Saturday, June 20, 2009

It's a Dad Thing

I have become my father.

My father is a man who cares about his lawn, has always, so far as I know, cared about his lawn. In my younger and more idealistic years, I would question this not-quite-obsession. Why spend money on lawn care products? Who cares what the neighbors think? If the neighbors are going to look down on you because of the state of the grass in your yard, then doesn't that make them precisely the type of people whose opinions you should not care about? And what about all that wasted time? Why bother edging? Who looks at the edges of a lawn? We once had a conversation that went something like this:

Me: Why don't you cut it shorter? (I wanted it to be like a fairway. Or even better, a putting green.)
Dad: It's healthier to keep it longer.
Me: But then you have to cut it more often.
Dad: No you don't.
Me: Yes you do. You cut it like that and two days later it's long and shaggy again. If you cut it shorter then it would take longer to reach the long and shaggy state.
Dad: No. (He then went on to point out the flaws in my reasoning, but I don't remember the specifics of his rebuttal. Maybe he'll explain it again in the comments.)

But now that I'm trying to grow a lawn in my backyard, I am obsessed. It must be something to do with being a dad, like some unspoken rule or rite of passage into fatherhood. A commandment, perhaps, "Thou must care about thy lawn."

You are familiar with the phrase, "Like watching grass grow." It's typically used to describe a boring activity, such as churchgoing or listening to your spouse's recitation of her dreams. I, for one, will never perceive the idiom in the same way. I "watch my grass grow" at least twelve times a day. I walk outside and literally do nothing but look at the lawn. I stare at it. I scan it, back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes I walk around in the grass and look more discriminatingly at it. I peer at it from different angles. I fret over the weather forecast. Before the grass germinated I would crouch and squint and lament the lack of anything green and slender. "When's it gonna grow?" I would ask anyone--my wife, the neighbor, my cat.

I bought a sprinkler. No, I bought two. I'll admit that. I bought a hose even though I already owned two. I bought a new nozzle for the hose because there's a patch next to the house that can't be reached by the sprinkler. I was zealous about watering. I eschewed the use of straw because I read that straw contains things (not the scientific term) that eventually become weeds. There would be no weeds in my new lawn! I watched the sprinkler work its magic. (It's surprisingly mesmerizing, not unlike a bonfire.) The next morning I would again check for signs of life.

At one point, when some of the grass had (finally!) started coming it, we (my lawn and I) were hit with a vicious storm. Near-tornadic winds, hammering bullets of rain, and hail--yes, hail!--abused my infant grass blades and washed away a fair amount of topsoil. Rivers of water carried unsprouted seeds and deposited them in huge piles, leaving bare the patches of sand you see in the picture above. Aghast, I ran out and raked feverishly, trying to spread the seeds around. Will grass grow in sand, I wondered? Yes, yes it would. Grass will grow on the beach if you let it. Golfers replace divots with sand. A panic attack was avoided.

Checking the damage the next day I discovered the presence of an old nemesis: the voles were back. Voles, little satanic creatures that apparently prefer the lushest areas of new lawns, were tunneling under my proudest sections of grass. They were lifting the grass and somehow depositing dirt (well, sand) on top of it. Some of my grass had turned--gasp!--yellow.

I did what all backyard warriors do. I googled. Specifically, I googled, "How to kill voles and make them suffer horrendous deaths, deaths so grisly that word of them will quickly spread to any other vole in the area, or indeed, any vole considering relocating to the area, deaths so shockingly grisly, so obscenely gruesome, so nauseatingly repulsive that they would rather commit mass suicide than face the mere possibility of facing me and my murderous, Google-inspired method."

There were a refreshing number of options. There were traps and sound/vibration sticks. There were repellants made from castor oil. Someone said to use coffee grounds. Another swore by the deliciously torturous effects of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum. Apparently, the little turds can't resist the stuff, even though it wreaks havoc on their digestive systems and they die. But the best (because it's free) method I found was the use of urine, human urine.

The wife was not thrilled with this plan, and so we came to an agreement. It's the same agreement we have about my drinking out of the milk jug. I could bottle my urine as long as she could pretend that I wasn't. In other words, I had to hide the vole repellant.

I hid it in the cabinet under the bathroom sink because the only time anyone gets in there is when a band-aid is needed or when one of us gets a nagging cough and we have to locate the Nyquil knock-off before bedtime. It seemed like a fine place; it wasn't like I was going to go Howard Hughes and store twenty-three bottles of the stuff or anything. I planned on using it as soon as I had enough "product."

I used twenty-ounce bottles and I now know how much my bladder can hold. I consider this a fringe benefit of the experiment.

I have applied the treatment on three occasions and so far it seems to be working.

And here's where I'm supposed to bring this back to my father's lawn obsession. So let's do this: Tomorrow is Father's Day and we're having the dads over. We'll hang out on the back deck and eat hamburgers and drink beer. And if Dad smells something, I'll explain exactly what it is. I'm pretty sure he'll approve. It's a dad thing.


DebraLSchubert said...

Murph, I'm really starting to worry about you. First buggers and other disgusting things, and now this. When will it end? (And, Happy Father's Day, btw, to you and The Dads.)

Paul Michael Murphy said...

I'm no worse than any other man. I'm just more honest.

Aaron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron said...

