All Hail The King Of Suburbia!

 

Dearest Friends and Family,

 Most of you live in, or once lived in, the suburbs.  For the most part, it is quite a blissful existence.  It is a life of simple pleasures that other may not understand or appreciate.  Even still, at times it’s a mixed bag of happiness and heartache.  Along with the joy of watching children getting friction burns on the “Slip-n-Slide by day, and taunting neighborhood traffic by playing “flashlight tag” on summer nights, you also endure the hardship of the occasional “white trash” neighbor using his front porch as a storage shack for wayward appliances.  This is usually the same neighbor who enjoys letting his fence morph into swiss cheese and walking his dog over into YOUR yard to “make a deposit of recycled Purina” on your freshly shorn lawn.  Even with these setbacks, I consider the suburbs a kingdom like no other.

 Those of us on the “outskirts of town” sometimes have to withstand the taunts of those who live in “the city limits”, paying squillions of dollars per square foot for their privilege.  You know the ones… those who drive cars that cost as much as your house, sit as department chairs with other Ph.D.’s, and drink bottled water that comes from a faucet in France, rather than us suburbanites who happily slurp our bottled water burped from a tap in Cleveland.  They never set foot in a Wal-Mart.  Instead, they hire families to do their shopping for them.  Families where the father’s wardrobe consists solely of tank tops, the mother owns only housecoats, and the children are forced to walk shoeless, in diapers, through Health and Beauty at midnight on a Tuesday.  (NOW you know why you always see these people blocking your path to the  Moon Pies!)

 Anyhow… these elite city dwellers measure their status with awards that you may have heard of… awards like “The Pulitzer Prize”… “The Nobel Prize”… “Wheat Grass and Parchment ‘Crafter of the Year’ from Martha Stewart Living “  (who the hell has parchment laying around the house anyway?  Susan B. Anthony?) The elite never know the true value of suburban glory.  But… I digress (I do that a lot, don’t I?)   

We suburbanites all know that the award most prized in all of suburbia is not one that comes with a medal of honor, a congratulatory handshake from George W. Bush, or a visit from Ed McMahon.  No… the most respected resident of middle class sprawl is none other than the man who possesses a sign in his yard reading:

 “ (Blank) Neighborhood Association Yard Of The Month”

 As you drive through the neighborhood on the way to the community pool or little Amanda’s dance lesson, you can’t help but slow down as you drive by “lawn perfection.”  You heart swells as the juxtaposed feelings of green envy and humble respect do battle in your gut.  When you see the yard that has been christened Yard of the Month (hereafter referred to as YOTM – pronounced “yoh-tum”), you can’t help but admire the owner.  You know the time and effort put into every plant selection, mower height adjustment, and bush-whack.  There’s the tender nurturing of a new tree combined with the violent assault of chemical warfare on the weeds.  It’s a ballet, really – something of an art form. 

 Ever since I bought my first house in 1997, I have been vying for this award.  I was always the guy driving by, saddened that the YOTM sign never stopped at my house.  Every summer, I would see the placard placed somewhere else, and I… I would wait another 30 days for my shot at glory.  It was a painful experience, from which I still have periodic tortured dreams and night sweats.  Three hundred dollars and 5 counseling sessions later, I am improving, but not fully recovered.

 I figured I even had an upper hand, what with one of the most famous lawn product manufacturers as my namesake (Scott’s).  So each year I would consult old ladies at the nursery, asking which flowers to buy.  I found that they’ll give you advice readily if you just show them a little leg.   Coming home with my booty, I would till the earth to make new flower beds.  I would burn my skin with pesticides and fertilizer.  I would equip my Weed Eater with line strong enough to fall a mighty Redwood.  I think I once toppled a telephone pole in my back yard, just trying to hack away at a particularly stubborn dandelion.  If lawn maintenance was a sonnet, I was its Shakespeare. “To bag, or not to bag… THAT is the question.”   If yard work was a religion, I was one of its 12 disciples.  Just call me “Luke of the Lawn.”

This year, I began anew at Gabby’s house… um… er… I mean… OUR house.  When I moved in, I noticed that the place had a good foundation.  Nice flower beds, healthy grass, and a decent paint scheme (anyone who tells you that YOTM is only about the plants is kidding themselves – it’s a total package deal!).  Gabby is an incredible housekeeper, and this ability had trickled out to the lawn.  In truth, it wasn’t her kindness, generosity, spirituality, full heart, radiant beauty, or even her nice butt that led me to “pop the question.”  It was simply the fact that the gal owned a fertilizer spreader, weed eater, lawn trimmer, hedge clippers, and a branch lopper, and knew how to use ‘em all!  Ask any guy around… THAT’S BEYOND SEXY!

