Leaf blowers, motorcyles, and suburban mating

Originally, I had intended to post a thorough rant about one of my favorite American annoyances:

Leaf blowers (and other forms of gas-powered lawn equipment seen as indespensible these days).

But then I started to think that it would be far easier to illustrate the nuisance in action — to capture it all in film. So I produced a short documentary on the topic. Well, actually, the flick is more of a mockumentary with a twist of sci-fi thriller. Regardless, the movie is called The Leafinator, and it just might end up winning me an Academy Award. Here’s the blurb:

The Leafinator is a blockbuster sci-fi thriller about cyborg lawn equipment sent back in time to destroy a man who dreams of a future free from annoying technology.

The trailer can be found here:

The full film, here:

Films, however — even those of exceptional quality (which mine is not) — can only dig so deep, mostly, I think, because of their reliance on force-fed imagery. So I shall now try to supplement my cinematic artistry with philosophical elaboration.


Now then, there’s a lot to hate about leaf blowers and other landscaping machines.

First, they are so loud that you can literally hear them a half-mile away. So think what it must be like for the people who live next door. Bahahaha! Just kidding. Screw ’em, right? Who cares if your neighbors want or need quiet time to rest or read or think or meditate or go about their business in their own home? To hell with others’ privacy in their own property when there’s dirt and grass to blow off sacred concrete pathways!

Second, leaf blowers kick up enormous clouds of dust and dirt, animal excrement, mold and mildew, herbicides and fertilizers, and other allergens (e.g., pollen, grasses, etc.). Yeah. So why not just blast all that noxious stuff up into the air and let it sprinkle back down wherever it may land, say, on top of your neighbor’s kids while they play in their own back yard? Who cares where it all lands, just as long as it doesn’t desecrate your concrete shrines.

Blowing nothing. Wikimedia Commons. By Josh Larios.

Third, using gas-powered leaf blowers makes you an asshole. If you think it’s necessary to shoot tiny twigs and particles of wood, leaves, and dead grass through space, jamming them through the tight slits under my doors and windows, thereby covering the inside of my house and car with a fine powder of stuff that you, for some reason, don’t think belongs in a yard — well, then, you’re the worst kind of asshole.

Fourth, rakes and brooms work better and don’t make you seem like a moron. If having dirt, leaves, and twigs lying around outside is a real problem for you, then please realize that blowers seriously fail to address that problem. Why? Because they just move stuff from one place to another. Like a child pushing toys under a bed, leaf blowers don’t clean and remove. They merely rearrange and hide, which forces you to deal with the problem again and again. Brooms and dust pans, rakes and bags, however… Well, either you get it or you don’t.

Fifth, as I understand it, leaf blowers and other mega-powerful lawn equipment harm the environment because of the gas they guzzle, the unregulated pollutants they emit, and the excessively loud and unnatural noises they produce (which prevent birds and bees from doing what they need to do to keep the ecosystem thriving). Now, this last concern is something I can neither confirm nor deny myself. So I’ll just stick to what I do know: using leaf blowers, etc. seriously interferes with human health and sanity. But if they also chase away pollinating critters and erode topsoil, then, yeah, that sucks really bad, too.

This wise woman gets it.

Speaking of sucking: If only leaf blowers sucked then they wouldn’t suck so bad!

All this said, a case can be made, I think, for electric blowers since they are nowhere near as powerful or loud. But you’re still just sweeping stuff under the rug, right? And I would say that even large gas-powered blowers have some uses. Certainly never in urban or suburban areas — but maybe in large rural areas on secluded properties with lots of trees. Maybe.

About the suburbs: industrial-strength lawn equipment + suburbs = total senselessness. These days, equipment is louder and more powerful, while yards are smaller and houses closer together. I currently live within a stone’s throw of 10-12 houses. So there is quite literally rarely a time that I don’t hear some machine or another wailing away in the distance in an off-key pitch, or even vibrating my walls.

Then there’s those who “pressure wash” and shampoo their beloved concrete pathways. The ritual tends to last no less than four hours. So if this is what the idiot next door has scheduled for his Saturday afternoon, then you better hope you don’t have anything relaxing planned for yourself in your own yard. Besides, yards aren’t meant to be enjoyed. They’re for landscaping and blasting with machines. I’m fairly certain that God says this somewhere in the Bible.

A shampoo and blow dry, suburban-style. Photo: Joshua J. Reynolds

So why all the noise? Why the perceived need to keep your lawn looking tweezed, plucked, waxed, plastic, and sculpted? Why the obsession to keep up appearances? I mean, what’s so wrong with this yard?

Quick! Somebody call the HOA!

