We are tired of ranting exasperatedly at you all to grow a collective social conscience & start a revolution. Most people are good-or want to be at least. Many just need to be shown how. Here is the Parable of the Leafblower; it is a tale with a happy ending about a man who Woke Up. Enjoy.
Behold the white middle class male of the new century. Where has he come from? What does he stand for? Where is he in the river of human evolution?
Picture a European male in his mid forties. It is a sunny, warm Saturday afternoon in March. He stands on the sidewalk outside his 1930’s timber bungalow in a leafy suburb within an enviable grammar school zone. The house has been renovated studiously until the man & his partner were satisfied it reflected their social aspirations & status appropriately.
The house & its garage are painted in earthy ochres & browns. The landscaped grounds are discreetly but securely bordered with a solid 1.8 metre wooden fence painted in hues that match the buildings. The gates have strong key code locks & the internally accessed garage has a remote control double door. Like a bird on the nest, the house sits safely, even a little smugly, within its protective boundaries.
A station wagon in British Racing green sits sit side by side with a gleaming black 4×4 utility on the driveway outside the garage. They have just been washed by the teenage daughter of the family as a token contribution to her ongoing orthodontal treatment. Straight teeth will go a long way to securing a good provider for her when she decides to marry.
Both the vehicles are of European manufacture- his & hers. Hers is demure enough to not look new rich, it is a Skoda. Skoda’s quaint Czech pedigree & perception of that country’s happy return to urbane civilization after surviving the barbarism of the Soviets, coupled with Mum’s humble good taste in not insisting on a gauche, overpowered Teutonic SUV, ensures she is regarded by her coffee circle & Pilates pals as refined & sublimely blessed with grace.
The truck is a VW Amarok- the renaissance man’s Hilux. Akin to the image our subject emulates, the Amarok is sophisticated yet ruggedly masculine. Because of it’s European exclusivity & attendant premium price tag, the vehicle represents the achievements, class & financial security of its owner. The undeniable hallmarks of practical, efficient German engineering remind the observer that a nation which once branded its natives as “The Master Race” created this machine with the objective intended & achieved, of outclassing its less haughty Asian contemporaries. The scratch resistance of the finish remains to be tested.
The Amarok vibes a civilized but not to be messed with aura that refers any skeptics to the reality that its owner is capable of pragmatic, if necessary, ruthless decisions & actions that have earned him the success he enjoys. Furthermore, both vehicles arrived from source with slick glossy print portfolios & supplementary interactive corporate online support to assure the laudable sustainability platforms of their respective marques.
Both vehicles have justified the cost of their investment & compared to more ostentatious neighborhood chariots they prove this household to be mindful that we live in a resource conscious age. The civil engineering & resource consenting consultancy that primarily supports the household is lent a credibility to its image from the masculine confidence of the truck. For the market research company that the lady of the house co-directs with an old friend, the Skoda infers a subtle degree of humble prudence.
Our man retains the meaty shoulders he built up during his years of representative high school rugby. The knitted navy woolen jumper by Rodd & Gunn fits tightly across his back & shoulders. Around the midriff it betrays the thickness of a fledgling barrel belly born of rich food, sedentary hours & generous alcohol intake. His jeans fit him inconsistently & give an impression of limiting his movement. On his feet he wears battered running shoes. These shoes once received daily use for early morning fitness runs. Having become redundant for that purpose they are now only used for outdoor work & gardening.
In fairness, our fellow fits type admirably. He has worked with effort & dedication to reach goals he originally set during his university years. Oakley framed progressive lensed spectacles sit on his nose & he is proud of the distinguished silver-grey frost that dusts the sides of his head from ear to temple, it is the baptism of his having arrived – “Done it the right way”. .
Essentially he is the middle class poster boy of our times- backbone of the economy, a dedicated Centre Right voter committed to sensible socio-economic policy development for the deserving- his demograph pay the most taxes, they are therefore entitled to their security & rewards. He has supported his wife while they raised their two children into early adulthood, providing them with all the tools to attain prosperous, secure futures. He’s done what he was raised to believe is right & is righteously proud of his achievements.
