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Jewish World Review July 16, 2002 / 7 Menachem-Av, 5762

Dennis Byrne

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Consumer Reports

Ride 'em lawnboy Warning: Environmentalists, read no further | In my neighborhood, I'm known as the "lawn guy." As in, "Oh, you're the guy who's always working on his lawn." Well, not always. I know enough to come in out of the rain. (Notice they don't say, "Oh, you're the guy who writes that Tribune column.")

I'd rather be known as the Rose Guy, or the Dahlia Guy or even the Lavatera Guy. Those who spend happy hours working on their roses, tomatoes or what have you, aren't subject to the same derision as those spending happy hours working on their lawns.

I know when it's time to start mowing the lawn, not so much by the length of the grass, but by the number of disparaging articles that begin appearing about lawn "obsession." Like the ones that appeared recently in a distinguished newspaper (this one) detailing the usual gripes against lawn-lovers. Wasting energy, polluting the air, poisoning the environment with pesticides, making loud mower noises, causing suburban sprawl, being driven by conformity. Causing sexual deformities in frogs. Even a report that the sweet scent of a freshly mowed lawn ("wound-induced grasses") gives off volatile compounds that "are significant in the atmosphere." No kidding. Latest warning is that a commonly used herbicide puts my prostate at risk. They're forcing me into a tough choice, there.

Made me mad enough that I wanted to rush out and edge my sidewalks with my high-speed, Dura-Lite grass whacker (rechargeable battery will last centuries in a toxic disposal site). But first I retired to the basement workshop to sharpen my mulching mower blades, made with the finest of tungsten steel, which deprives developing nations of necessary infrastructure.

Then out to my lawn, where I love to hear each grass blade scream in agony as I chop off its head with my 52-inch, 10-speed, Mano-a-Mano Brand, 2,000-horsepower, turbo-charged XKL mower, with beer-bottle holder. It only emits the same amount of greenhouse gases as 10 straight days of Crazy Car drag racing.

But look at the benefits of lawns. Lawns are educational. Came across a heap of brown ants. Decided to get rid of it using my 180-decibel, ultrahigh-frequency blower, (only consuming one day's output of a nuclear power plant) instead of poisoning the world with a pesticide. Blew those critters to somewhere not in this vicinity. Came back to look an hour later, and they were back, as if nothing had happened. Had to stomp them instead. See how I learned about ants?

Lawns are nice to look at--despite the dark suggestion that enjoying a lawn in which every blade of grass stands in perfect symmetry is a symptom of a brain disorder. Why, I wonder, aren't the same criticisms leveled at artists who like their forms to be asymmetrical? Or musicians who like their music discordant? The art of the lawn is as legitimate as the art of the garden or of the pallet. Lawns are great places for kids and memories. What better sight is there than baby toys, slip-and-slides, and games strewn all over the lawn? When my son left for college almost 10 years ago, I never could bring myself to take inside the football he left on the lawn, through summer heat and winter blizzards. Every year after he left, that football was out there all year long, reminding me of the son who wasn't there. Until last year when it accidentally got sucked up and shredded by my lawn mower. A shame.

Lawns and gardens (they go together) are opportunities for philosophical and metaphysical discourse. Such global questions as: Should I allow the self-reseeded sweet alyssum to impinge onto the brick patio, or should I trim them back? (They can impinge.)

Lawns are training grounds for the American entrepreneurial spirit. (read: beat the other guy). Hey, just because I had a better lawn than my next-door friend Mike didn't mean that I lorded it over him. As art for arts sake, it is lawn for lawn's sake. Until Mike tore out his entire lawn, put in a sprinkler system and resodded the whole thing with a deeper green, more luxurious grass. Then at the height of his success, at the top of his game, he moved away, never allowing me the chance to catch up. But that wasn't the cruelest cut. He sold his house to a landscape architect. I am undone.

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JWR contributor Dennis Byrne is a Chicago-area writer and public affairs consultant. Comment by clicking here.

06/04/02: Who needs common-sense when we have 'studies'?
05/07/02: Why is 'morality' a dirty word?
05/07/02: Why turn a blind eye to promising alternatives to human cloning?
04/16/02: Callous parents deaf to calls of common sense
02/15/02: When caring becomes sinister
01/25/02: The unreliable crystal balls of analysts
01/17/02: The curse of 'do-something' pols
01/09/02: Political moderation is for the indifferent, uninformed or undecided

© 2002, Dennis Byrne