Wait ‘Till I See
I’m in eighth grade again so in less than a year I’ll be fifteen. I can get my learner’s permit and ride a motorcycle but I need to do something to make this happen. This is really important. I don’t know anyone with a motorcycle and I’ve never ridden on one but I’ve looked at magazines and done a lot of research. I know about Harley and Davidson and how they made a motorcycle. I have a lot of respect for that but I’m not the inventive type. I might be the driving type, though. I think about cars and motorcycles almost as much as I think about guns. More, even, now that I’m older.
Danny’s dad has a rider mower and that gives me an idea. When my dad comes home, he’s in a good mood so I tell him, “I want a motorcycle and I know you’re not going to buy me one. I want to earn my motorcycle so I want to start mowing lawns. I need a lawnmower. Lawn businesses have rider mowers and I need one if I’m going to mow lawns. We could use it for our own lawn.” This is the most I’ve ever said to him all at once like that. It all came out, just like that. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to say. I hate having to try to convince my dad, who doesn’t care about anything interesting, that something’s interesting.
My dad says nothing and walks away, probably to take another nap. We have a fairly large lawn, like a double lot lawn, and it’s a lot of work to mow by hand. I have to do it and I don’t do it right. I sweat a lot, so when I’m mowing with a push mower, I sweat a whole lot. I just want to get it over with as soon as I can.
A lot of the neighbors, those that do their own lawns, have riding mowers. There’s no escape from mowing the lawn and if you put it off, it only gets worse. One way or another, though, it has to be done. Our house is the only house on this side of Rainbow where it dead-ends at Keane, and the only thing semi-growing in it is grass. If I enjoy mowing it, I’ll do it. Next time I see him, I’ll try to remember to tell him these convincing reasons, too. It’s almost a week when I see him again and I can’t figure out the right way to start talking.
“We need to build a shed out back,” he says. “A garden shed.”
“To put our garden tools in.”
“Okay,” I say. What does this have to do with me? Who cares about garden tools? He picks up a metal garden shed kit from the hardware store, brings it home and I help him put it together. We don’t talk when we’re working on it and that’s the end of that. A few days later, I come home from school and he’s home again, which is kind of weird. “Go look out in the garden shed,” he says.
“Go out and look in there.” He’s kind of smiling.
I go out back and open the garden shed door. Inside is a brand new Sear’s rider mower. Wow. He got one. I get on it, back it out of the shed and start to mow the lawn. This is neat. It’s like a tractor. I’m on a nifty tractor on our own lawn. I can’t believe my dad got this for me. He is so incredibly cheap.
I mow for a little while and that’s when I figure out why he got it for me. He wants his lawn mowed and I wasn’t doing it a good job with the push mower in this steamy Florida heat. Our lawn is immense and it’s so much work. He wasn’t going to do it and he’s too cheap to pay someone to do it. No way. Not the way he runs around the house turning off lights just to save a few cents.
After I mowed our lawn, I disengaged the blade and drove it over to Danny’s house. I drove right up to his driveway, left it running and knocked on the door. Danny opens the door and stares. “Look at my rider mower,” I say.
“You gotta rider mower?”
“Yeah,” I say, pointing behind me. “Five horse Sears Craftsman. It’s a shiny brand new one.”
“How fast does it go?”
“It doesn’t go as fast as yours.” There are two types of rider mowers: the tractor type with a hood up in front, or the open type with a steering wheel and an open mowing deck. Danny’s dad had a mowing deck and we had the tractor type. Danny didn’t say anything. He went out to his garage and got his rider mower and we both rode down the street.
His was a lot faster than mine so he stopped to let me catch up. As soon as I got beside him, we had a drag race. I saw that as we started racing, he reached around behind where the motor was and disconnected the governor. The governor regulates the rpm of the gas motor so as soon as it was disengaged he went even faster. My motor was up in front so while we were racing, I searched around for my governor. When I found it, I disengaged and went faster, too. This is neat!
Right in the middle of the road, we put the rider mowers in reverse and went as fast as we could backwards. If you cram it in forward gear while pulling up on the steering wheel you can make the mower do a wheelie, so we have wheelie contests out in the street. The tires squeal when we go from reverse to forward gear and we make rubber patches all over the street, too, doing burnouts.