Keep in mind, a pretty exterior often conceals an ugly, miserable interior. I’m sure that the fellow who lives in the home pictured above couldn’t be happier with existence. So one can only imagine what the people who live in the house below are trying to hide.

Regardless, it all seems bizarre if you put the tiniest amount of thought to it. Why can’t a single blade of grass ever touch one’s concrete? Why the desire literally to dig a small trench between the clean artificial concrete and the dirty but natural stuff of earth?

The answers aren’t difficult to find if you consider the suburban mentality. Key here is the obsession to mark off one’s “property” as one’s own, separate and distinct from another’s property and from nature. This is the grass-farming suburbanite’s raison d’être. Fences and rows of bushes do the trick nicely. But nothing says “Mine, not yours” as decisively as the moat-like ditch that a lawn edger digs!

Photo: Joshua J. Reynolds

And all that plasticity? Well, that’s just suburbanites telling nature to go screw itself:

“John and Mindy Grass-Farmer live here now, Nature, and we’re here to stay!”

“Our bushes are better than yours!”

In other words, edged trenches, shampooed driveways, waxen bushes, and leafless lawns are no more than tokens of identity and pride, just like tattoos, crucifixes, ball caps, and bumper stickers.

Leaf blowers and other such devices offer people who fall short in, say, artistic or intellectual respects, a way to project an image — a way to carve out an arbitrary place in the world. This goes for the noise they make as well, which presents, as it were, a sonic image. In satisfying the primitive instinct to ward off would-be intruders, the release of a loud, threatening sound also helps powerless people to feel important and strong. It’s the modern-day battle cry.

It’s helpful to understand this in a comparison to Harley motorcycle riders. Can you imagine so many of them riding around in packs on weekend afternoons if their “bikes” didn’t utter a peep?

Think about it: How many folks do you think would choose a leaf blower that was totally silent over an equally powerful one that was insanely loud? Be honest. Would you? Wouldn’t you think something was missing? Wouldn’t you think that it wasn’t serving its purpose somehow? That’s because most people find noise comforting.

But, but, but… Loud pipes save lives!

Wrong. This is just one of the many nonsense myths that people regurgitate these days, so much so that it’s almost taboo to deny it. But I will happily deny it:

Loud pipes do not save lives. Nor were they ever intended to do so.

Saving lives

Why not? Well, first, because this idea suggests that bikers who end up getting creamed on the road just weren’t making enough noise. That is ridiculous. It puts the blame somewhere it really shouldn’t be, and that’s not helpful. Hell, screw my seat belt. I’m just gonna drive around honking my horn so people don’t hit me.

Second, if “saving lives” were the real goal, then more bikers would wear neon pink or green vests instead of dark leather duds with cool logos. Also, helmets, you would think, save more lives than loud ‘vrooms’. So why do bikers who don’t wear them bother to modify their pipes to increase the noise?

Third, folks here in the South (esp., redneck men) tend to drive around in lifted 4×4 pickups with modified exhaust systems that roar every bit as loudly as Harley “pipes.” So are these idiots saving lives, too? What about teens who drive lowered Civics with mufflers that sound like a pig sodomizing an antique lawn mower?

Not saving lives.

Fourth, the “pipes” of a crotch rocket easily reach those cool, deafening decibel levels. But a good number of people who ride such bikes have no problem flying down the highway at 110 mph, zipping in and out of lanes, cutting people off, and coming up along cars faster than you can turn your head to see them.

Fifth, riders of motorcycles go ‘vroom vroom’ the most whenever they are sitting idle in a parking lot or rolling through an otherwise serene town square at 5 mph. Whew, thanks for saving all those lives, guys! Y’all are true American heroes! Please don’t worry about damaging the hearing of people walking along sidewalks or enjoying their lunch outside. Just keep savin’ lives!

Finally, the largest and loudest vehicle on the highway is the semi-truck. Still, people cruising down the interstate in cars seem to have no problem at all finding the sides of semis. Fact: the loudest, most conspicuous vehicle on the highway is also the most dangerous. Go figure.

So there you have it. Loud “pipes” are not meant to save lives at all. The point, rather, is simple: you make your “bike” emit such noise so that you will stick out. Noise is your brand, your calling card. Your clothes are loud. Your hair, beard, and tats are loud. Your TV is loud. Your kids and dog are loud. So why not be heard a mile away by an old lady at home in her rocking chair when you’re heading to the store to grab some smokes?

The same goes for leaf blowers, which allow the blower and his/her yard to stick out. Like loud motorcycles, they serve to mark the owner’s territory as distinctive, obvious, attractive. But why do that? Why all the attention whoring? It’s simple: to attract potential mates. No really, think about it. The shaft-like blow pipe of a leaf blower is a whopper of a phallic symbol. And what about all that pointless reving:

Rawr, raawwr, raaawwrrr… vrrooom, vrooooooom….

