Your RDA of Irony


Hark, I hear the first sound of a suburban Spring:  the lawn services are back.  The ensuing racket, while still preferable to “Lohengrin”, amounts to a form of writer’s block.  All I now can write about is that damn noise–or Mexican history.  (For some reason, the lawn services never remind me of Scandinavia.)  If only Santa-Anna could have equipped his army with mowers and leaf blowers, the garrison of the Alamo might have been annoyed into retreating to Vermont.

And here is the second sign of Spring: my essay on lawncare. 

I wonder whether my wife gets more satisfaction from making our yard bloom or making me work.  Over the last weekend Karen fully exploited my vanity, docility and cheapness.  Even at 58, I still have delusions of virility, which I manifest by mowing the lawn.  In the suburbs, any status-conscious homeowner is expected to delegate that chore to a lawn service. While I have a liberal’s sense of shame over the Mexican War (and since the 2000 election would gladly return Texas to its original owners), I don’t intend to pay $50 a week merely to atone for the Treaty of Guadeloupe-Hidalgo.

I now get dirty looks from the passing lawn crews and my neighbors regard me as subversive.  Indeed, some of the local children can’t believe that a homeowner would mow the lawn.  Once, teenagers were going door-to-door to raise money for a high school methadone clinic or some other fringe benefit that my exorbitant property taxes don’t completely subsidize.  I was toiling in the yard, pushing the mower.  The teenagers walked past me and rang the front door.  I didn’t say a word; after all, I wasn’t presumed to speak English.  If someone should ever address the mowing peasant in Spanish, I am ready with this reply, “I am sorry, but I had to read Cervantes in translation.”

My husbandry is not limited to mowing because my wifery is not limited to lawncare. Karen is an obsessed gardener.  I imagine that she read “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” only for landscaping hints.  Of course, in creating a garden Karen needs to cultivate me. She cannot simply order me to rake, dig and lug; I am too fond of the French Revolution to tolerate that.  No, Karen’s stratagem is to ask my opinion. “Do you think that we need to dig up this flower bed?  Do you think that we should weed the lawn?” My opinion invariably is that I have no choice, but serfdom always is more cheerful when you pretend to volunteer.

I must confess to an embarrassing relationship with weeds.  One of them seduced me. Several years ago, I noticed a pretty plant with a brocade of white flowers growing in our lawn.  Karen identified it as Queen Anne’s Lace and she must have assumed that I would mow the weed to oblivion.  However, I let it survive.  More than the plant’s charming look, I felt such sympathy for the original Queen Anne. The Stuarts usually were stupid but attractive: imagine a dynasty cast by Aaron Spelling.  Anne, however, was begrudged the good looks and cheated in every other way too.  The dull, miserable woman outlived her children, was exploited by politicians and betrayed by every friend but her brandy.  I could not remedy 18th century medicine, politics or morality, but I could spare the plant that bore Anne’s name.  Unfortunately, in a month, Anne had spread throughout our lawn.  Her namesake had never been that prolific.  I found myself yanking two-foot stalks to atone for my knowledge of history and ignorance of weeds.

My compassion has never extended to dandelions and, like any other homeowner, I wage eternal jihad against the yellow intruders.  The war has steadily escalated.  I began with personal combat, using a knife to dig up each weed.  The sight of me squatting on the grass and stabbing the lawn may not been a testimonial to my sanity.  I ended up with a lawn pitted with knife wounds, but it was dandelion-free.  Of course, my morbid satisfaction didn’t last.  Any surviving tendrils would resurrect the weed, and the dandelions would sprout back, thicker and surlier. 

In the next phase of the war, I resorted to a socially responsible herbicide.  Its all-natural, biodegradable, holistic ingredients were supposed to persuade or shame the dandelions into leaving our lawn.  Tibet has used the same approach in dealing with China, and with the same results.  So, this year I abandoned all regard for the Geneva Convention and bought a 48-pound bag of death.  Its advertising could have been translated from a Nuremberg Rally, promising me a solution to all alien seeds while nourishing a race of super-grass. 

My herbicidal euphoria ended when I took the time to read the back of the bag.  The warnings were much longer than the instructions.  Skin grafts and amputations were possible consequences, and users should expect to remove dead pets from the lawn.  Karen began to think that the lawn was not worth the dangers; where is Lady Macbeth when I need her?  According to the warnings, the herbicide was dangerous to touch or smell, and it could corrode metal and concrete; yet, it was also good for grass.  How could it be, unless it was grass’ vengeance on mankind? 

