Recalling terror in the grass

Kevin Cowherd

April 05, 1993|By Kevin Cowherd

Sensing that I was in way too fine a mood and needing to get in touch with the customary gloom that surrounds me, I went out yesterday and inspected my lawn.

The lawn squats like a giant ugly toad on all four sides of the house.

It has more ruts and holes in it than the Ho Chi Minh Trail, circa 1968. And now, as spring comes grudgingly to the Mid-Atlantic region, the grass is a lovely shade of grayish brown, reminiscent of an abandoned strip-mining site in Appalachia.

Staring at the lawn and envisioning the work it would take to make this eyesore even semi-presentable, I became more and more depressed.

Finally I couldn't take it anymore. So I went back inside and lay in a dark room for several hours, staring up at the ceiling and wondering where it all went wrong.

There was a time -- God help me, it seems so long ago now -- when I was actually proud of the lawn.

Back then I nurtured the lawn. I spread fertilizer fervently. I planted grass seed religiously. I lugged around heavy bags of peat moss and distributed it generously to protect the new seedlings.

I went through enough weedkiller to defoliate the eastern half of the U.S. -- one whiff of the stuff would probably kill you right there, paralyze your brain stem. But I didn't care.

I was out of my mind. And into my lawn.

Then one day I . . . well, I got a little carried away.

A man at the local nursery -- an evil little man, I see that now -- turned me on to this new fertilizer, which was said to produce amazing results.

So I bought a bag of the stuff and spread it on my lawn.

In retrospect, I should have sensed something was amiss.

The powder made a hissing sound as it hit the grass. Soon the entire lawn was shrouded in gaseous vapors, which blocked out the sun. Vultures circled overhead.

Overnight, while I slept the deep, contented sleep of a man who has toiled hard in the fields, the lawn turned an unearthly shade of yellow.

By the morning's first light, you needed a pair of Ray-Bans to look at the lawn.

Two hours later, shades were not enough. You needed a special purple filter recommended by NASA even to peek at the lawn without permanent damage to your corneas.

This, of course, did not go over well in the neighborhood.

Little children became frightened and lapsed into hysterical crying jags upon seeing the lawn.

Adult passers-by became agitated and reported feelings of dread and anxiety long after passing my house.

"Too much nitrogen," my neighbor Al said one day.

"Beg pardon?" I said. The noise from the de-fogging machine I had rented was making it hard to hear.

"The fertilizer had too much nitrogen."

The fertilizer had too much nitrogen . . . boy, I wanted to smack him! And I probably would have, too, except all of a sudden I was feeling kind of queasy, apparently from the fumes rolling off the lawn.

The following spring, I looked in the Yellow Pages and dialed a lawn-care service.

The next day, a truck pulled up to the house. The truck had flowers with smiley faces and talking shrubs painted on its side panels.

Two officious-looking men got out, unraveled some hoses, and proceeded to spray the lawn with chemicals.

The men insisted these chemicals were not harmful to human life, or dog life, and that there was no need for us to don Mylex suits, oxygen masks and rubber boots in order to play a game of Whiffleball in the back yard.

Of course, this is similar to what they said about Agent Orange 20 years ago. But as of this writing, neither my wife nor I have begun to glow in the dark, and the children are not mysteriously levitating toward the ceiling or using telepathic powers to hurl lamps at each other -- at least not that I know of.

Anyway, the lawn service helped somewhat. But gazing out at the grass now, I see that we might want to try something new this spring.

One idea (I'm just thinking out loud here) is this: We blacktop the whole thing. Then we bring in some old washing machines, piles of snow tires, the rusted hulks of abandoned cars. Start a junk business. Try to make a few bucks, is what I'm saying.

Although knowing the neighbors, they'd probably complain about that, too.

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