Lawn jockey

So I was raking leaves in my front yard on a sunny autumn weekday, careful to always face the street when I bent over so the neighbors wouldn't be exposed to plumber's cleavage, when an older gentleman stopped his sports car at the curb and rolled down his window.

He gave me the hard squint, clearly trying to think of a way to say it, and I figured he was just having a man's instinctual difficulty in asking for directions. But what he said was, "Um, do you live around here?"

My first thought: No, buddy, I'm raking somebody else's leaves, just for the fun of it.

Then I realized what he was getting at. Here I am in my swank neighborhood, where most people have trust funds and-or real jobs, raking leaves in the middle of a work day. I'm wearing an old flannel shirt, drug-dealer sunglasses and tattered jeans that I keep hitching up. I don't particularly look like I belong here. This guy thinks I'm the lawn boy.

Now I've got nothing against lawn guys. Most of them probably make more money than I do. It was the gent's assumption that got to me.

I sputtered something like, yeah, this is my house right here. He gave me a dubious smile, then asked his question, and I told him the street he wanted was two blocks over. He waved his thanks and zoomed away, leaving me standing in the yard, frozen in place, pointing like a plaster jockey.

Folks expect a strapping man like myself to be at a job during the week. When they see me doing household business at the bank or the supermarket on a work day, wearing sandals and with my shirttails hanging out, they assume the worst. They think I'm unemployed. Or that I'm a member of the untaxed shadow economy where the main sources of income are petty theft and crack cocaine. Or that there's something wrong with me and any second I might start ranting about government conspiracies and little green men. Or, apparently, that I'm the hired help.

Do other housespouses get this reaction as they go about their daily lives? Do people stare and stammer and avoid the subject of what do you do for a living? Is it just me? Is it my clothes? If I went to the supermarket dressed like Donna Reed, would everyone accept that I worked at home? OK, bad example. A giant, bearded man wearing an apron and heels to the supermarket probably would get a whole different sort of reaction. But you see my point, right? People are conditioned to expect men (and women, for that matter) to work at a regular job on weekdays. They expect suits and ties. They expect to see us in traffic during rush hour, cellular phones pasted to our heads, stress eating us up from the inside.

A househusband, whose performance in the laundry room is as important as the job he does, doesn't fit those expectations. People don't understand that, for us, every day is a chore-filled Saturday.

Of course, one of the main attractions of working at home is not having to wear the suit and tie. But just because I'm in a bathrobe and sweatpants in the middle of the day, does that make me a crazy person? OK, don't answer that. Let me put it another way. Does being a slob automatically equate to lower class citizenship? Is there no room in people's assumptions for househusbandry?

People see a big guy, dressed like Paul Bunyan, walking around in a daze, mumbling to himself about some plot point in a future novel, and they don't think, ah, a literary type, a dreamer. They think: Look, it's the wacko guy who rakes other people's lawns.

Maybe I'm just sending the wrong signals. I guess I could go bohemian, dress in black head-to-toe and sport a beret. But I'm a little too old and fat to play the starving artist and I have a low tolerance for pretense.

I'm planning to make an exception, though. Next time I'm out in the yard, raking leaves, I'm wearing a tuxedo.

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