My family home on the South Shore bordered on a small woods. Every October the trees beyond the old stone wall turned brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges. The glorious explosion of color lasted several weeks. The wind ripped the weaker leaves from the branches and they fell by the millions into our back yard. My brothers and sisters loved running through the rustling layers of decay, but come the weekend the fun ended with my father ordering my older brother and me to rake the leaves into piles. Once the lawn was visible my father lit our labor afire. The smoke of those leaves filled the yard with the fragrance of burnt autumn offerings.
The next morning the leaves were replaced by their cousins. Less than before, yet millions still and my brother and I reaped another harvest of leaves. Another fire. The Sisyphean ritual was repeated until the trees were bare. I hated raking leaves. The task seemed as senseless as mowing the lawn. A chore my father demanded from us and his sons performed his command without question. Young boys in the early 60s were prized for their devotion to obedience. Merit badges and gold stars paved the avenues of success. My older brother followed the path through university and law school. I rejected the lawn, the station wagon, the two-car garage, and raking the lawn.The East Village was my home in the late 70s. The tenements were wrapped by concrete sidewalks and the the wind disposed of the leaves from the ornamental pear trees on East 10th Street. I didn't touch a rake for most of my adult life and loved this freedom from the fetish of neatness tormenting the suburbs, although I missed the smell of a good autumn fire as did many conventional New Yorkers. My good friend AP told of an Easthampton client who ordered the landscapers to blow errant leaves from the estate's 20-acre lawn. Before the crew finished the job, the billionaire came out of his mansion and requested that the workers pick out the finest leaves for a pristine pile of leaves for his children to run through after school.
"That's the way of the rich." AP deals with such people all the time as a architect.
We laughed at their excess. That 1% knows how to spend the 95% of the wealth.
After hearing that story I went to shoot baskets at my local park on deKalb Avenue. No one was on the court, but several park workers were raking leaves. I thought about my father and the East Village and then the rich guy in Easthampton. No one could escape raking leaves and upon leaving the park I commented to one worker about this task and he said, "Yeah, we're bringing them to another park, so the kids can run through them. They love that."
Same as rich kids in Easthampton.
And me too.
It does make a pretty sound.
For the rich the poor and the in-between.