Does this not sound familiar? Squeeze the trigger and feel that tool throb in your hands. Just like a Harley dude in a parking lot who senselessly revs his engine while idling, a guy with a leaf blower gets off exciting his own engine once or twice real quick just to feel it jerk and convulse, even when it’s blowing nothing.

Most importantly, the job of a leaf blower is to penetrate, to cross boundaries, to intrude where it does not belong. When you’re trying to read or relax and your neighbor is proudly stroking his blower, forcefully ejecting stuff from his property onto yours, penetrating your walls with his own sound and substance against your will — how could this be seen as anything other than mental rape?


Fall is time to choke and deafen your loved ones. The alternative is just too horrible.

In summary, leaf blowing, edging, trimming, obsessive mowing — it’s all part of an elaborate suburban mating ritual. Suburban Man, you see, enjoys the illusion of controlling protruding cylindrical objects that shoot stuff outwards — tailpipes, guns, pressure wands, etc. For some reason, this makes him feel proud, powerful, and dominant. So he never hesitates to show off this pride, even to those who don’t consent. But bear in mind:

Loud pipes tell lies.

Freud

Suburban Man wants to give the impression that he is massive and strong, master of his territory. He uses powerful machines to reassure himself and others that his own biological equipment is just as potent. But Suburban Man is a fool. In reality, he’s an insecure, child-like weakling who plays with toys. Sure, his mechanical grunts and growls may drown out the mating calls of other men on the block, and so will probably lure a Suburban Woman. But we should see it all for what it really is. As Freud said:

Zie louder zie blower, zie smaller zie wiener.

© Joshua J. Reynolds 2018. All rights reserved.

Contagion

“God is not to be feared, death is not a risk. It is easy to procure what is good, while what is bad is easy to endure” (Epicurean ‘Four-fold Remedy’).

Under the media menu of this site, you can find a link to a song that my friend Andy and I wrote (under the band name ‘Misanthrophile’) and the accompanying video I created for it. The lyrics to “Contagion” are in Latin. The lines I used are from the poem “On the Nature of Things” (De Rerum Natura), penned by the Roman poet Lucretius (94 BC – 55 BC). Lucretius was an ardent admirer of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who lived and taught in Athens roughly 250 years before the poet’s death. In light of his deep respect for Epicurus, Lucretius composed his 7400-line poem to expound the philosopher’s doctrines.

Epicurus bust. Wikipedia.

At the core of this philosophy was the secular, mechanistic view of the universe known as ‘atomism’. In particular, Epicurus (and Lucretius) argued that all that really exists are an infinite number of tiny atoms moving around empty space at random, colliding with each other and forming all the visible stuff and events that we experience in the world according to fixed natural laws.

The idea here is even more relevant to life today than it might seem. Lucretius’ overall intention, as that of his predecessor, is that a rational understanding of why things happen in the world as they do will remove our fear of the gods and of death, thus allowing us to attain true peace and happiness in life.

The human soul, for instance, being purely physical in nature and subject to natural laws, must die along with the body. As a result, Lucretius insists, we can experience no sensation at all after death. Death will be for us just like what it was like before we were born: absolutely nothing.

As for god, a perfect divine being must be content with its existence. This means that god can have no needs, desires, emotions, or worries. God would therefore have no reason to interfere with the workings of nature or human beings. This knowledge, in turn, should free us from the anxiety that comes from our efforts to worship god correctly and to live a righteous life – all in order to avoid everlasting punishment after death.

This is Epicureanism in a nutshell. Now, the lines I have used for ‘Contagion’ can be found at the end of the final book of Lucretius’ poem (book six). There, the poet describes in gory detail the horrific plague that devastated the population of ancient Athens during the Peloponnesian War (430 BC).

So how does this graphic plague narrative fit in with Lucretius’ mission to explain the mechanics of the universe and dispel our fear of the gods and of death? Keep in mind that Lucretius is attempting to explain the nature of things. This includes everything that might exist or take place around us: e.g., the earth, sky, stars, animals, humans, the soul, civilization, the gods, hallucinations, the seasons, meteorological phenomena, and supposed miracles.

The basic idea is that nothing comes-to-be from nothing or perishes into nothing, as if by supernatural agency. All things change, come-to-be, and perish because of the combination and separation of atoms, and all according to the immutable laws of nature. Not even god can influence or interrupt this natural flow of cause and effect.

