Falling in love with autumn leaves

Monday morning I fell in love. I know it’s infatuation, but I’ll remember it forever. Him, that is. Or them.

Last week at the neighborhood association’s annual meeting, the president announced good news: Leaf collection Monday or Tuesday. Philadelphia trash collection being as reliable as the president of the Procrastinators’ Club, I figured I had ample time.

I planned to replace my Monday treadmill walk with a raking experience. Cross training. I could set the alarm for 7, enjoy coffee, a bagel and The Inquirer and finish the front lawn at least two days before the leaf truck lunged into view.

I figured wrong. When the alarm rang at 7, I turned it off. At 7:30, the grinding gears of the truck jolted me out of bed. I dressed quickly and raced outside, fortified with a rake and a broom.

Since the truck was two doors away, I needed to remove the yellow, red and brown blanket needed from the green and brown lawn fast. A sanitation worker, ushering the truck down its leafy aisle, was already using a hand-held leaf-blower in front of the house next door.

Shouting over the din of the truck, I told the man I was trying to beat the clock. He walked over and said, “You do have a lot of leaves.” Right. Like I hadn’t noticed.

I kept raking, and the truck moved on, inexorably. I shouted to the driver, “Will you come back?” He shrugged.

Raking, I hollered to the pedestrian sanitation worker that we were in a race, and his team was winning. “Never mind,” he said. That’s when I fell in love, because this man, this stranger with a smile and a blower, started clearing my lawn, pushing piles of fallen leaves toward the street.

Imagine the headlines. “Municipal employee helps private citizen.” “Hourly worker voluntarily adds to his chores.” “Man abets forlorn woman in beautifying urban neighborhood.”

As a truck bearing supervisors cruised by, I asked one chap if he was going to get in trouble. “I doubt it,” he said, “but if I do, this is a good way to get in trouble. Working.” Where are we, Altoona? Atlantis? Is this how municipal employees speak in the real world?

For five minutes, we toiled in tandem, raking the platter clean with minimal delay to the truck. I ran indoors to raid my wallet.

No, a tip wasn’t necessary, and yes, he had deprived me of my cardio work-out for the day. Still, a gratuity seemed fitting.

I handed the man ten bucks (not much, but it wasn’t in the budget). Silently he smiled thanks. In a flash, he tapped me on the shoulder, saying, “Here, it’s on the house,” as his gloved hand clumsily tried to put the bill into my gloved hand.

I refused. The truck sucked up the mess, leaving a tidy street behind, and the object of my affection disappeared forever.

My neighbor, Les, wonders why the guys didn’t clear his lawn, and I suggested he dress more scantily. Just kidding.

If you work in Philadelphia government, and you know these dudes are not supposed to take tips, give it a rest. They were helping a little old lady in tights and tennis shoes.

It’s Wednesday, and the leaves are falling.