For a Nazi-Perfect Lawn, Try Scissors

It all started, as most tragedies do, with a girl – specifically, my ex-wife. We married too soon and too young (20 years ago last month, to be precise) despite both of our misgivings. For four years we struggled to make it work. Then we hit on a genius plan: buy a house.

I suppose we thought the increased stress and responsibility of home ownership would force us to unite in common cause: us vs. the mortgage. Failing that, more square footage seemed to make sense, considering we couldn’t even drive across town in the same car without fighting. Ahhh … young love.

Complicating matters was the location of the house. We had lived for three years in the Birmingham suburbs of north Shelby County. It was convenient to both of our jobs and had all the amenities of an affluent bedroom community. That affluence, however, meant we couldn’t afford to buy in the area. So we moved to the opposite corner of the county: the quaint college town of Montevallo.

There’s nothing wrong with Montevallo. It’s quite lovely, but it wasn’t the most convenient place be. Neither of us wanted to be there – despite her being a University of Montevallo graduate. Living there meant much longer commutes for us both. Call it mutually-assured misery. That’s what passed for compromise in our tormented union.

Needless to say, the plan failed. A year later, I found myself divorced and living alone with two dogs in a three-bedroom, split-foyer, ’70s nightmare that looked like a reject from the Brady Bunch.

And then there was the lawn.

Looking back, it was really the lushest, thickest lawn I ever had. There would be times in later years, when faced with mowing a steep hillside or tiny patches of grass interrupted by wide swaths of dirt, that I would long for that lawn. Back then, however, I saw it as a knee-high, green albatross.

I didn’t go into home ownership hating lawn work. As a Southern man, I simply wanted to be a good neighbor. I never had any idea how hard that would be.

Growing up in the redneck hinterlands of Mobile County, Alabama, I had watched my parents’ seemingly effortless ability to make friends of our neighbors. I could be so lucky.

On one side, we had the Stewarts – a couple who were seemingly frozen in the 1950s. He wore his hair piled high with Brylcream or some other pomade of the era. She sported a hot-rolled, pseudo-beehive until her death. He hid bottles of cheap booze underneath their house. She pretended not to notice. He collected all manner of broken cars around the corrugated tin shed of a consummate shade-tree mechanic. She collected every wedding gift they had been given some two or three decades earlier – all piled in a guest room closet, all new in the box. Everybody needs a hobby, I guess.

On the other side were the Tuckers. Mr. Tucker only ever left the house to have a few cold ones in the back yard, slip expensive steaks to their half-breed wiener dog and fall asleep in his lawn chair. He once tided one on and then slept it off in that chair in the midst of a typical Gulf Coast summer thunderstorm. He awoke some time later, soaked from head to toe. “Must’ve come a little shower,” he grumbled. Such is the power of PBR.

Neither they nor any of the other nearby families of my childhood could prepare me for the first next-door neighbor of my adulthood: Mr. Scissors. I don’t recall the man’s real name, but there could be no better sobriquet for the retiree. The first time I saw him, he was crawling across his front yard on hands and knees, trimming weeds and wayward blades of grass … with a pair of scissors. In fact, he did this at least once a week.

I don’t know if he was simply bored since his retirement, or if he had always worshipped at the altar of turf perfection, but the man obsessed over a flawless lawn. I, on the other hand, wasn’t so good at the mowing-in-a-timely-fashion thing. For most of the years I lived there, I was working 60-80 hours per week and bracketing those hours with a couple of hours of commuting each day. Throw in a dinner here or a night out at the movies there, and I wasn’t home much. Back then, there was no need for the mower to plot against me; I was never there to actually use it.

After a couple of years in the house, my standing in the neighborhood was, needless to say, not good. On a scale from “drunken convicted sex offender” to “homeowners’ association president,” I fell somewhere in the range of “patchouli-stinking commie radical.” The ponytail probably didn’t help.

I could see the disgust on Mr. Scissors’ face every time I drove off to work in the morning. He sneered at me from his prone position on his own lawn, fingers grasping his beloved scissors in murderous rage. Faint curses and questions of my patrilineage boiled under his hot breath. What had I done? I had taken what was surely once a mild-mannered old man and turned him into a homicidal curmudgeon. Then again, he did come into my yard with a ruler to point out that my fence was one-quarter inch over the property line. Surely I can’t take all the blame.

Nevertheless, I’m a pleaser. I have an irrational need for people to like me. I’m nice. I’m a good guy. I’m charming, gosh darn it! (Sorry if my mild obscenity caused any offense.  I’ll be happy to delete it if you like … and wash your car.)

Determined to improve matters, I dedicated myself to keeping the lawn in good repair for one full mowing season. It didn’t go well.

Goal one: come home during daylight hours. Coincidentally, my boss had recently become a drug addict and was running his business into the ground. So, the hours were light that summer. It was a bad situation, but lemons make lemonade, folks. Unfortunately, there would be no sugar for my lemonade. (Okay, this metaphor is falling apart. Moving on…)

Every day that summer, I would scramble to get home in time to mow. And every day I would arrive to find that it had poured rain, rendering the lawn too soggy. The Birmingham metro area suffered a drought that summer, but I kid you not, it rained in Montevallo every single day. Apparently, in meteorological terms, a ten percent chance of rain equals a one hundred percent chance for Montevallo.

One day, as my then fiance and I were driving to the house, we saw no signs of rain anywhere. Finally, I could get the back forty under control! Our delight could barely be contained. We could finally turn the corner from “those Bohemians who never cut their grass” to “that nice young couple who are merely shacking up.”

But it wasn’t to be. As we approached the Montevallo city limits, we noticed a dark cloud looming ahead. Maybe it’s farther to the South, we thought. Maybe it’ll miss Montevallo altogether. To our disbelief, not only was it raining in the town that afternoon, but the line of rain literally began atop the city limit sign. On the Montevallo side: rain. On the other side: dry. Oh, to be unincorporated!

I didn’t know it then, but this was the first sign of my lawn maintenance curse. (The deeper issue is this: what if the mowers were controlling the weather? I’ll leave that one for you to ponder.)

The following summer, we finally threw in the proverbial towel and moved out. Unfortunately for Mr. Scissors and my other neighbors, I chose to make it a rental. That meant several years of hit-or-miss lawn care, depending on the tenant.

Meanwhile, my lack of luck with lawns – and the neighbors that hated me for it – got no better. But that’s a story for another day…

Join us next time when Wayne introduces us to “Illy Agnes and the Blower Man.” In the meantime, you can follow his nonsense on Twitter.


  1. Be a Real Southerner: Read our Weekly Round-Up | Real Southern Men - June 25, 2011

    […] Wayne Franklin has more bad luck with lawn mowing than you can possibly imagine. Here’s how it all started: “For a Nazi-Perfect Lawn, Try Scissors.” […]

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