When I first became a homeowner, few things excited me more than finally having a front yard. I was ecstatic about a lawn, and I was looking forward to mowing it, landscaping it, and telling neighborhood children to get off it while referring to them as hoodlums and ruffians. After all, isn’t that the curmudgeon’s American Dream?
The only problem was the weeds. There were large swaths of yard that, while technically green, weren’t technically grass, so during my second summer in the new house, I decided to do something about it. My neighbor had a cousin who worked in landscaping, and he offered me a great deal to spray my yard to control the weeds. I paid and he sprayed, and I was now looking forward to yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off my weed-free lawn.
Fortunately, all the weeds died. Unfortunately, I had underestimated just how much of my lawn was weeds. Basically all of it. All of it was weeds. And within a week after spraying, all the weeds became dirt. All the weeds that had been all my lawn were now all dirt.
“Ok, ok. I can fix this,” is a stupid thing that stupid men say before they do stupid things. I was about to embark on a futile lawn resuscitation endeavor that would leave my yard as lifeless and devoid of resources as a former soviet republic.
I started with bags of grass seed. Just bags. I didn’t have a (working) spreader, so I just wandered around the desolate dirt pits in my yard, throwing handfuls out onto the scorched earth like a woefully inept Johnny Appleseed. The summer was an especially hot one, so I knew watering would be vital. Unfortunately, watering was a Sisyphusian exercise. After a week of seeding and watering, a few small patches started to spring up–probably accidentally–and if grass blades were sentient, I’m sure they would’ve regretted the decision to sprout immediately after seeing the sprawling wasteland into which they’d been born. Each morning and evening, I trekked out to water the fledgling refugees. I felt like a surly headmaster throwing a bowl of lukewarm gruel into a mass of starving orphans, a bristly desert of yellow-green Oliver Twists looking up at me and begging in adorable British-child accents, “Please sir, just let us die.”
A second problem was mowing. You see, even though 90% of my lawn was dirt, I still had 10% that was living, growing grass that needed to be mowed. And it’s not like the grass was all in one, easy-to-mow spot. Nope. Little vaguely green clumps pockmarked the dirt like Gas Town outposts in a Mad Max apocalypse. They had to be trimmed. This is where I should mention that my lawnmower wasn’t in top working order either. The engine had something rattling around in it that made a god-awful racket when the motor was running–imagine a machine gun firing hammers at a water heater filled with cement. Oddly specific, right? Oddly accurate as well. It sounded as if it might bring about the end of the world every time I mowed.
So once a week or so, I’d wake Ragnarok the Lawn Obliterater and cut the grass. When normal people with normal lawns and normal mowers cut their grass, there’s a bit of symmetry and grace to the act–clean lines, bagged clippings, fresh smell. When a neighbor walks by, they share a friendly wave. It’s nauseatingly suburban. When I mowed the wasteland, I zigzagged haphazardly, moving from one tuft of green to the next, a trail of dust kicking up behind me as if I were racing a jury-rigged dune buggy across the desert. The embarrassment and pity when people walked by was palpable. They’d make it a point to cross to the other side of the road and watch as I emerged from a dust cloud, leading the four horses of the apocalypse thundering over the mutilated dirt.
The one small consolation in this cavalcade of failure was a small patch of Bermuda creeping in from my neighbor’s side. I thought it might…it just might move in and cover one of the larger dirt patches. But as it slowly progressed over the weeks, it sensed the shame and failure in the soil and it, too, began to wither and die…but in a very specific spot. It died literally on the property line between my yard and the neighbor’s.
What the hell, grass gods?
My property line looked like the border between East and West Berlin circa 1985. While the neighbor’s grass was enjoying a verdant, fertile existence full of Western excesses, the shocked citizens locked in the hellscape of my own little East Ber(muda)lin kept attempting to sneak back over the wall to get their hands on Levi’s Jeans and Bruce Springsteen cassettes. And I desperately attempted to fix the problem through central planning and rationing of resources, but like the Soviets, I clearly had no idea what I was doing.
Summer faded into fall, and eventually I gave up on fixing the lawn for the season. Luckily, October brought with it a generous layer of dead leaves to cover my yard. I’d pull into my driveway thinking, “Thank goodness all these dead leaves are covering up the dirt!” This thought was quickly followed by the realization that I was single-handedly bringing down the property values of the entire zip code.
I left the leaves until February, afraid to rake them for fear that the dead leaves, dirt, and stagnant failure had congealed and fermented into a demonic sludge monster, like a zombified version of the Scotts lawncare guy.
I think I’ll just leave it alone for a bit longer. Things like this just go away with time, right?