From a friend of the Gaws...

I know exactly what you mean. Here are some tips: scott's patch master (about $7 a bag) will fill in those holes and scott's turf builder (regular, $11 a bottle) is the best stuff you can buy. For $20, it'll make your lawn look great. Of course, you should do the aerating thing, keep it long, and water it enough. Hope that helps. I've tried other "home remedies" to include beer and dog urine (not by choice) and they don't work.

I read a few days ago online somewhere that in the suburbs, your manhood is now judged by how green your grass is. Even if that really isn't true, I sure can't seem to let it go. Good luck "pops"

Dad said...

OK, as requested, here's my logic on long vs short cuts. First, as you already stated, EVERYONE knows long is healthier. Your premise 20 yrs ago...I had to cut it more often because I kept it long. False. Why?

It's all a matter of relativity. Let's say your grass grows at a rate of 2 inches per week. You cut it to 1 inch high and it has that freshly groomed look. Unfortunately, it's a lighter shade of green, any bare patches show and it just doesn't look very lush and thick. A week later it is 3 inches high, looking fuller and more lush, but shaggy and in need of that trim that will return it to that freshly groomed look that brings a smile of pride every time.

Or, you cut it 2 inches high. We already know that's healthier. And now it looks a darker shade of green, fuller and more lush right after trimming because it's longer and it just IS! A week goes by, it still looks great, but shaggy. Trim time again. It's the same frequency and yet it looks full and lush all the time. You never stop smiling!

There, that isn't obessive, is it?

Dad said...

An answer to my rhetorical question... It can't be obessive because that's not a word! But I don't think it's obsessive either! :-)

Big Plain V said...

Your dad's proud of you, I can tell.

Anita said...

I can hardly wait for my husband to read this! He, BTW, will completely agree with your dad on the length thing.

Monica said...

you are disgusting, Paul Michael Murphy. I have to agree, no worse than any other man.

Thank you, Mr. Murphy, for weighing in on the subject. Your logic is sound and backed up with data, unlike your son, who just does things for the hell of it, apparently.

Happy father's day to the both of you.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Fuzzy math, dad.

I will grant you that cutting the grass longer looks better and is healthier. However, I'm right about having to cut it more often if you're going to do things this way.

I'll use your assumptions against you.

Let us say that on June 1 your grass is three inches high and in need of a trim. You cut it down to one inch. According to your assumptions, in one week the grass will have grown back to three inches and will again be in need of a cut. So you have a week between trimmings.

Your recommendation is as follows: On June 1 the grass is three inches and in need of a cut. You cut it down to two inches, keeping it lusher and healthier and darker or whatever. You will then NEED TO CUT IT AGAIN IN 3.5 DAYS because at the rate of two inches per week it will take half that time to reach the three inch length you had previously described as shaggy and in need of a cut.

Your other option would be to wait the full week and cut it when it is FOUR inches and I think we can all agree that that's just ridiculous. If you're that worried about what others think of you and your lawn there's no way you're waiting until it's four inches high.

And so while you may be right aesthetically, you are wrong mathematically. It does mean more trimmings if you choose to keep it long. We can now argue about whether or not these extra trimmings are worth it, which really brings us back to the original question: Why do we care so much in the first place?

Dad said...

Oh son, why am I not the least bit surprised that you choose to differ with me? And yet, by your own admission, in many repsects you have become me.

So let us continue....

First of all, on June 1 when the grass is 3 inches high, it is only in need of a trim because one was foolish enough to cut it to a 1 inch height in the first place. The point is that 2 inches of growth from the post trimming height is when it begins to look shaggy (defined as "uneven in height", not "too long") and needs another trim. So yeah, I'm choosing the option of lowest height at 2 inches and trim at 4. Choosing to have that 2 inch range from 2-4 inches always looks good. Whereas choosing 1-3 inches speaks volumes about the homeowner's "I could care less" attitude and general laziness because he/she thinks they cut less often that way!

THAT is why we care. (Don't argue with know it's true!)

Dad said...

Thank you, Mrs. Murphy (Monica) and Debra!

I AM proud of both my sons. Very perceptive Big Plain V.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Dammit! Foiled again!

Lily Cate said...

You're just marking your territory- literally, it sounds like.
That's why it's a Dad thing.
You're saying to the neighborhood, "This is my space, look how good I am at keeping everything on it alive, grass, pets, kids, wives. I am a real catch."
Mr. Cate is heavily involved in this same obsession right now.
We left a little sliver of grass in our tiny front yard-the rest is my flowers- and he takes care of that little bit of green like its another kid.

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

I need a haircut.

Kelly said...

Your lawn is coming along!

My question is instead of bottling "it", why don't you just relieve yourself on the spots needed?? (That's what my four year old would do...okay has done. Our lawn is vole free :)

Monica said...

i have to concur with Kelly on this. Why not just donate right from "the source". That's what us folk up here in Canada do. (i must say, our back yard is vole free, whether that's due to the urine or the Ezekiel Romeo Murphy (our jack russel), i don't know.

murphyd8 said...

Ummm.... everyone knows pee kills grass. What are you thinking?

I recommend smoke bombs. They do nothing but it looks sweet when smoke starts coming out of unknown holes all over your lawn.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

I don't pour it on the grass. I pour it in the holes the little f'ers leave behind.