The Suburban Horror

     Homeowners know it well. At least, they do in the moist and temperate Northeastern United States. Each of us who opts for the privacy, space, and comfort of a single-family home must cope with it. The more spacious your domain, the more burdensome it is.

     No, it’s not the traffic, nor the property taxes, nor the door-to-door solicitors. These are all relatively minor incursions upon the serenity of the suburban homeowner. It’s something that originally appears quite innocuous…easily managed…really, no trouble at all. And how appalled the new homeowner is when he discovers the terrible truth about it.

     It’s the lawn.

     For you see, a single-family detached home will always be clustered with other single-family detached homes. Each of them will have a lawn. And though it defies my ability to penetrate, suburban homeowners can get very competitive about their lawns. Worse, they can be downright hostile toward a neighbor whose lawn is viewed as being “not up to community standards.”

     We spend a lot on our lawns. A lot of time. A lot of money. A lot of effort. And if your expenditures on those things fail to yield results the local pecksniffs approve, you can be in for a world of hurt.

     I’m one of the disapproved ones. I can’t produce a decent lawn. I’ve tried everything: advanced seed formulations, special fertilizers and growth mixtures, chemical soil quality enhancers, a mechanized sprinkler system, everything but waving a dead chicken over it. Nothing helps.

     I asked my pastor if there’s a Patron Saint of Lawns to whom I might address my morning prayers. He said he’d get back to me. That was three years ago. I’m still waiting.

     It doesn’t help that I’ve got three huge dogs. They’re not in the least concerned about the lawn. That’s my responsibility. As they see it, once they’ve spread their, ah, products around it as liberally as possible, they’ve done their bit.

     This is the ball and chain of the suburbs. It’s a life sentence of bondage to unruly, totally uncooperative vegetation, irregularly stippled with weeds, dandelions, ant hills, mole holes, big BLEEP!ing rocks, and bottles, cans, and assorted detritus tossed over the fence by the teenagers next door, who seem to throw parties every weekend.

     When I recently entertained the possibility of relocating, among my priorities for our new abode was no lawn. I wanted a place with a lot so densely populated and overshadowed by huge leafy trees that nothing could grow between them. Failing that, I wanted a back yard, at least, that’s wholly taken up by tennis courts. I wanted the lawn, if any, to be small enough to cut with a cuticle scissors. I looked, and looked, but there was nothing satisfactory in the areas I targeted.

     Then just this morning, I stumbled upon the following JPG:

     Sadly, I have no idea where that eyot-with-a-house-on-it is, or I’d make an offer. Hell, after the lawn-labors I’ve gone through already this spring, I’d throw in my firstborn and my best pocketknife. But the picture gives no clue about where it was taken.

     Yes, I’d have to get a boat, which is its own kettle of perpetual nuisances, but look! Perfect privacy and no lawn! It’s the fulfillment of my dearest dream. (Among other things, imagine a town or county inspector trying to harass the owner of that place for a building code violation.)

     I showed it to the C.S.O., of course. She shrugged and passed it back. I didn’t understand her indifference. “Well, what do you think?” I said before walking away. “Do you find it at all appealing?”

     “I suppose the privacy would be nice,” she said, “but I doubt I’d be happy there.”

     That set me back. You doubt YOU’D be happy there? What about your beloved, worn-down husband?! But I kept my composure and asked, quite calmly, “Why not?”

     She shrugged again. “No lawn.”

     And I alone am escaped to tell thee.


Skip to comment form

    • JIm Robertson on April 16, 2022 at 2:57 PM

    Good one, Francis!

    • 21stCenturyCassandra on April 16, 2022 at 3:36 PM

    Call me Ishmael.

    • Old Bill in TN on April 16, 2022 at 4:02 PM

    I started laughing by the end of the 2d paragraph and couldn’t stop!
    I try to keep my grass cut somewhere below knee-deep, but even then refuse to bale the clippings. Fortunately the neighbors aren’t members of the Golf-Green Lawn Cult. Either that, or they’re afraid of me. I’m happy with either.

    • George Mckay on April 16, 2022 at 4:09 PM

    Our “lawn” was neglected for many years by previous renters/owners/whoever.  My son has worked diligently to make it better and is on the uphill slope.  Florida soil is mainly sand around here so only St Augustine and such will actually grow well.  We are on a well so every gallon put on the grass costs and wears out the pump.
    Oh, the irony.   I want green lush grass as do most of us but, the cost and work required can be huge.  I could spend the money cruising or other fun things.  
    What to do, what to do?   If I ask my dear wife she tells me “you silly man.”

