I’ve never understood the benefit of a gasoline-powered leaf blower over a rake or a broom — except to create an ear-splitting whir whose only possible satisfaction must be to make the tool-wielder feel more macho.
But yesterday I came to realize that the leaf blower, whose antique two-stroke engine technology enables such a small tool to make such a big noise, is not merely one of the top ten stupidest machines ever invented, along with the electric nose-hair clipper and the electric hand lotion warmer.
As to the leaf blower, it’s clear now that this idiotic engine is a perfect metaphor for everything that’s wrong with our attitude towards technology in industrial consumerism.
Yes, technology, even if it barely rises to an East German level. Let me explain.
A couple times a week I travel out to the middle of a cornfield to teach English at the local community college. Picturesquely located adjacent to Interstate 81, the site provides excellent acoustics to distinguish the many passing 18-wheelers from lesser diesel trucks.
But since yesterday was perhaps the finest day of the year, sunny and fresh, I wanted to offer my students a break from our low-ceilinged classroom of cinder blocks and acoustic tiles by holding class outside.
Before class, I scouted the campus for a spot shielded from the relentless highway din. After twenty minutes, I settled on an unloved area behind the art gallery with a picnic table that had probably never been used. You could hear the gallery’s HVAC blower, but at least the interstate traffic was blocked by the building.
So when class started, I hiked my students over to the site. We settled down and divided out the five roles for an out-loud reading of Susan Glaspell’s short play Trifles. And then we started.
It went fine for about five minutes until a couple of landscape guys came along and began leaf blowing. Upholding the enigma of their mystic brotherhood, their method was inscrutable. On this lonely hillside, there was no path or flowerbed that needed clearing. So they blew leaves from one patch of grass to another, even as the breeze blew the leaves back to the original spot.
As my students strained their ears to hear any of the clues of Glaspell’s murder mystery, to me it was the proverbial ten minutes that became an eternity.
Afterwards, the result looked like digging a hole and filling it up again. There were still plenty of leaves. The leaf men had brought no Hefty bag to haul away their red, yellow and orange loot, which remained in situ. But no matter. The determination of the blowmen showed that their actions surely conformed to some ancient and sacred rule of leaf-management arcana.
Perhaps they were just evening out the leaf distribution for a more consistent look?
Or, perhaps as in a Kafka story, the leaf management authorities simply wanted to demonstrate to the populace that, if leaves fall, they will be blown. You may think they’re being blown for you. But in that case, you would be wrong. Leaf-blowing blows only to realize its own destiny.
Indeed, the leaf blower does not work to serve the people; the people exist to serve the leaf blower.
Puny attempts to banish the leaf blower may tempt incautious citizens here and there. But for every limit on the ancient prerogatives of the leaf blower anywhere, suburban homeowners associations, manufacturers lobbies and compliant local officials will ensure that a hundred times as much leaf-blowing will soon appear elsewhere.
Yes, my friends. If leaves fall, they will be blown.
Ultimately, the realist will learn to accept the leaf blower. And she who truly wishes to live a well adjusted life will strive mightily against her lower nature and will work, whether awake or in her dreams, to develop a deep affection for the leaf blower.
Properly cultivated, that feeling can only be described as love.
– Erik Curren, Transition Voice