“Danny!” we hear. “What the hell you doin’? What you doin’ with the rider mower?” Danny’s dad comes scuffling closer. Neither of us move. We just stop and sit there. Danny’s dad looks down and sees the rubber marks on the road. “You gonna wear out those goddamn tires. And you gonna break the transmission. Knock it off. Get that mower back home.”
Danny doesn’t say a word, not a goodbye or anything. He put his rider mower in forward gear and heads home. I know Danny is like that so it’s okay. He won’t look at me, or anything. I kind of begin to see why he doesn’t have any friends. He lacks the social pleasantries that develop friendships. So does his dad.
It’s okay. I have a rider mower. This rider mower to me represents something fun to do, something so I don’t have to rely on someone else to entertain myself. I can ride around and focus my attention on it. As small and insignificant as I am, the rider mower opens up the heavens to me. It’s a means to get around and a means to get money to buy a motorcycle. I’m too young for anything else right now so I’ll have to settle for a rider mower.
I drive my rider mower up and down the street to look for business. I do this for hours because I don’t know what to do next. The neighbor kids see me riding so they get on their rider mowers and follow me. “Where the hell you going?”
“I’m just riding around.” I don’t want to tell them I’m starting a lawn service. They might get the idea, too, and then I’d have competition.
“I’m Frank,” one of them says. We ride around in the church parking lot for a while then we go back out on the street. Riding on the street in a rider mower is totally slow. You could pedal faster on a bike. Next time I’m riding around the neighborhood, the neighbor kids follow me over to Danny’s house. It turns out his dad is hardly ever home. Without adults around, we can do burnouts. If my dad ever saw me do burnouts, he’d become unglued so we always meet at Danny’s house. There’s five or six of us with rider mowers showing up in front of Danny’s house on Saturday morning. We all back our mowers up at an angle to the curb, like you see motorcycles do when they’re parking in front of bars. There had to be equal spacing between mowers, so we’d get off and say, “Do this angle here,” and “I’ll go first,” to get it just right.
When one of our neighbor’s rider mowers breaks down, we all go to Danny’s when his dad is home. We bring him our problems so he can tell us what’s wrong. Danny, however, wants to figure out the problem, too, so he starts messing with whatever he thinks is broken while waiting for his dad to come out. When Danny’s dad opens the door and sees Danny, he says, “Wait ‘till I see.” He doesn’t want Danny touching anything. “Wait ‘till I see!” he says. “Don’t touch it until I see. Wait, Danny, ‘till I see.” Danny’s dad doesn’t have a lot of confidence in Danny’s mechanical skills, or in ours, either.
As soon as Danny’s dad fixes the problem and he’s back inside their house, we all start to imitate him. “Wait ‘till I see!” we say. “Danny, don’t touch that. Wait ‘till I see!” We imitate him in an old man’s voice and laugh for a long time, right in front of Danny.
We sit on our mowers, parked at perfect angles and smoke cigarettes we steal from our parents. We sit there and smoke and talk like we’re at a drive-in, showing off our cars.
Our parents know what we’re doing. They even know we’re smoking. They drive by and see us. They never wave. They drive by and stare at us. They’re watching us sitting and smoking, and we stare back at them. We say, “There goes your dad, Frank.” At least they know where we are and that we aren’t getting into trouble. Our parents are so stupid, we think. They don’t know anything. There are all these burnout tire marks in front of Danny’s house, from us abusing our rider mowers, all of our rear tires bald from the burnouts. They can’t figure out that one and they don’t say a thing except, “How’d those tires get so bald?”
A new family moves into the apartment complex across the street on the opposite corner. I watch them unload a rider mower into the garage. This family has the lawn deck variety, like Danny has, the better kind of rider mower. I see this kid my age walking around but I don’t know what to do or how to have the confidence to introduce myself so I just watch. I don’t go over there even though I know they have a rider mower.
My dad has confidence. He walks straight over, introduces himself and becomes friends with the dad. They’re from some weird place like Ohio. My dad says, “You should meet the new neighbor.”
We walk across the street, my dad and me, and I meet Ed. He’s a goofy-looking kid, just goofy. His face looks odd to me. He looks like a frog. He has a wide mouth, he’s pudgy and he has these big old fat cheeks. No one’s going to hang around with this kid. He’s exactly my size but tubbier. Those cheeks! He looks like a baby. This is one goofy-looking kid.