    • Univ of Saigon 68 on April 16, 2022 at 4:55 PM

    If any of my neighbors ever ask my lawn advice – which some have – I always say, “Never put anything on your lawn that will make it grow faster.”  Also, pay some kid to mow it and learn to appreciate dandelions.
    The picture is probably Thousand Islands, New York, up by the Canadian border.  You couldn’t afford to live there.

    • Ed Brault on April 16, 2022 at 8:07 PM

    When I was stationed at Holloman AFB, NM, base housing residents were given the option to replace their lawns with gravel. Most took the option.

    • Margaret Ball on April 16, 2022 at 8:34 PM

    Quite some years ago we just gave up on maintaining the front lawn. We told the plants, “Any of you guys who can survive in Texas without regular watering, go ahead and good luck!”
    Some time after the Deliberate Neglect Policy I was chatting at the supermarket with a neighbor. He asked where exactly on the street our house was; I told him, saw the light of recognition in his eyes and pre-emptively winced as he started to say, “Oh, I know that house. You’re the guys who…”
    Then he finished “… xeriscaped your front lawn.”
    Dodged a bullet, there.

  1. My friend Fulghum once wrote a fine little essay in which he too was tired of all the BS. One day he just went to the door and announced to his  yard, “From now on everything out here is on its own.”
    Never looked back. You know what he had a year after he abandoned his lawn? A meadow.

    • All In This Together on April 16, 2022 at 11:50 PM

    Lawns are a construct of the white male patriarchy and will be redistributed for the good of the collective.

    • Phil on April 17, 2022 at 12:04 AM

    I’m “That Guy” in the Burbs like you.
    The neighbors are absolutely anal about their damn yards.
    One thing I can tell you from experience is that you do not want trees either.
    Holy Mother of God, I wind up raking, carting, piling and hauling off AT LEAST, six full pickup loads of the damn things every fall.
    Oh, and right now?
    They are blooming. Next week my entire lawn and half the neighbors, plus the street around my house is going to be coated with blossoms.
    Nope, you don’t want trees either.

    • Southern NH on April 17, 2022 at 6:33 AM

    Just replace it with tomatoes, pole beans, and butternut squash. ;-). The neighbors will most likely disapprove, but you’ll have food.

    • Jeffrey on April 17, 2022 at 6:37 AM

    The island appears to be Wheeler Island, near Branford, CT.  It just sold for about 3 million dollars.

    • Ed Brault on April 17, 2022 at 7:26 AM

    Man should not be slave to a WEED!

    • Steve Walton on April 17, 2022 at 8:06 AM

    Funny! But if you really are interested in houses on tiny islands, that’s a whole real estate category, and there are a lot of them for sale. Some of these are actually under a million dollars!

      • Margaret Ball on April 17, 2022 at 12:00 PM

      Great link!

      We’re in the process of completing incredibly complicated wills and trust forms, prompting me to suggest, “Why don’t we blow it all on a beach house on a Caribbean island and leave the kids to make their own way like we had to?”

      Okay, climate would probably rule out most of these islands, but they’re still nice for my fantasy life.

  2. I hear guys talking about the oppression of the lawns. Don’t get it, but…
    I only had two lawns that were truly big – one, in Rock Creek, OH (about 1/2 acre). I was the one that was responsible for the first 2 years. My husband left me several push mowers – one of them electric – needed a cord from an outlet. None of them self-propelling. 
    It took me the better part of a week to get through about 25 square yards. We needed a scythe to get it down sufficiently to begin mowing. Of course, he was always out of town/on the road, so it was MY responsibility (kids were too young to assign them to do it). I struggled with this for TWO years.
    Once I hit my limit, and said, “It’s on YOU!”, he changed his mind about hiring a guy to bring in a tractor and mow it. Suddenly, it wasn’t a ‘ridiculous expense’.
    In the next house, we had a dinky yard. Our kids could handle it easily.
    The house after that (why, yes, he IS a restless person!), was an acre. When we took it, I told him it was his responsibility. He bought a high end Toro, which spent most of its time in the shop getting various repairs.
    The house we have in OH has a small front yard, and an even smaller back yard (with nice garden beds already established, which I will be planting with vegetables in another week or so). The front yard has perennials; planted the bulbs last November.
    I’m all about minimal yard, taking care of it, and not obsessing over every little thing. My neighbors are (mostly) of the same mind.
    I bought the house to enjoy my time at home, not work. If I want to see big expanses of lawn, I’ll hop in the car, and head down to nearby Lakeview Park – it’s beautiful (and, in honor of the holiday, the big basket is filled with eggs and bunnies). The main part, not including handles, is somewhere between 5 and 6 ft tall.

    • Bear Claw Chris Lapp on April 17, 2022 at 7:17 PM–2274093555
    It is wheelers island and the previous owner did not solve the problem.B

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