The Bad Seed

On my block, I’m the Bad Neighbor.

Oh, I’m not terrible or anything. I’m nice to people, and polite, and I don’t have my car on blocks in the front yard. Nor do I blast music at 3 in the morning, or hang out on the porch getting drunk and whistling at neighborhood girls.

But I’m the Bad Neighbor for one very simple reason: my lawn is terrible, and I don’t care. In what can only be described as a bewildering turn of events, I’ve lately started caring about the fact that I don’t care. Is something wrong with me? I spend my weekends visiting friends, or drinking coffee, or laying around reading or playing videogames, and from every nearby house I hear the buzz of lawn mowers, and the hiss of seeders, and the scritch of sprinklers.

And I don’t get it. I don’t understand.

The situation came to a head earlier in the year when I had so many dandelions on my lawn that my yard was noticeably yellow when viewed from Google Earth. My neighbors had begun to give me somewhat withering looks every time I drove up to the house, trundling ignorantly past the weed garden that is my front yard. Didn’t I care that my soil was obviously alkaline? Didn’t I want to pour some poison on the weeds and chase them out? Didn’t I want a nice green carpet?

And the answers come to my mind practically unbidden: no, no, and no.

Let’s put aside the issue of how environmentally hostile it is to dump toxic waste on your lawn to kill the plants you don’t want. And let’s even put aside the question of expense: while it’s true that maintaining a lawn takes some cash, that’s not really what’s stopping me from doing it. It’s really the whole idea of lawns that I don’t get. Dandelions, clover, and black medic all seem just as pretty to me as green grass. They’re just as nice to lay on. The weeds attract rabbits, birds, and other small animals to the yard. It’s my house, not a golf course. Grass is just another plant.

The gap is best illustrated by a conversation I had with a neighbor who has since moved out. This guy worked on his lawn every day. Every single day from spring through fall, there was not a day that he was not in the yard cutting, trimming, bagging. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that: obviously, he got great pleasure from it. We chatted about this, and we chatted about that, and I mentioned that some black raspberry canes had sprouted up in my front yard.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I just ripped a bunch of those out of my backyard. I hate ‘em. They’re so hard to keep under control.”

And all I could do is stare. What kind of person destroys a black raspberries in favor of a sterile boring lawn? The gap is unbridgeable. I am a stranger in a strange land.

An architect friend of mine says that the idea of having a nice lawn is a middle-class folly that is inherited from the mythology of the British upper class. The memory of the “manor house,” being imitated on a small scale by little would-be lords and ladies. Over half of the US’s water supply goes to feed our lawn habit, much of that water carrying pesticides and chemicals straight back down to the water table.

Whatever the motivation, I surely don’t understand it. If someone can explain the attraction to me, I’d love to understand. Until then, I suspect I will always be my neighborhood’s bad seed.

And hey: although the grass is greener on their side, I’ve got all the black raspberries.