talk about this tomorrow?”

“Oh sure,” said Parity. “I’m sorry I woke you up. I was just . . . sorry. G’night.”

“G’night, Dad.”

Steven turned off the light. His father returned to bed.

At 5 a.m., Grace Parity had ceased her snoring, the sparrows returned to the dogwoods outside the bedroom window, and Seymour Parity lay awake, still, watching his sons — the hundreds of them — mow lawns.

 

The Do-It-Yourself Seymour Parity Multimedia Insomnia-Cure Purée A refreshing late-night treat that’ll lay you out flat in no time Preparation time: 10 minutes

 

Download the following four files:

1. A time-lapse MPEG video of the view from Alex Knowles’ office

2. A WAV of someone snoring

3. A WAV of Frank De Vol’s tennie-tappin’ theme from the hit television situation comedy My Three Sons

4. An MPEG video clip of the Brill Accu 38 cordless electric reel lawn mower — weighing just 36 pounds, the Brill Accu 38 comes with a standard 12-volt motor, a grass catcher, flame-hardened steel blades mounted on sealed ball bearings, and a standard Panasonic lead acid battery that mows for 30 minutes on a full charge — attacking unsuspecting prey.

Open all files in your registered QuickTime Player (unregistered players can’t play simultaneous files) and arrange to taste. Set the snoring, the My Three Sons and the mowing to Loop; set Alex Knowles’ view to Loop Back and Forth; kill the volume on the lawn mower; and select Play All Movies. A safer, more effective sleep aid you’ll not find without a prescription.

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