 So, with a solid foundation, I began my work.  Gab and I bought plants, nurtured them, fertilized, sodded, mulched, and mowed our way to elite status.  It all went off without a hitch (well… sort of).  Gabby prefers a longer lawn, while I like the shorter turf.  Therefore, there was the continual dance of the “mower height adjustment”  that continues to this day.  Rather than talk about the problem and compromise, I found a solution.  Just mow the yard when she’s not around, and deal with “the Gabby look of mild disapproval” for about 30 seconds.  Grass short!  PROBLEM SOLVED!  Throughout April, we sowed the seeds of YOTM attainment.

 Still, May came and went like a flower, and the sign was placed elsewhere.  Disheartening, but understandable.  June was more of the same.  But… still two months left.  “I can handle it,”  I said. 

 Then comes July 1st - a day that will live in infamy in South Creek Neighborhood Association history.

 It was a nice sunny morning - the kind of morning that makes you forget about lawn futility as you enjoy the Good Lord’s bounty.  After a good 30 minutes of work in the home office, it was time for a break.  I thought, “this is a perfect day to go outside and water the plants.”  So, I walk out the door and turned on the hose.  I begin to sprinkle the plants when I look up and see the neighbors across the street working on their yard.  I think ” Wow… it’s weird that they are trimming on a Monday morning.  Oh well!  He’s a landscape architect, so maybe he’s just warming up for a day of work.” 

 Then, the neighbors (who I used to like) finish up their minor maintenance.  After putting the hedge clippers to bed, Ronnie grabs something from his garage and begins to walk it into the grass.  I watch… astonished.  With a move he must have learned from watching astronauts plant a flag on the moon, or those in the Oklahoma Land Run laying claim to their own parcel, he roundly swirls the sign overhead, and firmly stabs it into the ground in one fell swoop.  With that, I can read the words on the sign.

 “SCNA YARD OF THE MONTH”

 

He might as well have run the blade of the sign stand through my heart.  In fact, I can’t remember exactly, but I believe I may have shrieked like a 7-year-old girl in a haunted house when the posts made contact with the ground.  As he grinned at me and said “Good Mornin’”, I couldn’t believe it.  It made me sick.  Not so sick that you violently puke, but just sick enough so that you gag a little bit at the back of your throat and quickly remember what you ate for breakfast.  I muttered a sheepish “Yeah.  Good Morning,” but couldn’t muster a “congratulations” until later that week when I saw him again. 

 It was devastating.  That night, I considered scheduling a covert operation and stealing the sign… BORROWING really… just long enough to plant it in my yard and take a few photos.  But, that wouldn’t satisfy me.  I got as far as the curb in front of his house before realizing that I couldn’t show off a YOTM sign in my yard in the middle of the night lit only by the headlights of my Explorer.  It was fool’s gold.  Folly.  The sign mocked me from 6 feet away, but stealing it wouldn’t help matters.  (Well… it might take that cheese-eatin’ grin off the neighbor’s face…but…)  I sulked for a while, then walked back into my house to continue my dreaming.

 The next month’s mowing was hard.  I constantly wondered why the neighbor won and I didn’t.  I even had visions of conspiracy.  “The last two winners had a big ol’ planting of Elephant Ears lining the backs of their flower beds.  Maybe it’s all about the Elephant Ears?”  I pondered going to the neighborhood association meeting and finding the guy who votes on the award and doing a little “A Few Good Men” remake.  I, obviously, would play the part of Tom Cruise.

 

Luke of the Lawn:  “I want the truth!”

SCNA AntiChrist:  “You can’t HANDLE the truth!”

Luke of the Lawn:  “Was it the Elephant Ears?”

SCNA AntiChrist:  “You lawn guys… sitting there with your mulching mowers and electric powered lawn tools… you think you know it all!  Well… from where I come from, if you can’t grow Elephant Ears as big as a Buick, then you don’t deserve to be a man!”

Luke:  “So you ordered the vote to be made based on Elephant Ears?!”

AntiChrist:  “You’re DAMN RIGHT I DID!

Luke:  “I KNEW IT!  (Then, Demi Moore falls in love with me and brings me a gift certificate for $100 worth of free perennials)

 

OK, maybe that wasn’t the answer.  They’d probably kick us out of the neighborhood association, which would preclude us from ever being able to participate in their “All South Creek Garage and Crap Sale” every 6 months.  Not worth it.  I would have to bide my time.  So… every week… without fail… I continued my ritual in hopes of a miracle.

 On July 31st, the phone rings during dinner.  I answer, fully expecting to say, “We don’t need any more Miracle Cleaner” and hang up.  Instead…

 Me:  “Hello?”

Lady:  “Is this Scott?”

