Talk of the Town - The lawnman always limes twice November 20 2003

A grubby tale

We've stopped anonymous telemarketers — for now, at least. But what about people you know?

My lawn company has gone berserk. The people putting 35 cents' worth of chemicals on my grass each month, and receiving 35 bucks to do it, have ratcheted up the pressure. They call almost every night.

I don't know whether they had a bad third quarter, or an embezzler at HQ wants to make up missing cash with extra sales calls, but they won't leave me alone. Used to be they asked permission to come over. Now it's more aggressive.

"We're coming to lime your lawn."

Not, "Can we stop by?" Or a faux-impromptu, "Hey, we'll be in the neighborhood!" No. They're coming, whether I want it or not. All of which begs the question: What does "lime your lawn" mean? Will the yard smell like a giant margarita when they get done?

When they called about the liming, I told them no because it was an extra charge over and above the regular service. Next morning, I look out the window and there's a guy in the yard.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm liming the lawn," he said.

Up to this point, the conversation was strictly rhetorical. I mean, I knew what the guy was doing, and he knew what he was doing. What's more, he knew I knew. This level of comprehension required no further communication on our part.

Shaking with anger (or caffeine; the coffee was too strong that morning), I went in and called the central office, nerve center of the lawn conglomerate that was trying to shake down my yard. I flatly said this was an unauthorized liming, and that I would not pay for said service. Surprisingly, the person on the other end of the line was most cooperative. He apologized for the intrusion and said there would be no charge.

The next morning, a different guy was out there liming my lawn all over again. And I got two bills.

The lawn company's high-handed attitude calls to mind a larger mystery: For years, they've been running around my third-of-an-acre doing things I don't understand — and leaving notes to prove it.

"We applied pre-emergent today."

The only thing I understand about that message is that something was shpritzed on the ground. What it is or does, I have no idea. Does pre-emergent make the thing that wants to emerge actually emerge? Or is it to prevent the would-be emergee from ever emerging in the first place? And since it's pre-emergent — i.e. for something that hasn't shown up at all and may never arrive — how can anyone tell if it's worked?

"We provided grub protection."

Every year they provide me with grub protection, and every year it works. Because something is protecting those grubs. Every year they chomp on my lawn. Grubs are supposed to be tiny little things, but the ones chowing down around my house must be the size of Victor Buono by now.

"We will winterize your lawn."

What are they going to do, pull a big cardigan over it? I could send the lawn to Florida for the winter, but then it would call and say I never visit.

All this has been on my mind because it's aerating and seeding season. The time of year when your lawn, decimated by months of alternating drought, floods, gophers, beetles, grubs and other pests documented in the Book of Job, is recreated for a fleeting wisp of Camelot glory during the piping days of autumn.

Aeration and seeding. The whole concept has a heavy irony to it. First, because seeding requires soil soft enough to welcome seed. And fall is one of the drier seasons, leaving Georgia clay at the same mass and density as steel plates used to lay the keel of a battleship. So as the run-up to A&S, I spend a week pouring water on the lawn until it achieves the consistency of a Vietnamese rice paddy.

Second, what's wrong with this picture? I'm simulating rainfall that doesn't naturally happen to plant seed that doesn't naturally occur in this ecosystem and hoping the net result will flourish in an environment with the temperature of Farrah Fawcett's old blow dryer eight months out of the year. And letting a guy punch holes in my turf who scatters an anemic quantity of grass seed that could easily be contained in one of those weenie boxes of Special K you get in motels with continental breakfast.

Nah, nothing unnatural there.

The scariest thing about all this is the terminology lawn guys use. They aerate to let the grass "breathe." Five times a year they "feed" it. I go to bed at night and lay awake thinking, "That damn yard is alive!" It's already a decade old. A few more years, and it'll want to go to college and start dating other lawns.

And when I get old, it won't even visit me in Florida.


Glen Slattery is aerating in Alpharetta.

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