The first afternoon out of the two days in the week that he sets aside from his work focused schedule has been dedicated to household maintenance. Paint touch-ups on the pergola have been completed, all the hinges on the property’s doors, windows & cupboards have been oiled, he’s mowed the lawns, trimmed the hedge & allocated time to his pet building project- a retaining wall.
A leg of lamb now turns slowly on the spit of the four thousand dollar Buffalo barbecue. This barbecue is the envy of the neighborhood. Not only does it perform all rudimentary tasks expected of a gas fired grill, it also roasts whole chickens, ruminant limbs & even turkeys. The beast has a smoker function too but he has only used it with whole store purchased fish. He chafes that he must find time to go catch a fish & smoke it. That would be the manly thing to do. He allows himself the luxury of visualising carefully selected guests praising his hunter gatherer prowess & acknowledging his machismo.
The wife has sallied off to the local shopping hub, she periodically text messages asking if he wants anything special. Does he need more beer? The butcher has new pork & fennel sausages which she’s considering. With the habitual inattentiveness of one who has lived the long term ritual habits of the nuptually bonded, he only replies to every fourth or fifth message, knowing full well that she’ll take care of her tasks to return presently bearing high end deli bought groceries.
As the afternoon stretches out,our man finds quiet time that he allows himself take advantage of. He effectively has the house to himself with one teenager staying at a friend’s & the other immersed in pre-exam studies. He lazily ambles to the rear door of his garage, selects a bottle of chilled imported beer from his “man fridge” in the garage, then returns through the door & out onto his deck.
Sitting alone on an outdoor lounger, the cold beer in his hand, the lush native trees in the gully before him are pealing with the songs of resident Tui & Korimako. The satisfaction of a day’s activity & accomplishments are only mildly tempered by the minor aches & pains of old war wounds reawakened. Our man is suddenly struck with a powerful melancholy, empty sensation. A hollow feeling of loss & moroseness descends on him.
So clear is the feeling that he quickly realises it is for want of companionship. Not just company, not his wife or his family, it’s a buddy he yearns for. He realises that this is the kind of moment one should spend with a friend. That this simple wish should cause such discomfort & alarm is because try as he might, he cannot think of any one of his “friends” he could share this moment with, in fact he is at a loss to think of one who would even be able to appreciate it.
Stung by urgency this revelation, before he is fully aware of it he runs a mental audit of his male associates. The reality dawns on him that his peers are either professionally necessary relationships-alliances based on co-operation & cronyism, or they are, he suddenly realises for the first time, merely social co-conspirators carefully chosen by mutual complicity, to rationalise & support the framework of the social shelf that they, as well as he & Kaye have placed themselves on.
It occurs to him that the men he considered to be his “circle of friends” base their kinship on conformity & passive aggressive competition instead of shared interests & empathy. Like a pack of wolves concealed in well presented cashmere fleece, they snap at the exposed hamstrings of any of their number careless enough to expose himself. The collective behavioral dynamic that defines their identity as a group is no different than that of a corporate.
Just as in a corporation, individuality, vulnerability & sensitivity are punished with humiliation, derision & ostracism. The understanding that he has no friends strikes him like a physical blow- a stab to his chest. Everything he owns & has achieved becomes nothing in an instant, all he has left is the sound of the birds, the pungent smell of the damp leafmould from the gully below & the burning of the cold bottle in his hand.
With panic whirling inside of him, our man draws on stress management techniques he has learned in the course of his career. Outwardly at least, he appears calm. Mind racing, he asks himself hard questions. The more of these he answers honestly, the more his reality liquefies. This question & answer process leads him to doubt the meaning of his existence, his purpose, his self, his life. What does his life mean? What purpose, what value, does his existence deliver?
Seizing every thread of self control he can, breathing heavily, the man stands. As he leans forward to do so he passes the icy dead beer bottle onto the deck. With his legs feeling like tree stumps, his feet as heavy as rail track, he stands at the garage door taking stock of his collection of toys; passing infatuations rashly purchased during periods of desperately attempted self actualisation. Fastidiously maintained, cleaned, serviced & coveted, as an integral part of his weekend routine, a practically unused catalogue of vain attempts to experience life confronts him.