Me:  “Yes it is.”

Lady:  “This is Laurie from across the street.”

Me:  “Oh…Hi”  (trying to hold back my instinct to chastise her Elephant Ears)

Laurie:  “I just wanted to let you know that, since Ronnie and I won the YOTM award last month, we are on the committee to pick a winner for August.”

Me:  “Oh really?”

Laurie:  “Yup.  And… you didn’t hear this from me… but it’s going down tomorrow”

Me:  “The judging?”

 Not since Woodward and Bernstein were tipped off by Deep Throat has there been such a political insider revelation.  I felt like Martha Stewart getting a call from Sam Walksal.  Ooooooooooh!  The intrigue!

 Laurie:  “That’s right.  Just so you know.

Me; “ Thanks”

 *CLICK*

 Gabby was looking at me.  She asks, “Who was that?”  I answered, “Laurie from across the street.  She said she and Ronnie are helping judge YOTM tomorrow.  I wonder why she called?”

 “Maybe she wanted to tip you off?  Maybe you’re getting YOTM!”

 “Should I mow?” I quizzed.  “It has only been 5 days since I last mowed, but I wonder if she was calling ‘cuz our yard doesn’t look good enough right now, but if I just trimmed it up, it would be a winner?”  I rambled on nervously for another 5 minutes, playing out several scenarios out loud… annoying the hell out of Gabby.  Finally she said, 

“Do whatever you have to do.  I’m on the couch tonight!”

 So, I put on my grubby clothes and went outside.  It was your typical South Texas summer evening.  A nice balmy 178 degrees with a light breeze.  I had to make an emergency run to the gas station to fill up my gas can, but otherwise, things went smoothly.  I even unfurled the American flag on our porch, and swept up a few extra leaves.  It looked immaculate.  As I closed the garage door, I said to myself, “If you build it, they will come.”  I know, it doesn’t REALLY fit into this situation, but I often like to hear myself talking like James Earl Jones.

 The next day was like waiting for Christmas as a five-year-old.  You were never sure it was going to come.  “Have I been a good boy all year?  Did I leave enough cookies for Santa?  Should I have used the 10-10-10 fertilizer instead of the 12-6-8?”  It was brutal.  Every so often throughout the day I would wander to the front door and peer out the window, half expecting to see 10 people with clipboards,  dressed in stark white lab coats rating my Begonias on a scale of 1-10.  They never came.  2:00…,. 3:00… 4:00… 5:00  nothing!  “HOLY CRAP I LOST AGAIN!”

 I started folding laundry and licking my wounds.  At 6:00 comes the ring at the door.  There stands Ronnie with sign-in-hand.  “Congratulations!”  He smiles.  “We were always talkin’ ‘bout how y’all should get it.”

 I am beaming from ear-to-ear.  I say, “Thanks!  This is cool!”

 He looks at me and mutters, “Well… do you want me to put the sign in your yard, or do you want to leave it on the porch.”  I lean in and tell Ronnie “I think I am actually going to wait ‘till I can send an invitation to all the neighbors and set up a fireworks show.  I want it to be bigger than a Vegas hotel opening when I plant this thing in the ground!”

 He laughs a little bit and then says, “Man… me and Laurie couldn’t believe you was out there mowin’ yesterday in that heat.  We thought you was gonna’ melt!”

 So… I guess I didn’t have to mow after all.  When Gabby came home, she celebrated with me.  We went into the front yard and planted that big ol’ SCNA YOTM sign in the ground! We took plenty of photos.  I say to all the Nobel Prize winners and Pulitzer guys out there to “STICK THAT IN YOUR PIPE AND SMOKE IT!  ALL HAIL, KING OF SUBURBIA!”

 Remember the saying “30 days hath September, April, June and November?”  Well, I can’t help but think that they picked me SPECIFICALLY for August because of the extra 24 hours.  You gotta’ marvel an day extra at the guy who won it without a single Elephant Ear!

 I have attached photos for your viewing pleasure.  WARNING!  Gabby insisted she take the pics right after I finished mowing.  I think she may be looking to start up a new magazine titled “Skinny, Sweaty Lawn Hunks”.  I gave her the “Blue Steel” look as an added bonus – which made her wish she woulda’ hired a dancer for her bachelorette party rather than just waiting for a lifetime of “white man’s overbite” from me.  The pic of Gabby is just her way of “passing the baton” to me.  Sure… she knows how to Weed-Eat, but now defers to the Lord of Lawn Maintenance when the trimming needs to be done.  Good psychology I think.  She doesn’t have to get all dirty and sweaty, and my ego stays highly inflated.

‘Till next time… HAPPY MOWING!  And may the YOTM Gods smile upon each and every one of you this summer season.