The Leaves, They Pirouette
When ladies at the church ask you what you do—what you
are—you say, "I'm a leaf blower," and you're happy saying
this. You're happy being a leaf blower.
You're proud of your blower. It's an Echo PB-650. Your mother bought it
for you. You've memorized everything about it: it has a 63.3 cc engine
and a maximum blowing power of 205 miles per hour. It feels like a lion
on your back, like a tornado. These are the things that come to mind
when you think about how it feels—so warm, so powerful. Your
old Husqvarna 165BT only had a 59 cc engine and a maximum blowing power
of 190 miles per hour. You used to think your Husqvarna was the
greatest ever. Now you realize that you might as well have been using a
Makita. Or a Dolmar. Or even a Maruyama. Thinking about this makes you
smile. No one knows leaf blowers like you. You get all the catalogues.
They sit in a big stack beside your bed.
You love how beautiful your Echo is. You like how it's black and gray,
not too-bright red like your old Husqvarna was. You wear black so that
your blower almost looks like a part of you. Its wand is like your
You work alone. You're a freelancer. That's what your mother says you
are. My little freelancer. You like this word. Freelancer. It makes you
think of a knight riding his horse across the world in search of
princesses to save and bad guys to fight. You wave your wand, and the
bad guys run away, scared of your power. Whoosh, you say. Whoosh.
You have to go home whenever your Echo runs out of gas, and your mother
fills it up. When you go out again, you feel brand new. The gas sloshes
around heavily in its tank, and you know that there's no job too big
for you now. You could go forever.
When you're out working, you like to listen to the music your mother
put on your black iPod. You have to turn it up loud to hear it over
your Echo. The songs don't have words, but you know what they're about
because your mother told you their names. One is called "Autumn
Leaves." One is called "Autumn in New York." One is called "Autumn
Serenade." One is called "Falling Leaves." Your favorite, though, is
just called "Autumn." It's only a piano playing. It sounds exactly like
leaves would sound if they made music as they fell. Plink. Plink, plink.
You know that "autumn" and "fall" mean the same thing, but you like
"autumn" better than "fall." It makes the leaves sound prettier. You
wait all year for autumn. Autumn is like Christmas except there's no
Santa for autumn. Dead leaves tumble and float with every gust of wind.
The ground crunches beneath your feet, and the air smells like smoke.
Autumn is better than Christmas.
Sometimes you get to burn the leaves. At home in the backyard, that is.
You stand as close to the fire as your mother will let you, and you let
the smoke swallow you up. She tells you that outside fires like this
are against the law, but then she says that she doesn't care. You love
the way the smell gets in your clothes, your hair, your skin. At night,
when you take a bath, you hold your clothes up to your nose and breathe
in the smell until your head feels like a balloon.
You think about the days before leaf blowers. You remember them, but
only just barely. You were a little boy. Your mother would get her rake
out of the shed and make a big pile of leaves for you in the backyard.
You'd run and jump right in the middle of it and wriggle
yourself down as deep as you could until the light disappeared. You'd
breathe in the smell of the leaves, close your eyes, and wish that this
was what the whole world was.
You like cottonwood trees, because their leaves are as big as your
face. You can poke eyeholes in them and use them as masks. When the
wind blows hard, they skitter alive down the street, making clicking
sounds like big, crunchy bugs. And you like every kind of oak tree, but
particularly post oaks because their leaves are shaped like the big
cross that hangs over your mother's bed.
You are a shepherd and the leaves are your flock. This is what your
mother says to you. And Jesus is our shepherd. We are his leaves. When
she says this, you see Jesus standing in the clouds with a shiny Echo
on his back, blowing all the people around below him, separating into
piles the sinners and the saved. Behind his flowing beard, he's smiling.
You like mulberry trees because their leaves are shaped like hearts,
and you like maple trees because they turn the prettiest colors. They
think they live in New England instead of Texas.
You've seen pictures of New England. Its leaves in autumn are
beautiful. The leaves in Texas turn yellow sometimes, but mainly they
just turn brown. When you're lucky, they turn orange or red, but that's
rare. Still, you tell yourself, brown leaves need to be blown from one
place to another just the same as orange and red leaves. It's not the
leaves' fault that they're brown instead of orange or red. You feel
sorry for the brown leaves when you think about this. They probably
feel bad when they see the pretty leaves.
You get mad when you see big black bags full of leaves sitting on the
curb, waiting to be picked up by the trashmen. It's wrong. Your mother
tells you that not everyone likes leaves as much as you do. You don't
tell her that, when no one's looking, you rip open the bags and free
the leaves. You blow them around until it's as if they'd never been
You hear what people sometimes call you and say about you, but you
pretend you don't. Your mother tells you that these people are evil
sinners. They're like the man who threw that empty beer can at you that
time, she says. And your father, because he left. They'll all go to
Hell, she says, all those men, and you picture Hell with its fires and
flames and you wonder whether the smoke smells sweet, like burning
You like when you're called Mr. Leafie. That's what some of the kids in
the neighborhood call you whenever they see you blowing Bonham Street
clean. Hey, Mr. Leafie! they yell. Hey, Mr. Leafie! You aim your wand
at them, pretending that you're going to blow them away.
You keep a scrapbook of leaves that you like to look at during the
winter when the trees and streets are sad and empty and there are
hardly any leaves anywhere to be blown from one place to another. You
picked some of the leaves because of their funny shapes. Some of the
leaves you picked because of their interesting colors. You picked some
of the leaves because they're perfect.
You have to quit when it gets dark. Once, you didn't quit when it got
dark, and your mother came after you. She was mad. So now you always
quit right when it gets dark and you walk home. You take off your Echo
and set it in the corner of your bedroom. No one can touch it, not even
your mother. You get in bed and look at the pictures in your catalogues
or your scrapbook until you fall asleep.
At night, sometimes you dream that everyone is gone but you. Your
mother is gone, too. While you look for her, the leaves rise up in
front of your Echo like a snake with green, brown, yellow, orange, and
red stripes. The snake winds through the air, plucking every last leaf
from every tree, then rises straight up into the sky for miles until it
reaches the moon. It makes you happy to watch the leaves spinning
around the moon, but when you wake up, you're scared, like you were
that time when your mother told you how one day she would leave for
Heaven and you would have to go to a place where people might not need
their leaves to be blown from one place to another. You hurry to the
window to make sure that all the leaves are still there. There they
are, just like yesterday. You rush to eat your breakfast as fast as you
can. Your mother tells you to slow down, and you do, but you still eat
as fast as you can, and then you hurry out with your Echo blazing. The
leaves are happy to see you. You wave to them with your wand, and they
dance for you.