The motorcycle was the first-he bought that after the doctor suggested he was depressed. His short, wild & frightening romance with the powerful machine had almost broken him through-almost. Stuffed away in the rafters is the windsurfer-how long ago was that? There’s beach fishing tackle used once or twice- he’d never been able to find anyone to go fishing with him. Same story with the skis. The rally car that was garaged at the track, the jet-ski sitting in dry stack at the boat club. The boxing bag still occasionally cops a passing combination of urgently flung jabs & hooks, but otherwise the contents of his garage is a teenager’s wish list.
One major realisation he is stunned by in reviewing the unused collection of toys, is the number of lost years that he has barely noticed passing. The panic rises in him again & he reaches deep within himself, telling himself to deal with it, work through it. It’s middle age, you know this kind of thing is a common & likely phase. He draws strength from these thoughts but then he sees it & in that instant understands that the entire lifeplan he’s been sold is an empty fraud, a lie, the theft by misrepresentation of the one thing he couldn’t insure or buy, his time, the years of his life. Two worlds, two realities collide, precipitated by the symbol of false worth & anti-purpose he now beholds.
On a large, plastic coated utility hook, (he still remembers arguing with the hardware megastore kid about refund policy the day he bought it) in orange & cream hard-shell polyethylene, insolently dominating the wall in front of him hangs his leafblower. He glares in impotent hatred, his eyes filled with the despair of defeat, at the most useless item ever made by man. At this moment, with preternatural clarity, he understands the polar difference of caliber between the men of his forefather’s generations & the shadow of a man he has been fooled into becoming.
Our man is shrinking. The dusty concrete slab of the garage floor he stands on is suddenly the size of a football field, he can barely see the edges. The walls, neatly festooned with tools, tower above him like the skyscrapered canyons of a nightmare super city. And there hanging directly above him, like the Sword of Damocles, looms the leafblower, its cavernous dark muzzle formed into a rigid silent wraith’s howl & pointed directly at him.
A high speed montage of mental images runs like a film in his mind- a visual anthology of the countless wasted hours during his precious weekends that he’s spent hefting the chattering two stroke charlatan. What possible meaning could a life have, he reasons, when the one living it has become so disenfranchised from the Natural Order that he would believe such a mechanism could grant him control of the environment around him?
What, he numbly muses, could possibly convince even an idiot, of the validity in blowing leaves & dust from a patch of earth to prove he holds domain over it? What form of mental illness & self delusion has he suffered to publicly, willingly even, have toted this testament to his emasculation like a fuming, rattling, malevolent albatross around his neck? A juxtaposed image forms in his mind; a child blows bubbles & laughs, while the man blows leaves & scowls.
Hands shaking, uncontrollably sobbing, he finds himself dialing a number on his new smartphone. He can’t even remember who’s number he has tapped in. The call connects, a measured voice answers “What’re you up to?” He recognises the voice, it belongs to a man he occasionally uses for casual labouring work on his job sites, cash in hand payment. He can’t even recall the fellow’s name but he does remember that the man is always happy. He doesn’t seem to care about money as long as his rent is paid & he can afford his next hunting or fishing trip.
Rumour has it he left his last wife because she tried to stop him going fishing. As well as that she allegedly “tried to make him fat”. The other guys he works with joke about the loner, but out of earshot. They always sound nervous & unsure of themselves when they do. The man never even seems to notice they exist. He often laughs quietly to himself for no apparent reason & sometimes he just stands, eyes closed, head tipped back facing into the sun, grinning like a happy dog.
All our man can whimper almost disbelievingly into his phone is .”…It’s me?!”
The voice on the other end of the line pauses for several seconds, then drawls ” We’ve been waiting for you to call man. The boys are barbecuing some pork belly off one of Dave’s pigs. There’s beer too. You know where we are…”