I was reminded of an incident the other day, when talking to a friend on the phone.
When I was a kid, my dad made me into a lawn-cutting entrepreneur. Partly it was to teach me responsibility and the workings of a business—almost immediately he was making me keep a chart on graph paper of the jobs for which I was contracted, as well as a record of my payments. Included in his life lessons, too, was training on the concept of overhead. From the money I made when I trundled out our family’s own lawn mower for another neighbor’s yard, I had to pay for gas and a twice-yearly mower tune-up. The record-keeping was very anal, but I certainly learned how it was done.
My dad’s other goal in putting me to work was to provide cheap labor for members of our church. The church in which I grew up did not exactly have a youthful congregation. A large percentage of members were either well-seasoned academics, or retired faculty from the local Presbyterian seminary in our neighborhood. My father reasoned that there was no reason for frail seventy-year-old Mrs. Appleby, whose late husband had taught Latin for forty-odd years before passing away, to be pushing a lawn mower around her back yard when young, hardy, shiftless me could be doing it. “You want that old woman to have a heart attack and die over the lawn mower and roast there like a side of barbecue?” he’d ask in one of his less subtle moments of argument. “Huh? Do you?”
So from the age of fourteen until I went to college, I mowed. I mowed poor Mrs. Appleby’s yard, and I mowed the yard of the equally spindly elderly sisters down the street, and the yard of plump Mr. Ogilvie, who would bake while I attacked his grass and then give me a handful of oatmeal raisin cookies, after. I shoved that hateful mower over what seemed like most of the little city in which we lived, despising the scent of hot fuel mixed with chopped greenery. (And to this day, I absolutely hate mowing the lawn. It is the one household task I refuse to do. So far I’ve gotten away with it by pretending to be uncertain about how the electric mower works. Ssshh. Our little secret.)
Of all the houses I took care of, the Morgenfelds lived at the greatest distance. Their charming house sat on a solid acre and a half right on the edge of the seminary. Mr. Morgenfeld was a curly-headed, bespectacled professor specializing in the history of Christianity in Scandinavia. To my fourteen-year-old self he was positively ancient—so I’m guessing that he was roughly fifty. His wife was a pretty, older Danish woman with translucent pale skin and naturally pink cheeks, who used to say that Mr. Morgenfeld was such a stereotype of the absent-minded professor that they’d taken their particular house so that when he forgot to meet his classes, all he had to do was run across the street to reach the lecture hall.
The Morgenfelds’ lawn was so enormous that cutting it usually netted me twelve dollars instead of the usual five. It took seemingly forever, too, as I pushed their dollhouse mower through the weeds. (I preferred using their equipment, so that I didn’t have to deduct overhead from my fee.) For the first four or five times I mowed for them, I resented every moment of it. Nice people though they both were, I grumbled obscenities in my head while I mowed, wondering what kind of stupid people were stupid enough to buy such a big house with stupid grass that grew back week after week.
I didn’t say I was logical. I said I was fourteen.
It was perhaps in my second month of mowing for them that everything changed. Mrs. Morgenfeld had a secretarial job at a magazine connected with the seminary, and tended to be gone in the daytimes when I was doing the yard work for them over the summer. I’d tackled most of the house’s acreage and was working on the back yard, sweating and muttering and sneezing all at the same time. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught motion behind the French doors that led to the Morgenfeld’s patio.
I turned my head not so much out of curiosity, but from reflex, wondering what it was. The doors opened into Mr. Morgenfeld’s study, and were lined with long lacy draperies that could be pulled to the sides to admit light. They were mostly closed, then. One of them was swaying, as if from the wind, or an invisible hand. I didn’t think anything about it, right away. A few minutes later, though, when I’d paused for a moment to wipe away from the sweat from my face with the hem of my T-shirt, I saw the curtain jerk. Someone had been behind it, pulling it back to watch me, and had dropped it when I’d looked over. And that someone was Mr. Morgenfeld.
Curious now, I kept my eye on the back doors whenever I came near. As my angle of vision changed, I could tell that Mr. Morgenfeld was standing behind the lacy curtain, staring at me. At first I thought that perhaps he was just checking up on my lawnsmanship. Then, gradually, I realized he was doing what men do when they’re alone. He was masturbating.
