The raking guy: A (mostly true) essay on the seasonal struggle


I’ve been raking the leaves in my backyard for about 15 years now. The first year, I was an idealistic 25-year-old, full of stubborn vigor. I heard the hums of leaf blowers off in the distance and shrugged my shoulders, resolute with the feeling of strength I had for doing it “the hard way.”

I was also a bit overconfident. After raking my lawn for hours, carrying tarp load upon tarp load to the front curb, sweat glistening off my forehead, I would walk past the more seasoned homeowners. They were done with their leaves as well, but they used machinery to get the job done. I’d scamper past them as they were resting on their front stoops, leaf blower resting by their side and utter something like, “You missed a spot,” mockingly pointing to the back corner of their side yard. Then I would laugh to myself as they stared back at me, with a sadness in their eyes.

Over the years, as I got older and the soreness lingered, I still heard the hum of the leaf blowers. They were growing more noisy with each passing year. Still, I refused to give in. I was the one carrying the legacy of the rake, the only “rake guy” left in Rockville. I was responsible for showing newer generations that the struggle was real. It was a burden, I won’t lie.

By the time I turned 34, I began to watch the falling leaves with dread. What used to be a challenge between those multicolored misfits and a raking idealist from mid-Montgomery County became something entirely different.

The leaves outnumbered me, and, though you may not believe this, they began mocking me as they fell. One of the falling red maple leaves actually had the audacity to tell me, “You can’t touch this.” It’s one thing to mock a human being, but to do so with an old MC Hammer song is just wrong.

More years passed, and more muscle aches and sore knees passed, as well. Now here I am, 39 years old. I can’t rake without a knee brace. My shoulder aches from the dislocation it suffered earlier this year. I need my prescription sunglasses or else I’ll get a headache. If I forget my hat, the sunburn on my rapidly balding head will really hurt. I rake for about five minutes before I look lovingly toward the house for my wife to bring water. I’m simply too tired to walk the 11 yards to the outside spigot.

My brother-in-law came for a visit this past weekend. Seeing how pathetic I was, how defeated I appeared, he snuck off to Home Depot. When he returned, he did so with a brand-new, massive leaf blower. I think it was called the Leaf Destroyer 2000. It came in the form of a backpack!

I used it. I used the heck out of it. I didn’t care. The once-confident leaves shuddered in fear as I blew them to oblivion (oblivion is Latin for “curb”). I gave out an evil laugh and said, “Revenge is a dish best served cold and with wind. Mwhahahaha.” Collateral damage was sustained. The mulch and pieces of lawn were part of the carnage.

I even hurt my knee. But I didn’t care. I won.

As I sat victorious on the front stoop, leaf blower by my side, a young man of about 25 sauntered past. He had the appearance of a raking guy. Sweaty forehead, leaf remnants sticking to his legs, blistered hands. He gave me a glance, looked to the corner of my lawn and wanted to say something. He refrained, smiled and walked on.

The symmetry of the encounter was glorious. Not as glorious as my new leaf blower. My knee still hurts though.

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