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A suburban lawn
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Mel Ganser looked at the uneven lawn in the home he had just purchased.
“Damn weeds,” he said as he viewed the sprouting dandelions and what the lawn technicians called spurge, creeping charlie, pigweed and even clover.
“I thought clover was good,” he mused.
Mel had spent the first 62 years of his life in New York City where being up close and personal with grasses and woody plants was restricted to Central Park and the botanical gardens. Mel didn't go to the parks much.
But now, having moved south after a divorce and then his retirement, he purchased a modest home in a modest subdivision in a modest community.
Quickly he was besieged by armies of turf company sales types. Each promised the best lawn in the neighborhood, freedom from weeds and a green carpet to the roadway.
Each also wanted what Mel considered a bundle of money. “More than $100 a month to spray and fertilize my little lawn,” he huffed. “An then there are all those Puerto Rican guys who want $200 a month to mow it.”
Being from New York, Mel's main contact with Spanish speakers was with those from Puerto Rico. So if they spoke Spanish, they were Puerto Rican in his mind, and he didn't care about the details.
“I can cut it myself,” he fumed.
Thus began World War I of Mel vs. Mother Nature. And the lawn appeared more and more as a battlefield.
Mel cut, chopped, spread fertilizer from the big box store, and, finally, he crawled on his knees pulling those offending weeds individually. After he did so, he delicately placed a single seed from the five-pound bag he purchased at the local hardware store. The bag promised miracles.
He vowed to avoid weed killers for fear such chemicals would hurt the majestic stand of hardwoods that bordered his home to the south and north.
As spring moved into summer, Mel calculated he was spending nearly two whole days a week taking care of his lawn. “I am a slave to gross grass,” he muttered. “I should pour concrete over the whole thing and that will be that.”
Of course, living in a subdivision under a covenant and patrolled by nazi housewives, Mel had no concrete option. He didn't know it at the time, but he had promised when he closed on the house that he would maintain a well-manicured lawn from the house to the street. He also promised not to hang his underwear out the window, use only the correct color exterior paint and do or not do a lot of other actions buried in the 24-page document drawn up by the original subdivision developers to protect their financial interests.
The developers were long gone, but Mel had learned a percentage of homeowners enforced the agreement religiously. He had gotten letters almost as the first dandelions bloomed warning him of monumental consequences if he did not comply and protect his neighbors from dandelion seeds.
Mel also noticed a procession of dirty looks from neighbors as they passed by his ragged lawn. One even suggested tearing the whole thing out and placing sod. “As if I could afford that,” Mel thought, clenching his fists.
He fantasized with rolling out astroturf. But he quickly learned that a 10-by-10 section of artificial turf cost in excess of $100.
Then he thought about hiring goats. “I really ought to get sheep because they nibble the grass right down to the roots,” Mel mused, thinking back of those dozens of cowboy movies that pitted ranchers against sheep herders for that reason.
“I'll bet the subdivision nazis would like that,” he grimaced.
Nearly every weekday morning Mel was awakened by the roar of high-powered lawn mowers nearby cutting neighbors' lawns. “Damn, noisy Puerto Ricans,” he fumed, despite now knowing full well that the grass cutters were from Sonora, Chihuahua or some other place south of the border.
In mid-June a passing tropical depression awarded Mel's lawn 11 days of continuous rain. He could only stare out the window nervously as the grass and weeds reveled in the moisture and reached for the sky.
“When will this stop,” Mel anguished as rainy day followed rainy day. He realized he was getting unhinged. He reached more frequently for the bottle. He didn't shave. He could think of little more than the multiplying cells of the weeds in his front lawn.
He began to think of them as little, tiny, green, malevolent individuals slowly creeping toward the dwelling. He thought he could see little eyes. Was it the wind or were they talking to each other, mocking him, the human.
Each day his paranoia grew. The weeds were after him. The taller ones stood well above the average level of the lawn. These were the leaders. They must be destroyed.
Mel knew that only direct action could defeat the weeds. When the 12th morning showed blue skies, Mel knew he had to act. The weeds were mocking him. They were trying to take over. “I'll fix them,” he yelled.
Unfortunately, Mel was a little sloppy in spreading the gasoline on his lawn. When he ignited the fluid, he also ignited his pant leg, leading to severe burns. The searing pain was not as bad as the knowledge the weeds had defeated him. A neighbor called 911.
He babbled so much that the hospital staffers brought in some mental health experts. This was not the first case of its type that they had seen.
Fortunately for Mel there are nice, peaceful, heavily concreted places where the wounded of the lawn wars can recover.
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