Monday, June 16, 2003 John Bresland Writers Group That freakishly green lawn After he retired, my next-door neighbor - let's call him Fred Ross - changed the pattern by which he mowed his grass. Fred had gone diagonal. Not only that, he was now double-mulch-mowing. Overnight, he'd become a double-diagonal-mulch mower. Clearly, the bar had been raised. My neighbors and I felt the heat. And sure enough, in a matter of days, surrounding lawns bore the telltale crosshatchings of the Ross double-diagonal. Really, that should have been the end of it. But then Fred Ross brought in a ChemLawn consultant, a strapping lad in bleached white cotton who resembled some orderly from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." There, amid the peak of the June growing season, they knelt together in Fred's springy turf and weighed the options. Like, they could measure the soil's pH levels. Or they could run a lime index. And they could check the potassium levels to make sure the turf would stand up to another cruel Iowa winter. They could test for grass type, too, though the consultant reassured Fred, "No doubt in my mind you got you a Kentucky Bluegrass blend." To us regular people - those of us who treat grass like a pest, like a weekly chore - it seemed as though Fred Ross had set off a lawn war that only Fred Ross could win. He was retired. We had full-time jobs. We paid teenagers like $10 lawn-hookers to "Just get it over with" while Fred Ross massaged his lawn's every contour, working his 40-inch core aerator lovingly into the grass. I ask you, what man can compete with a 40-inch core aerator? It hadn't always been this way. The idea of cultivating a Fred Ross lawn occurred to nobody - nobody in the whole universe - until after the Civil War. Starting in the 1860s, it dawned on a few wealthy Americans that what lay between themselves and true happiness were large tracts of useless land filled with picky, thirsty high-maintenance grass. Low-wage laborers (i.e., former slaves) "mowed" it with scythes - and they had FUN! During America's so-called Gilded Age, surely the lawnmower would be a boon to the aspiring middle class. Or not. When the first patent was issued in 1868 for a manual push mower (with the look and feel of an overturned washing machine), America yawned. Later, the rubber-hosed lawn sprinkler was rolled out to equal indifference. Until the FDR administration called for the 40-hour work week, Americans hadn't the leisure time to fritter away on lawn care. This is according to "The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession" by Virginia Scott Jenkins (1994, Smithsonian Institution Press). But once the Nuclear Age got swinging, the age of Better Living Through Chemistry (and pesticides) came, and "Neatly trimmed lawns showed the passerby that the homeowner was well-to-do and aesthetically advanced." Yesterday's freakishly green lawn is today's SUV. So then what's today's lawn? I can tell you what it's not. Fred Ross's Kentucky Bluegrass blend - and yours and mine - isn't native to Kentucky or even this continent. It was brought here from, like, the Middle East. Or maybe Europe. Nobody's really sure - though my money's on the Middle East. Only Middle Eastern grass could cause so much trouble in my otherwise peaceful neighborhood. Thanks to his double-diagonal-mulch-mowing and high-end chemical bombardments, Fred Ross had turned his property into a great green hulk of a lawn. Defeated, I tried to mock his style. I mowed in spiral patterns. I cut long, flowing Gehry-esque curves into the turf to protest his mechanized perfection. Another neighbor was more direct: "Bite me," he mowed. Through it all, Fred Ross remained impassive, unshakable. He even took to wearing white golf shoes when he mowed. As if there were no greater leisure in life than to love his perfect lawn. And so in desperation, I started dating Fred's perfect daughter. That got him. I thought this was an interesting article. I hope you find it as amusing as I did. All but the TGCL mention.