When the kids were three and five, we moved to a green corner of Arkansas that is home to Wal-Mart headquarters, crazed college football fans and serious suburban bliss. Summer in our adopted idyllic corner of the world is filled with SPF 55, backyard barbeque, and Jonesin’ to be the Joneses. Decks are primed and stained, cars washed and waxed, yards tended like favorite children. We share banana breads and casseroles, watch each other’s children, and mill around one another’s driveways discussing lawn care.
Like our 1950s predecessors, we yearn for a pristine, Kelly green Lego lawn. We admire, compare, and criticize the patches of green that grace our cul-de-sac. We are astounded at the thick carpet of grass next door and suspect its owner to be a midnight fertilizer. We strategize ways to even out the bumps, wonder at the weeds that seem to defy the laws of poison and share truckloads of sand to create level surfaces that last through one thunderstorm. Peer pressure in this block of green patches should be a strong motivator, but the Davidsons are not the Joneses. Our lawn is not the envy of the lane; in fact, I am actually grateful that it’s not the worst.
The humble square of earth in front of my house is lumpy, won’t green up, and the edges never come out straight. It’s rarely even with the adjacent yards and the unblown clippings accumulate at the edges, combining with the water from the automatic sprinkler to create a green sludge that is unwelcome in a tidy Mid-American subdivision. But the hard-bodied English major who mows it for us is more interested in his LSAT score than the proper disposition of my excess Bermuda.
Therein lies the problem. A boy—not my husband—cuts our grass. And a boy can never love a lawn as a man ought to. However, the man I married would rather opt out of the Jones chasing altogether. He proudly proclaims to Mr. Jones, “I’ll make you look good.”
Call it laziness if you want—he prefers to call it “well-adjusted.”
But I’ve gone off topic.
The backyard is even worse than the front. John built a huge deck, but the stain he used turned out less than good. He likes to pretend it looks okay.
“What did you put on it?” Mr. Jones asked.
My husband mumbled something unintelligible, even to another of his own kind. When Mr. Jones begged his pardon, my Cro-Magnon only grunted.
“No, really, I want to know,” Jones persisted, “So I don’t put it on mine.”
By the next year, the varnish had flaked and the wood had begun to pucker and warp.
“What are you going to do about it?” asked Mr. Jones. I couldn’t tell if he was concerned, sanctimonious or simply disgusted.
“I’m not going to do anything.”
“You can’t leave it like this.” Yes, that was definitely disgust.
“Sure I can.” John grinned. “When I’m ready to sell, I’ll slap on a fresh coat.”
This year, at the beginning of deck maintenance season, Mr. Jones mentioned his weekend staining plans.
“Again?” John asked. He still didn’t get that, like our anniversary, deck maintenance is an annual event. “Tell you what,” he said, “I’ll pay you not to stain your deck.”
Mr. Jones took a deep, cleansing breath and replied, “Why don’t you take that money and hire someone to stain yours for you?”
That’s not going to happen. We need the money for the lawn guy, his sub-standard yard work and our ever-evolving layer of green sludge.
See, I told you we won’t ever be confused for those Joneses.
Lela Davidson is the author of Blacklisted from the PTA and Who Peed on My Yoga Mat?