Of course, I still used the herbicide.  Captain Ahab would have understood.  I did make a few concessions to survival by wearing a safety mask, gloves suitable for handling uranium, and two sets of work clothes. For all these precautions, the product may still kill me, but at least it will get the dandelions first.  While awaiting my demise, I can keep busy with pruning, raking, digging and more mowing.  And Karen has been asking my opinion about the mildew in a shower stall.  Husbandry is not limited to yardwork.

p.s.  Let’s not forget the historic significance of this day:

  1. Nina says:

    Oh Eugene!
    Thanks for the much needed laugh!
    You crack me UP!

    : )


  2. Eugene Finerman says:


    Your pedantic jester is happy to be of service.

    I can just imagine how your Viking ancestors would have dealt with lawncare. Mowing the grass with an axe might be a bit tiresome, so they’d probably just burn the entire lawn–and our house with it.


  3. Leah says:

    My tool of choice for dandelions is a long sturdy flat-head screwdriver. You plunge it in near the base of the plant and wiggle it around to loosen the taproot because yes, if you leave any taproot, the thing just grows back. And then you take the leaves and cook them. I have a nice recipe for mashed potatoes with dandelion greens (I feel about potatoes the way you feel about ice cream). Of course, it’s better not to poison the dandelions first.

    And I’m sure that mowing the lawn and hunting dandelions is what helps you keep your figure. Do you bring a dog companion with you to hunt the lawn grubs?

  4. Eugene Finerman says:

    Dear Leah,

    The fact that I don’t look like Dorian Grey’s dietitian is probably due to my rowing machine. I exercise while watching Jeopardy. (Yes, I am still a fan; and the show has bought my loyalty.)

    We have not yet tried any dandelion salad recipes. I have left some uprooted plants for the rabbits to eat; but they prefer carrots. (Beatrix Potter was right!)

    As for my pug, he is slumming enough just to be with me. The little mandarin would never deign to deal with lawn grubs–which don’t seem to be a problem here.


    • Leah says:

      Well of course not– if that stuff can do in a human, what chance does a lawn grub have?

      By the way, Queen Anne’s Lace is sort of a wild carrot. Talk about taproots– that’s why they’re so hard to eradicate.

      • Eugene Finerman says:

        Dear Leah,

        Actually, the ubercide had no effect on the dandelions. However, you will notice that I don’t have children. (No wonder I have become so knowledgeable about the Byzantine civil service.)


  5. Michael Gury says:

    Dear Mr. Finerman, I don’t know much about wifery, other than what I personally need to do in the ex-wifery department. Husbandry may be interpreted as what a husband has to do during a phase of conjugal bliss and obligation, although the word would seem to be less about destroying vegetation than about fertilization.

    There’s nothing like a good “48 pounds of death”, I always say. So here, here.

    I’ve owned a bunch of homes and lawns, forests, streams, ponds, you name it. I once had a place which was adjacent to a protected “wetland”, which meant that gigantic prehistoric things called “water rats” were on duty all the time. These were the size of Samsonite bags, and as indestructible. In my ire, and insanity, I attempted to shoot them with a gun. To my surprise, whilst my aim was true, the bullets bounced off these creatures and ricocheted all over the place, with the sort of sound effects you would expect from an episode of Gunsmoke. They did not have anywhere near the charm or nomenclature of something called Queen Anne’s Lace, they were just huge rats. What was interesting was that after taking a shot to the mid-section or whatever, the rats didn’t turn on me, they just went on doing their rat things.

    I finally decided that a mountain of lethal poison was probably the best answer, and actually, after delivering a drum of Cyklon B to my furry friends, the population thinned rather dramatically. I probably knocked off a few other species as well, but once you get the jihadists, a little collateral damage is OK.

  6. Kate says:

    ahhhh, Eugene, you bring back all those memories of domesticity and lawns. Makes me happy that this is all a moot point for me after lo these many decades. If I were ever to have the responsibility of a socially acceptable yard again, I would prefer the redneck method: cover the grass with plastic, spread a liberal load of gravel over same and call it a driveway.

    Love those greens in salad though.

    Thanks for the memories

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