The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

He found a ‘lawn shaming’ sign in his crabgrass. Thousands avenged him.

(Courtesy of Stricker family)

Robert Stricker — 31, insurance actuary, reluctant lawn owner for nearly five years — would be perfectly content if every yard on his block was a jungle of weeds, all equal in ugliness.

He accepts that this is not the world in which he lives.

Rather, he and his wife, Abby, live in the United States — in the Dallas suburb of Richardson, specifically, where lawns are basically social caste symbols, and Stricker has no ambitions of ever leaving the weeded class.

His lawn is “going for that messy I-just-woke-up look,” he said. “It’s just crabgrass, as far as the eye can see.”

Oh, he mows, when he has to — sometimes a bit too late to avoid the attention of city code enforcement officers with their 12-inch-high maximums. He even plans to buy an electric hedge trimmer, at some point.

As new details of Rand Paul’s beating emerge, let’s recall the violent history of lawn maintenance

But these are Stricker’s chores, not his passions.

He looks across the street sometimes and sees landscapers toiling over his neighbor’s lawn. “They’ll come up and till your soil and aerate it and put in sod, or whatever, and do their fancy services,” he said. “It’s like an arms race of domestic luxuries.”

He thought he had surrendered in the lawn battle long ago, but last week the war found him, anyway.

Abby Stricker came home one afternoon after her volunteer shift at an animal shelter to find a sign planted amid the balding grass and stray leaves of their yard.

“Your lawn was not treated today,” the sign read. “Your neighbor’s was.” It listed a 1-800 number for Dr. Green lawn care.

Abby sent a photo of the sign to Robert, who, in a fit of irritation, posted the photo on Reddit.

“Shaming us for our lawn quality I guess?” he wrote. And before Stricker had come home from the office and plucked the thing out of his yard, the sign had enraged the Internet.

EffYouLT: Door hangers are already lame, but this is some next level annoying.

Math4life93: I hope this business dies

nonviolence: Your lawn is pretty terrible though.

Stricker: u rite u rite

Within a few hours, about 30,000 users had voted the post onto Reddit’s front page. Stricker spent the afternoon fielding revenge suggestions: He should hire another company to remove the sign, then sue Dr. Green to recover the costs, one sympathizer suggested. He should dig a booby trap pit in his front yard and call Dr. Green to treat it.

But the insurance actuary-turned-lawn martyr had no desire to harm the company, he said. He simply wanted to shame Dr. Green, as he felt Dr. Green had shamed him.

“Let Reddit do its thing,” he wrote to one commenter, who suggested he take the company to court.

Unbeknown to Stricker, however, one of his Reddit viewers was the owner of Dr. Green Services, Ryan Van Haastrecht.

“I thought the posts were actually quite funny, to be honest,” Van Haastrecht said. “What’s amazing about this story and how viral it’s gone is we were literally only doing this for about two days.”

It was a new marketing gimmick gone awry, the owner said. After treating a lawn, his technicians had been instructed to place signs in the yard of all neighbors — not just those with ugly lawns.

“We weren’t trying to shame anybody,” Van Haastrecht said. “Just trying to do something a little bit creative. … Certainly I’m not thinking this was a great idea, necessarily.”

Van Haastrecht said he ended the sign gimmick as soon as he saw the reaction to Stricker’s photo on Reddit. For whatever reason, he said, his business has increased since the short-lived campaign.

Stricker said he has no further complaints. He made his point, and his lawn — for better or worse — is now the center of attention on his block.

A week after the Reddit post went viral, a local TV station came out to interview Stricker. So he pulled Dr. Green’s sign out of storage and planted it back in his lawn for the camera. There, sitting between two shapeless hedges, he explained the whole saga.

Before the TV crew left, Stricker mowed the grass for some B-roll. This might not be his ideal world, but it’s his lawn. And he’s living with it.