The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

APPLES AND LAWNS: As I write this, an apple fell not very far from the tree. The apple was a literal apple, the kind that you can eat or mash into applesauce or throw at the neighbor’s dog when it stops in the middle of your yard to take a dump, and not some hackneyed made in China literary device that I picked up at the local Circuit City at 10% off to help me move this thing along. Now the apple did not fall very far from the tree because my lawn got in the way; lawns are like that, as I am sure you’ve noticed by now. Literal apples fall not very far from the tree all the time here in our happy little burg; this is upstate New York, after all, or at least it was; the Westchester suburbs are metastasizing north at a fearful pace these days and will eventually swallow us whole, as a python consumes a rat, but for the time being we are still fairly rural, except where we aren’t, and so some of us still have apple trees in front of our houses. My tree produces Golden Delicious apples and those apples are not only golden, they are totally organic. I suppose I should accept the kudos of those people who believe in the superiority of natural and organic foods taken directly from the tree or from the soil over the processed stuff you get in the supermarket; one should always be gracious when receiving a compliment, I think, even when the compliment is wholly undeserved. The reality is that, as far as I am concerned, organic is a euphemistic way of saying that I don’t do a damn thing for this tree; I don’t water, feed, maintain, or otherwise care for this tree in any way. I’ll take the apples when they come, of course, but if the tree produces apples or not it’s all the same to me.

The lawn, however, is a different matter entirely. I know that I am not letting the cat out of the bag, the pig out of the poke, or sinking a ship with a loose lip (sorry, I ran out of bagged animal clichés there; I was going to try a wombat out of a womb, a viper out of a violin case, or a something out of a something, but nothing really came to me; even the violin case is stretching the whole concept a bit, given that it’s not really a bag) when I say that, in general, lawns are among the most narcissistic, whiny, lazy, passive-aggressive little snots it has ever been my misfortune to deal with. Unlike my apple tree, which plays well with others its own age and requires very little from me except that I not go after it with a chainsaw in a fit of rage, my lawn’s constant need for attention and perpetual emotional neediness becomes, after a while, irritating beyond the limits of human patience. It seems that no matter what you do for the damn lawn it is never enough, and when one combines a powerful sense of entitlement coupled with an overwhelming sense of personal inadequacy and feelings of persecution fueled by hormonal swings one fears for the safety of one’s doors, since they will get slammed shut on a regular basis.

Clearly, homeowners must set guidelines for their lawns and must, I think, strictly enforce them; there are simply too many opportunities, as I am sure we would all agree, for a lawn to get itself into serious trouble these days. The homeowner today must also face, as homeowners of an earlier age did not, the baleful influence of a media that simultaneously shapes and panders to the unreal expectations of what a “perfect” lawn should look like. It doest not matter that the vast majority of lawns in the United States do not look like the lawns shown in such schlocky magazines as House & Garden or Architectural Digest; the beautiful images in those magazines create their own demand. Many lawns look at those images and wonder, why they can’t be like the lawns in the pictures, without realizing that the tremendous investment of time, energy, and money someone invested to create that “perfect” lawn are simply beyond the more modest means of most homeowners in this country.

And, as in all vicious circles, having set the botanicosocial wheel in motion, it will prove next to impossible to stop. Having fostered the demand through well-placed advertising in the magazines mentioned above and others like them, there are any number of businesses ready, willing, and able to exploit the personal insecurities of those readers for their own gain. It is no accident that advertisements for weed-killers seem to account for every other ad on television during the spring, for example; the companies making these herbicides time the ads to appear during the height of the dandelion season, when lawns across the nation are driven to near madness by the sudden eruption of yellow all over themselves. Most homeowners know that trying to reason with your lawn, to say that dandelions are an inevitable part of a growing lawn’s life, to just wait and they will be gone soon; your lawn knows, with the certainty of a religious fanatic and his brother, the insider trader, that dandelions are unsightly, unfashionable, and worst of all, definitely not cool, a formulation the wisest of homeowners could not defeat logically with a ten volume set of Aristotle. The lawn knows what it knows, and that’s all there is to it.

And then, as we all know, there is the lure of the forbidden. You may do your best to raise a good lawn, give it a good start in life, spend hours worrying about it day in and day out for years on end, and before you know what’s going on your lawn’s gallivanting about the countryside with that lawn from down the street. You know the one I mean: the scruffy one that looks like no one’s mowed it for a couple of months, the one with all the crabgrass everywhere you look and ragweed so tall that it could give an allergic giraffe a bad case of hay fever. That’s right; after all the weeping over the dandelions and the fortune you spent straightening the white picket fence and getting the crabgrass plucked out by the roots because all of the friends were having it done and life would be intolerable otherwise and it was all your fault, followed by the inevitable slamming door, what shows up on your doorstep? Crabgrass, acres and acres of crabgrass, and not a job prospect in sight as far as the eye can see. It’s enough to make a homeowner want to pull his hair out, if they’ve still got any after all the stress the lawn has put them through over the years.


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