I could tell because, for one thing, when he thought I wasn’t looking his way, he would lift the curtain with one hand and make it easier to see that he was standing there in his shirt and his white briefs. His pants, presumably, were either completely off, or around his ankles. Grumpy and not thrilled about cutting grass I might have been at that age, but I wasn’t stupid. I knew that there were a lot of men—a lot of married men—who enjoyed looking at guys younger than themselves. Enough of them had fucked me in the parks, or fed me loads in the restrooms around the city. It surprised me that absent-minded, horn-rimmed Mr. Morgenfeld was one of them. But it surprised me only a little.
When I finished up a few minutes later, I had a boner in my jeans that wouldn’t quit. My father had told me never to cut lawns in shorts, because if the spinning blades passed over a rock or branch and sent it flying, the projectile would slice off my leg if it didn’t have the protection of a thin layer of denim. The advice was perhaps kindly meant, but the fact I never questioned its practicality in the middle of Virginia’s hundred-degree summers meant that I was usually sweating like a pig but the time I was done. Mr. Morgenfeld answered the front door with his pants on, but there was a spot of moisture at a certain point on his right leg that told me he’d either just shot a load, or was pumping out enough pre-cum that it had stained when he’d gotten dress. I accepted my twelve dollars, got the hell out of there, and went home and masturbated furiously, thinking about being watched.
The next couple of times I cut Mr. Morgenfeld’s lawn, I kept an eye on the back doors. Sure enough, behind the curtains, Mr. Morgenfeld lurked. He’d draw back the lace when he thought I was too far to see, and would masturbate while he watched me push the mower. I couldn’t spy his dick, but I could see his hand working over it. Sometimes the curtain would jiggle in time with his stroking. Suddenly cutting the Morgenfelds’ lawn had gotten a lot more interesting.
It was perhaps the third cutting after my positive attitude change that I decided to do something about the situation. I don’t know how I knew it—I didn’t have any exposure to porn of any kind, and this was in the distant prehistoric days before the internet—but somehow I had an instinct that the dirty old man spying on the lawn boy was one of the hoariest cliches in the book. I didn’t care. I decided to put on a show for the guy.
Midway through my lawn cutting I stopped the mower beneath the shade of the catalpa tree in the middle of the back yard. I took off my T-shirt slowly and languorously, making sure to stretch my arms over my head and show off my torso. Then I used my shirt to mop off not only my face, which was drenched in sweat, but the rest of my body, which pretty much was not. In a voice honed by two community theater productions, I projected loudly, as I announced to nobody in particular save the catalpa, “Whoo! It sure is hot today!”
Oh, I was a little ham. I was one ten-gallon hat away from being a one-boy touring company of 110 in the Shade. Thinking back on it, I’m vaguely embarrassed for myself. I was a tall, skinny blond kid with enormous glasses, long hair, and no real body to speak of, and yet I was convinced I was putting on a strip tease that rivaled Gypsy Rose Lee. My little pantomime had really done the trick, though. I wasn’t facing the French doors, but from the corner of my vision I could see Mr. Morgenfeld standing not behind the curtain, but unshielded and looking through the partly-open door in the darkened study, his right hand clenching and releasing the dick poking out of his pulled-down briefs. Only when I stuffed my T-shirt in the back of my jeans and proceeded to start mowing again did he step back behind the curtain.
I was a smug little bastard. I loved knowing that I had him watching my every move. The taste of triumph motivated me to boldness. I made up my mind I was going to do something about it.
I didn’t really have much of a plan. But when my circuit took me by the patio again, I made up my mind. Without much warning or thought, I slowed the little mower and let its engine sputter to a stop. Then I marched up the grassy rise, crossed the paving bricks, and pulled back the door that was already slightly open. I heard a yelp, followed by the stumbling of feet. “Hello?” I said. “Mr Morgenfeld?”
“I’m here, honey,” he replied, trying to sound as normal as possible. It’s not uncommon, in the Southern city in which I grew up, for an older man to call a younger one honey. Last spring when I visited my old home town, the elderly guy behind the CVS counter wished me a good night with the endearment after I’d bought razors from him. It’s only at those moments I realize how much I miss the friendly custom. “My goodness, it certainly is hot,” he said, in his mild-mannered voice. “You’ll have to excuse me! I don’t know what happened to my. . . .”
If he’d intended to say pants, I could have answered that question for him. They were lying crumpled on the floor by the doors, complete with belt. I had to step over them to enter the study. And there, in the middle of the room, sitting on an ottoman with his legs crossed in a vain attempt to hide his very visible erection, was Mr. Morgenfeld in nothing but a worn dress shirt, dark socks, and a pair of white briefs.
(To be continued tomorrow.)