Consequently, the various imperfections of the world must also have specific causes, especially the countless disasters that afflict humanity, seemingly for no reason, or in the eyes of believers, because of god’s wrath. For instance, Lucretius offers a natural rather than supernatural explanation of lightning, which was often seen to strike even the temples of the gods. Similarly, he explains volcanoes and earthquakes as the result of natural processes underneath the earth’s surface.

It is within this context that Lucretius turns to the plague. He reminds us that world was not made for us. Disease, he says, has a physical cause in the combinations of various types of atoms which accumulate and upset the balance of health. He also discusses what we know today as infection and contagion, as well as the influence of climate as a factor in the spread of disease.

Plague in an Ancient City, Michael Sweerts. Wikigallery.org.

As mentioned, Lucretius’ description of the plague’s symptoms is graphic. In addition to the lines that I have translated above, the poet describes anxiety, incessant retching, convulsions, and exhaustion. The sufferer’s body was cold to the touch, but the inside burned to the bone. Medicine was useless. Some people jumped into streams and wells in a futile effort to quench their constant thirst. Delirium and hallucination set in. Breathing was nearly impossible, and sweating profuse. Putrid blood flowed through the nose. After nine days of agony, along with uncontrollable twitching, coughing, and tissue deterioration, the victims would finally die.

The plague also had severe social consequences. Unburied corpses littered the streets. As soon as people got sick, they fell into frenzied despair. Ironically, many committed suicide. Those who dreaded death most refused to tend to the sick. But they too succumbed, as did those who tried to help the victims. Lucretius also describes parents stretched out over dead children, and dying children clinging to the bodies of dead parents.

Finally, and most relevantly, the temples and shrines of the gods were filled with corpses. Lucretius emphasizes how little believers’ reverence and worship of the gods mattered in the end. The entire nation was in terror, and lawlessness ensued. Some families even began to use other people’s pyres to burn their own dead, which often led to disputes and bloodshed.

Lucretius’ tragic picture of the Athenian plague shows us humankind at the mercy of natural forces beyond the power of their own knowledge, science, and religious customs. It depicts the inevitable suffering that human beings face in a world that was not made for them. Ironically, the power that comes from knowledge of the atomistic structure of the universe reveals the painful fact of our ultimate powerlessness within a hostile world. Most of all, the narrative strongly suggests that god does not care a bit about the welfare of human beings.


The occurrence of extreme, senseless suffering is not restricted to the ancient world. We need only turn our thoughts to the recent disaster in Nepal. We have all seen the clichéd memes on social networking sites expressing prayers for the victims and survivors of the earthquake. Such responses make even less sense than the disaster itself. If god has the power and will to alleviate human suffering, then why would he wait until enough people asked him to do so?

As my mother used to say, “Life’s a bitch, and then you die.” Nature is a cruel killer who indiscriminately attacks young and old, innocent and guilty, rich and poor, healthy and sick. Consider yourself lucky if you get through life without experiencing serious suffering, sickness, or misery. Only deluded, narcissistic fools would consider it a divine blessing granted specifically to them… and why? Just because they had gained divine favor by praying, kneeling, or chanting in the prescribed manner? So Jesus says: “Clasp those hands real tight, and get down on your knees, or I won’t help those little children I allowed to be crushed by falling debris!” Do I understand that right?

The specific function of a mind is to think — to figure things out according to common sense and reason. So what does reason say about all this suffering? Either god doesn’t know about it, doesn’t care about it, can’t stop it, or doesn’t exist. Those are the only options. Of course you could simply ignore the rational workings of your mind and cling to faith — convince yourself that god was ‘ready for’ the victims of the plague or the earthquake, or whatever other disaster.

You could convince yourself that the suffering all makes sense in god’s mind, but not ours. (Of course, leave out the part about how our own tiny, limited minds could know even that much.) Reassure yourself that despite the victims’ unspeakable suffering, it is all part of the plan of a god who loves them very much. But this is not love. Most of us had unquestionably loving parents who would never allow us to suffer in such ways if they had any say in the matter. Whatever was at work behind the scenes during the Athenian plague or the Nepal earthquake, it is not what any sane person would recognize as ‘love’.

I often say that faith is a mental illness. Of course, this metaphor is meant to be provocative. But the similarity between faith and delusion is striking. Faith is a matter of stubbornly denying whatever conflicts with one’s beliefs regardless of reason and common sense. An adult who goes through life refusing to accept conclusions that contradict what they simply feel to be true no matter how strong the contrary evidence is a person who is not using his or her mind in a healthy, sane manner.

Lucretius’ point is that a rational view of the universe allows us to see an event as horrific as the plague as far less of an illness than religion. Religion and the fear of death that inspires it are the real contagion.

© Joshua J. Reynolds 2015. All rights reserved.