Charlie, my next door neighbor, sits in a lawn chair on his driveway each morning when Manyu and I return from our walk with Jack. If I am holding Jack’s leash, I hand it to my wife and join Charlie for a cup of coffee. He has been using a walker ever since he had his vertebrae fused, so as far as I know, his morning respite in the driveway is the only time he gets outside.
Three weeks ago, while both of us were sitting in the driveway, we watched a delivery man mishandle an electric wheelchair being delivered to Franz. Franz is Charlie’s next door neighbor on the side opposite me. The wheeled base of the chair detached from the seat and fell off the truck. The guy jammed everything back together and rolled it into the house as if nothing had happened. Apparently the chair still works, as now Franz motors over most mornings to join us. He wheels down his own driveway, cruises along the street for sixty feet, and then rolls up Charlie’s driveway to where Charlie and I sit. Three old men camp out in Charlie’s driveway daily from 10am to about 11; one with a walker, one with an electric wheelchair, and one who stopped jogging because his knees are bad. One of my favorite movies as a kid was Disney’s Those Calloways. I think back to two of the main characters from that movie and realize I’ve gone from living like rugged outdoorsman Brian Keith to mirroring clownish Ed Wynn who tells shaggy dog stories from a rocking chair outside the general store.
Last Friday’s topic of conversation among the driveway trio was the condition of my yard. Charlie and Franz pretended I was not sitting alongside them as they wondered aloud why I’d spent the previous three afternoons working on my lawn when I’ve never done much more than mow it for the past twenty years. I explained that it was a rescue mission. Four households on our block lessen their water consumption by not watering their lawns. During the dry spell in June, the turf of all four non-waterers went dormant – but as of late July, only mine has yet recover. Hoping to avoid an entire reseeding, I pulled the most obvious weeds out of the brown grass and began to water. Once I slipped into landscaping mode, I trimmed bushes, removed weeds from the cracks in the sidewalk, and edged the lawn where it runs along the driveway. I won’t say it was a complete waste of time, but detail work does not do much to beautify a yard when the grass looks dead.
Talking with Franz has been an education. Franz’s last name is Schubert, and the street one block over is named after his family. Seventy years ago Franz’s mom and dad were the first people in La Crosse to move north of Main Street and east of Losey Boulevard. According to Franz, no one at that time wanted to live here because it was too close to the railroad tracks. Today the neighborhood is one of the most sought after in the city, even though the endless stream of rail tank cars coming out of the oil fields of North Dakota make the train tracks noisier and more annoying than ever.