It started with succulents. It ended with a commercial grade rototiller and a crater between citrus trees.
It wasn’t my idea. Thumb pots with tiny cacti do not sing to me. So it was never going to be love at first sight. But things escalated quickly. Emotions ran high. And a year ago today I drove away from a plant nursery with the number of a man who didn’t want to, but was considering, doing some work for me.
He really didn’t want to do the work. It wasn’t about the money. The last time he came back to a customer’s house afterhours and did some unaffiliated work not wearing the emblazoned logo of the nursery, it ended poorly. I told him I didn’t see his planting an avocado tree in my backyard ending in violence. He said, You don’t know that.
In 2017, a man had approached him about some Marathon II sod. He ordered pallets of it from the nursery. His son was turning eight and he wanted a nice grassy backyard for the birthday party. The man from the nursery declined. It’s against the rules. The man buying the Marathon II pressed him, bullied him a bit. The nursery man figured it was just rolling some sod. Shitty, but uneventful work. So he did it.
At the birthday party, they had a flag football tournament on the newly laid sod. Then because he didn’t have sprinklers or the patience to water the grass turned to straw. So the man with dead grass showed up at the nursery, chased the nursery man through agave plants, French lavender and those weird trees that grow lemons, limes and oranges all on the same tree. When he caught him, he beat the shit out of him while landscape architects bought perennials bulbs by the pallet for houses in the Palisades.
He declined the extra fifty bucks I had in my hand. Besides, the nursery man told me, it’s not that hard to plant a tree. Put it on its side, cut it out of the box and slide it into a hole that’s three times the size of the root ball. He got in his truck and drove off.
It’s not that hard became the mantra of the afternoon, and then the year. Of course the root ball alone weighed about two hundred pounds so it was actually very fucking hard to slide it into the clay soil. Impenetrable soil that did not want to be dug up three inches, let alone three feet. But eventually the tree stood tall and noticeably crooked.
It was his son’s birthday party that drove a man to speedbag a nursery employee who didn’t want to roll sod for what was probably not enough money after work.
I didn’t remember that until 9 p.m. last Friday night when it was pointed out to me that I wasn’t making the sort of progress that I needed to be making if we were going to have a lawn by my son’s birthday party on the following Saturday. It was also pointed out to me that I had been railing against grass for over a year. She quoted back to me: We live in a desert by the ocean, and lawns in Orange County and golf courses in Palm Springs are draining our reservoirs for people who live in Nevada for six months and one day of the year to avoid residency anyway. Now I was going to put in something that needs to be watered three times a day for the first week and two times daily the next and then semiweekly until the end of time?
Yes, I said, knee-deep in dirt. I cut the engine on the tiller, which I had learned how to use from watching a few videos on youtube.
There were questions that I hadn’t considered. There was mention of needing to haul out “cubic yards” of dirt, leveling the ground, installing a sprinkler system, and maybe buying some sodcutters because our yard is shaped like a kindergartener tried to cut a maple leaf out of cardstock. And what were my qualifications? A membership to the Writer’s Guild West?
I had been inhaling exhaust behind that rototiller for all of the hours of daylight and a few after. My brain was starting to flicker in and out. I saw stars not above me but right in front of me. And then there was the question of my commitment to a sod supplier in Chino.
I’m happy to stop now, I said.
The moon hung crooked and she tried not to laugh. The thing about my ears, which were recently drilled and are still thick with ointment and congealed blood, is I didn’t hear most of what she had said. In fact the only thing I could hear was the same Slauson Boy album that my neighbor has been playing since Nipsey Hustle died.
I don’t know what would’ve happened if the man at the nursery would have agreed to help me shuffle my Hass into the ground. But I don’t think I would be standing in a cavity of pulverized clay and compost that had pipe dreams of being a misshapen, poorly laid and likely short-lived patch of grass.
Anyway, there’s a guy with a truck and a trencher, decomposed granite, drought tolerant plants and native grass coming later. I’ll probably just pay him more than my car cost to make it look like the patio of an Abbot Kinney coffeeshop. That’s what the kid wants for his birthday anyway. Grass is for cattle, baseball fields and Walt Whitman poems.