A hurried man in green overalls and red ball cap introduced himself as Otto Armbender. He took one look at my front yard, scribbled a few notes on a pad, and said it would be a piece of cake. I appreciated the image of coiffured icing and sugared rosebuds. He said all they had to do was scrape away every living thing around my house and replace it with long lasting Dura-Sod. It sounded good to me. I hated lawn maintenance. Everything I touched eventually withered and died anyway. He said I would be the envy of the neighborhood. Green with envy, he added, which after my failure to respond he further explained was a joke of the trade. Bermuda Grass, Perennial Ryegrass, Zoysia Grass, St. Augustine Grass, each I could grow in my yard no matter where I lived. I said I didn’t plan on moving.
Otto opened a catalog to the grasses page and asked me to select my favorite color. They were all green, or so it seemed to me, until he described the difference between Kentucky Bluegrass and Red Fescue, the former of which really wasn’t blue and the latter of which really wasn’t red. All that stuff about climate and soil and irrigation doesn’t matter when it comes to artificial turf, he said. I said I assumed that was the point. In bold print on top of the page was the quote “Make Your Neighbors Green With Envy.” I got the pun this time and winked at him. The neighborhood was not a consideration in my decision at that time but I was intrigued by the added bonus.
I could still grow real flowers and shrubs in certain areas, he said, if that was something I wanted to pursue, or better yet, he continued, go completely maintenance free with an expansive selection of artificial flowers and other plants. He said I could take advantage of ninety days same as cash, but only for a limited time. Limits gave me acrophobia, which I always thought a bit odd since anyone else afflicted by such a sense of constraint would feel claustrophobic. I signed a contract for full yard replacement, which included Dura-Sod front and back, artificial hostas on each side of the house, a bed of impatiens in a variety of colors along the front, and two rows of artificial banana plants in the rear. I liked to host the occasional luau.
Eight men, two Bobcats, one dump truck, and a skid of plastic green arrived two weeks later. By the end of the first day the yard around my house was an inflamed sore of exposed earth. Starlings and sparrows picked at the soil like a 1940’s secretarial pool on manual typewriters. Mid afternoon of the third day they finished the turf. Mid morning two days later they completed installation of the impatiens, hostas and banana plants. It was like an underwater garden had been pushed to the ocean’s surface where I was the only inhabitant of a lush paradise amidst a congregate of desert islands. I turned on my street at day’s end to find a dozen or more people on the sidewalk in front of my house.
Margie from next door and Herb from two houses down greeted me in the driveway as I stepped from my car. The rest of the neighbors whispered from their clustered perch on the sidewalk. Margie was first to speak.
“Do you realize what you’ve done?”
I thought I had, but maybe I was mistaken. Herb was quick to jump in. “What’s going to happen when winter comes?”
He had me there. I always assumed snow didn’t much care what it covered.
The sidewalk crew was upon us, arms waving and fingers pointing, the lot of them talking at the same time, plowing over each other’s voices like a school of upstream salmon.
“This will destroy our property values,” said one.
“It doesn’t even look natural,” said another.
I didn’t see that one coming.
Otto never prepared me for this shade of green. I calculated the work necessary to scrape the entire neighborhood and spent the rest of the day searching the internet for artificial neighbors. Otto stopped by as a follow-up to the installation. I congratulated him on a job well done and requested he forward my sentiments to his crew. You don’t have to stop there, he said. I noticed his attention drawn to the search results displayed on the screen.
You offer these products? He smiled before I finished the sentence. Age, interests, desires, levels of education, phobias, food allergies, he said, are among the options available. Race and nationality are handled through random selection. Heck, he added, for you I’ll throw in the additional turf and assorted artificial plants at cost.
Thirty-seven men, six Bobcats, three dump trucks and a portable warehouse of plastic green arrived three weeks later. By the end of the first week the neighborhood was scraped and emptied of all living things. I asked if the birds could stay and Otto said it would be a piece of cake. I appreciated the sudden craving for Neapolitan ice cream. By the end of the second week all yards in the neighborhood were fit with Dura-Sod and an assortment of flowers and other plants. By the end of the third week the new neighbors were installed. I turned on my street at day’s end to find a dozen or more people on the sidewalk in front of my house. They introduced themselves as if I were the new kid on the block. We shook hands and exchanged e-mail addresses and commented on the weather. They brought me pies and casseroles and wooden mixing spoons and thirty piece ratchet sets. They carried on about the permanent green lawns and maintenance free flower beds.
“Birds were the only things we didn’t replace,” one of them said.
I smiled and invited them all to my back yard for a luau.