A year ago I threatened to leave my wife if she watered the lawn.

"The slower it grows the fewer times I'll have to mow it," was my reasoning. Or better yet, "Maybe it will die."

Now I rush home from work, leap into jeans and descend into the yard to coax and pamper the grass to grow. Why the sudden transformation? I'm a new homeowner.

After moving into a new neighborhood in February, my wife and I coped for weeks with mud and clay until our lawn was finally seeded. Then with increased anticipation we--daily--surveyed the yard looking for signs of new life.

Little did we know the conditions were perfect for the propagation of the dreaded disease: "lawnitis." What's more, it seems to be spreading in epidemic proportions throughout the neighborhood.

Among victims struck by the malady:

Former hippies, whose previous association with grass was a shared spiritual experience going up in smoke, now getting high from rich green and evenly textured turf; macho types who used to spit at "Keep Off the Grass" signs now debating the merits of fescue versus bluegrass; tough jocks who previously thought "The Good Earth" was an Astroturf maintenance manual, and tremble with fear at the mere mention of toad stools, damping off or fairy rings.

Even those fastidious types who wouldn't dream of being seen with a hair out of place have been spotted on hands and knees in the front yard scrounging for rocks and stones. Sloths who have never lifted a hand at honest work are out sweating and toiling. Sharing the knowledge that "Nirvana is green," we are unified in our quest for peace through the perfect lawn.

But that is where good-natured neighborliness can turn into the deadly syndrome. It is here that lawnitis festers and the ugly symptoms appear, such as gill-green envy over the sprigs in a neighbor's yard and despair over the brown in our own; the unconvincing attempts at sympathy when a downpour washes a gulley through the middle of some poor lawn down the street.

Alas, there is no known cure short of selling your house and moving to Alaska. Symptoms, however, may be mitigated if you:

1) Don't wait for rain to keep the ground moist. Water again and again. In your own yard use a fine spray or sprinkler to keep from dislodging seeds. If your neighbor is out of town and you've volunteered to keep his yard from drying out, a strong steady stream of water will wash away seedlings resulting in nice bare areas. This will enhance the thickness of your own yard.

2) Don't walk on young grass or newly seeded areas. Send your kids and pets over to the neighbors to play.

3) Don't apply weed killers for about a year after sowing. Any crabgrass, dandelion, or chickweed bold enough to invade your lawn can be pulled up by hand or dug up using a kitchen knife and tossed casually into a neighboring yard. Be sure to throw dandelions down-wind from your own yard.

4) Do wait until the grass has been mowed at least three or four times before applying fertilizer. If at all possible apply your fertilizer while your neighbors are not home or late on a rainy night. Then start the rumor that good-quality grass needs nothing but plenty of water and sunshine.

5) Do remove any sticks or large stones from the yard. Smaller rocks can be gathered with a rake and picked up. The sticks can be kept in an attractive container on the front porch and used to chase neighborhood children and pets away.

6) On slow-draining lawns, do prick the surface of the soil using a garden fork and fill the holes with sand to improve drainage. Leftover sand can be mixed with coarse salt and given to neighbors to fill in their holes.

7)Do take comfort in the fact that lawnitis goes into remission with the first frost.