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Brian McGrory

Welcome to Green Aches

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / August 6, 2010

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When I moved to the suburbs recently after nearly 30 years in the city, I asked the nice real estate agent what you called that unused space around my new house. It was a “yard,’’ she explained, and that green thing growing on top of it was known as a “lawn.’’

Of course. I’ve heard of those.

But what I didn’t understand, what I couldn’t have understood, is the way a small expanse of land could dominate a man’s life.

I don’t mean to suggest I’m devoted. No, I’m completely obsessed. It’s all I think about. It’s what I dream about.

I used to want to change the world. Now I just want someone, anyone, to pause at my fence and say, “Hey, nice grass.’’

To that end, I’m up at dawn most days, lugging hoses and repositioning sprinklers in the pursuit of thick and green. I have, in the last couple of months, sprayed each and every body part with streams of cold water that leave you looking either incontinent or deranged.

The rare times I get it right, with multiple rotating sprinklers hitting different stretches of grass, I’ll admire the symphony of water for an hour at a time. Next stop: institutionalization. The neighbors, I’m quite sure, have warned their children to stay away from the crazy man with the constantly dripping hair.

How bad is it? I’ll stop my car to look at a thick lawn the way a younger man might ogle an attractive woman. When I catch a glimpse of an artful mowing pattern, I’ll exclaim, “Who is the lucky man fertilizing that?’’

At home, I pace the yard at dusk like a farmer in his field (often with a rooster striding beside me, though that’s a different story). I have a conniption when I see my dog answer nature’s call in the wrong place, even as he shoots me a look that says, “I’m giving this thing exactly what it deserves.’’

And he’s right. All this effort, and all I have are a few coincidental blades of healthy grass that look completely out of place among the weeds, dirt patches, and brown hay that dominate my life. And there’s nothing I can do but more.

I used to think I was alone in my obsession until I blurted out to a friend, “I can’t stop thinking about dandelions.’’ That felt good, but what happened next will be on the highlight reel of my life: An hour of uninterrupted lawn talk, from in-ground irrigation systems to the necessity of an autumn aeration.

Ends up, every guy I know harbors the same obsession, but, inexplicably, not a single woman. Once, when the actual owner of my lawn cutting service stopped by, I breathlessly dialed a friend and shouted, “You’re never in a million years going to guess who was just at my house.’’ His response: “Don’t tell me the owner of your lawn service!’’

In search of perspective, I sent an e-mail to a sage and longtime friend, Mike Sheehan, the chief executive of the advertising firm Hill Holliday and someone I know to have zero tolerance for such folly. Certainly he would tell me I was crazy — and why.

Within two minutes, he responded with a photograph of his new Hustler FasTrak zero-turn-radius rider mower, which I promptly made my screensaver.

He also offered a pair of theories, one being that every native New Englander is trying to recreate the vision of first walking up the concourse of Fenway Park and seeing the spectacular emerald field before them, the other being that most of us are in jobs where order and satisfaction are elusive, and a freshly mowed lawn provides that and more.

I’d add a third: In a hard world filled with wars and a recession, a lush lawn offers the softness we crave.

Of course, the only thing I have growing outside my doors is frustration. Yet I continue in this battle against nature, with more dirt than grass, more hope than talent. A man has the right to dream.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.