Sunday, May 30, 2010

Making our bedlam and lying in it

“Out of chaos, order,” I said, stepping back and beholding our shrubbery, my hands smeared black with whatever they put in mulch to keep it damp like a Twinkie when you open the bag.

Even a decade ago, the thought of being excited about shrubbery would have been exceedingly depressing, but I’ve found that with each passing year, it becomes easier and easier to get jazzed about small-leaf rhododendron. And Imodium AD.

At this point, there’s really no reason to pretend that coolness is an attainable goal anyway. After eating a few slices of pizza last Saturday night, I officially stepped across the wrinkly threshold to oldpersondom. Just before climbing into bed at 10pm, I preemptively popped a Pepto pill, then paused, realizing in horror that this was first time in my life I’d taken medicine for indigestion I didn’t even have yet.

It was like that scene from The Matrix – once you take the pink pill, there’s no turning back. I’ve seen how deep the rabbit hole goes, and it ends at the early bird special at Denny’s.

Our new shrubs look just fine, exactly how you’d expect a few freshly planted bushes to look, but they represent something much more: a hard-won victory, however fleeting, of order over entropy. Over the past few years, the flowerbed we’d inherited from the previous owners of our house had turned into flower bedlam, a tangled embarrassment of scraggly flowers, vibrant weeds and assorted dead things.

“That’s a weed, I’m yanking it,” I’d say.

“No, no, I think that’s a mum,” my wife Kara would say, pleading for the life of each plant individually, like my sister used to do with every fish my dad ever caught.

Finally, last weekend, armed with a shovel and a wheelbarrow, I successfully beat back the forces of chaos and their dandelion hordes. There’s just something about the smell of compost, the feel of dirt under your fingernails and the taste of peat moss wafting in your face, something that makes you wish you were paying someone else to experience them.

By the way, the lady at the nursery tricked me into buying two bags of compost. I didn’t really know what compost was, except that it was good for plants and that hippies liked to carry on about it. I’d already paid by the time I went to pick up the bags, which pictured a large cow on front and proudly proclaimed, “Composted cow manure. Made in Vermont.”

“Made in Vermont” sounded a little grandiose for what I’d just purchased, as if third-generation craftsmen had spent their whole lives perfecting the recipe. But if there’s ever an example of selling ice to an Eskimo, it’s selling compost to a guy with a dog and a baby. I thought I was set for life with the stuff.

The current motivation for pulling our house out of disarray is our son’s upcoming first birthday party, which promises to be the most fun he’ll have no idea that he’s having. Of course, attendant with inviting large numbers of friends and family over to your house is noticing that the place is falling down around you.

Kara and I had known for some time that our front steps were a little rickety, as apparently the original builders didn’t foresee the unlikely event that people might walk on them. After returning from the hardware store with seventeen dollars worth of brackets and braces, ready to strike another blow against disorder in the world, I discovered that the bottom of the steps had completely rotted out. I’d have better luck reinforcing a Kit Kat bar.

Fortunately, I have other things in life to help keep these minor inconveniences in perspective. Like the leak in the attic.

You can plop Mike Todd in your compost heap at

No comments:

Post a Comment