My lawn is turning brown. It does this un-American thing because of my benign neglect and with my complete approval. Actually, I feel a sort of perverse, vaguely self- righteous pride about its decrepit state.
I lately have taken to sneering at lawns, those plush, thick, emerald stretches of natural Astroturf that look as if they were taken in to be done every week. I have an urge to go about like some Carry Nation with a shovel, turning over the soil, making designs in the edging, planting crabgrass wherever I go.
My pleasure is of the miserly judgmental sort shared by runners and anorexics. It's the pride that comes from staying on your diet while all about you are eating Cheez-its, or from staying sober while all your friends are putting lampshades on their heads.
The fact is that I hate lawns. Something about them strikes me as theater of the absurd. I suspect it is the absolute fundamental wastefulness of all these little green things sticking out across the landscape. I cannot believe that people devote hours of labor, gallons of water, fertilizer and attention to the care and maintenance of something as fundamentally parasitic as a lawn.
As far as I am concerned, there are two kinds of people in the back-yard world: people who grow grass and people who grow vegetables.
The grass growers do it all for show. Unless they happen to own a cow, the lawn doesn't give them food. It doesn't give them shade. It doesn't give them anything. On the contrary, it makes demands.
Grass is a perfect case study of the natural leech the power of the power-less. The better you take care of it, the more it demands. Give it water and it will demand mowing; fertilize it and it will require edging. It will hide its demanding nature by letting you walk all over it.
I didn't always feel this way. Once upon a time I, too, was an active grass grower. When I first got my home, complete with God's little quarter-acre, I assumed the care of all the dependents that came with it.
I felt responsible for the upkeep of the small square of grass in the front yard and the rectangle in the back.
I seeded it and weeded it, sowed and mowed it, hedged and edged it. I bought it hoses, fertilizers and machinery. The damn thing simply sponged off me.
Slowly I began to feel alienated from this water guzzling, England-aping, space-wasting, time-gobbling, spend-thrift showoff. I began to realize that lawns are the bound feet of our culture, proof that we are so well off that we can support indolence.
This is what we do: We "develop" farmland into suburbia, pave paradise with grass. The grass, in turn, supports an industry of turf-builders, fertilizer salesmen, and a class of professional gardeners who rake it all in at a basic annual cost of two cents a square foot or $870 an acre.
If that weren't bad enough, grass requires some 18 to 20 inches of water a year, whether you live in Portland, Ore., or Tucson, Ariz. Watering a lawn in Arizona is like raising Medflies in San Jose.
My own rebellion against the green flats of suburbia was to join the other people, the vegetable growers.
Today, half of my original lawn is now vegetating. Vegetables, you see, have a social conscience. Offer them a bit of precious water and, like shmoos, they will roll over and beg to be eaten.
Tomatoes, for their part, feel a moral obligation to return your efforts with a salad. Eggplant never demands MORE, MORE, MORE. It altruistically contributes its life to the community ratatouille. And while it is harder to walk on Zucchini than grass, one never has to mow it. One simply has to force friends to eat it.
If I were not such a craven social creature, I would have thumbed my nose at lawn mowers long ago, and turned over the last bit of greenery in front of my house.
Instead I simply cut off its supply of water and food. At this moment, the lawn is on its own and losing. And I'm forever dreaming of a cabbage patch.