Solomon Jones: Mean Mr. Green Grass

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ONCE UPON a time, spring was my favorite time of year. When April turned to May, and raindrops gave way to sunshine, I was in my element, because this was the month in which all my hard work paid off. This was the time of year when my grass would start to grow.

But, alas, my kids have spent the last few years destroying my yard work. Thanks to their vile habit of digging, biking and skating across the tender blades of grass that once made me the envy of the block, my lawn now resembles the Mojave Desert. It's so desolate I can almost hear someone whistling the theme song from "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" every time I walk out the door.

My lawn is so dusty that if my life were a spaghetti western, the front of my house could be the setting for the shootout at the O.K. Corral. I expect tumbleweed to start rolling down my street any minute. It's awful, but it's not like I didn't believe it would eventually come to this.

Last year, when I felt like I could still resuscitate my lawn, I halfheartedly planted seeds, knowing that the kids would kill them eventually. My worst fears were realized when they engaged in WWE-style cage matches on my lawn. I felt like Mr. Wilson, and my son - that smiling little baby I once knew - became Dennis the Menace.

I wanted to chase him and his friends away. I wanted to make them replant my seeds. I wanted to make them pay.

That's when I knew it was time for me to do something radical. I made a decision that will not only change my relationship with my lawn - this decision also will change how I view myself.

Before I tell you what I'm planning to do, I need you to know that just a few short months ago, this would have been unthinkable. I was prepared to fight to the bitter end. I was ready to chase kids to the ends of the Earth. But now, with a writing schedule that includes three columns a week and a book a year, I no longer have the mental energy to engage the kids in battle.

They are a guerrilla force - one that is younger, faster and ideologically determined to play on my lawn. Me? I'm just a writer in his mid-40s who's too tired to fight anymore.

For the lawn enthusiasts, this will be difficult to hear. You've followed me over the years as I got down on my knees and clawed rocks from the soil with my bare hands. You've perspired with me as I spread seed and fertilizer over my little patch of earth. You've empathized with me as I've sprayed and cut and sprayed again. But now the battle is over. The kids have won, and I'm finally taking the plunge.

That's right. I'm giving up. I'm copping out. I'm buying sod.

For those of you who know what sod is, I am hanging my head in shame as I write this. Feel free to mentally pelt me with rotten tomatoes. For those of you who don't know, allow me to explain, and please try to refrain from judging me.

Sod is the grass that someone else grows and then cuts into strips - complete with top soil - so that incompetent lawn owners can claim it as their own. It is the lawn's equivalent of a toupee. Or a really bad hair weave. Or one of those wigs that your grandmother used to keep on a Styrofoam head on her dresser.

Sod is for losers, my friends. As a sod owner, I will be sinking to the lowest depths of lawndom.

There is a certain pride a man takes in planting his own grass seed, watering it and watching it grow. There is a joy that comes with cutting it in nice straight lines and edging it just so.

I guess I'll still experience that joy with my sod, but it will be different. I'll know, just as my neighbors will, that it's not really my grass.

I wonder if they'll snicker when they see me mowing it. I wonder if they'll whisper among themselves.

"You know that grass isn't really his," they'll say with knowing grins. "I wonder if LaVeta is going to tell him."

"No, child. She's going to let him keep right on taking care of that grass just like it's his."

Oh, sure, they'll talk about me for those first few months. But, years from now, when my grass is lush and green, a little child will walk up to me and pose the question I've always longed to hear:

"How'd you get such nice grass, Mr. Jones?"

"The kids made me do it, son," I'll say with a faraway gaze.

"The kids made me do it."

 


Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books,including his latest novel, The Dead Man's Wife (Minotaur Books), and the humor collection Daddy's Home: A Memoir of Fatherhood and Laughter. The married father of three has been featured on NPR and CNN, and has written on parenting for Essence and other publications. He created the literacy program Words on the Street. His column appears Tuesdays. More at Solomonjones.com.