He’s kind of shy like me. We don’t say a word to each other besides hi. We don’t know how to start a conversation with someone our own age, forcefully introduced to each other with our dads standing there, watching us. It’s like an arranged friendship. The dads start talking while we stare at each other. What do we do? They’re talking about work and we’re staring at each other. “So, you have a rider mower?” I say.
Ed looks at me like, what? “Yeah, we have a rider mower.” This kid has never even thought about riding a rider mower for fun, I can tell.
“Me and a friend of mine, and some other kids like to do burnouts on our rider mowers.”
“Can I see your rider mower?”
He stands there. Is he going to say anything? Probably just to get away from our dads, he says, “Okay.” We walk out to the garage and start to look at the rider mower. Before we can say anything else, before I can tell him about our Saturday morning meetings at Danny’s, the dads follow us in.
“Say,” my dad says, completely fake, “Why don’t Ed and you take this boat over to the lake and go float in it?”
Now? I don’t want to go to the dumb dinky lake in the little park down the street and float on a dumb old boat. It is obviously their way of trying to get us to do something together. It’s stupid. It’s embarrassing.
We walk out of the garage. Leaning on the side of the house is this big wooden skiff of a boat. I’ll talk to Ed about rider mowers later. Maybe he’ll want to start a lawn business with me. Maybe he’s into motorcycles and motorized vehicles like me. Danny’s too unpredictable and I know I can’t rely on him to get work because his dad is so weird. I like Danny but you just never know with Danny.
Our dads grab both of us, put us in the back of my dad’s Chevy Impala station wagon, the boring-mobile, and say, “You boys will have fun!” They load this heavy wooden skiff onto the wagon and we drive the block and a half to the dumb man-made pond in the middle of a city block park. We’re not saying anything. This is the most retarded thing ever. What are we going to do while sitting in this boat in the middle of the Florida sun? We don’t have paddles, we don’t have fishing poles, what are we going to do on this boat? Ed’s quiet, too. He must be thinking the same thing. What the hell are we going to do just floating on this stupid pond? This is something ten year-olds would do. This is the most corniest thing in the world. This is not how I want to meet this guy. It’s embarrassing for him, too, I’m sure.
“We’ll give you boys a ride to the lake, you’ll be on the lake, it’ll be great!” my dad says. What’s he so excited about all of a sudden?
“You boys will have fun,” Ed’s dad agrees.
They drive to the edge of the grass at Crest View Lake where the road dead-ends. There’s a guardrail at the end of the dead end street where they pull over. They drop the boat off, lay it on the grass and take off. “See you later,” they say.
Ed and I look at each other. I guess we gotta do this. We drag the boat across the grass, we’re wrestling with this heavy boat, and we’re struggling. We get it in the water, hop in, push ourselves off, and now we’re floating in this pond. Now what? Now that we’re out here, what the heck are we supposed to do? We’re big kids floating in a little pond.
“I really like motorcycles,” I say. “I’m going to save up to get a Honda 90.”
“I don’t really know anything about motorcycles. It sounds like something I would try.”
“I’m trying to save up to buy one. I want to start a lawn mowing business. That’s why I asked you about your rider mower.”
If people saw us in this stupid little pond with this stupid boat, they’d think we were stupid, too.
“I wonder if there’s any fish in this pond?” Ed says.
“We don’t have any fishing poles so I guess we won’t know.”
“School’s a downer,” I say. “I don’t care much for school.”
“Yeah, I don’t like school, either. How’s the school here?”
“Terrible,” I say. “All schools are terrible.”
“Yeah, I know. I don’t like school. They make you learn stuff you don’t care about.”
“I don’t care about any of it.”
Ed looks directly at me. “You have to learn how to read.”
“I already know how to read. I don’t need to go to school no more.”
We sit in the boat for a minute, looking around.
“This is boring,” Ed says. “Let’s go.”
We had a stick we used to push off from the bottom of the lake. We used it to make it to shore and when we did, we pulled the boat up out of the water as best we could. I’m hot and tired of this boat and this dumb lake.
“I’m not carrying this thing home,” I say.
“I’m not carrying it either.”
“Where’d your dad get this?”
“I don’t know. It was leaning up against the wall when we moved in.”
My dad and the boring-mobile were gone when we got home so I couldn’t tell him about leaving the boat at the lake. It might still be there for all I care.