California, Best of California Bull

I Want to Kill Augustina

I hate my lawn. I call her Augustina. She’s a drunk. She’s ugly.  She always needs something, always needs me to work on her, and then she never changes. She’s a St. Augustine turf, laid down in patches, some which never took in the shaded areas, and she turns half brown in winter. She’s like an old show girl with a tooth missing who forgets to dye her gray hair, and when you ask her to dance she stabs you in the bottom of your bare feet with a sprinkler head.

She’s only eight years old and I’m plotting to kill her.

All I have to do is turn her sprinklers off and let her...die.

I’ve started to meditate on her murder. My wife Robin shrugs. She can be as brutal as me. “What is she good for? If she's a good-for-nothing, why keep her?”

Lily, my daughter, loves the lawn, bare patches and all. I keep Augustina around for Lily, so she and her friends can do cartwheels and host dance contests, as they dodge the buried sprinkler heads.

In most great crime stories of pre-meditated murder, the killer turns out to be a sap. In The Postman Always Rings Twice, when Frank and Cora set out to kill the Greek, you know that Frank is a dummy and will never get away with it. Yet, I love reading how these two craven fools screw everything up -- especially Frank.

So as you read about me, plotting the perfect crime, feel free to laugh at me. I can take it, because I know what’s in your heart. If you’re like me, you’ve stood with your DWP bill in your hand and stared hard at your green mistress lying there.

What? Does she think I’m made of money?

I pay and pay...and you still look like crap. I get no respect.

As I plan her demise, read and be entertained, but be warned. I may chart a path for you to eventually follow -- but there is a very good chance that killing Augustine may end up costing me a great deal. If that turns out to be the case, then consider this a cautionary tale, in serial installments.

My neighborhood is perfect for a noir crime turf tale gone bad. Beneath the veneer of our white picket fences, there are termites eating away at the fence posts holding up this Southern California dream. The passing sirens in the middle of the night remind me that we are in a decaying American city.  After all, we just qualified as a “Promise Zone” in President Obama’s war on poverty. I love that double-speak description of our plight. We live in a city of such promise! But that’s not what they mean. It’s sunny in the daytime, but life gets dark at night. That’s when I toss and turn and imagine her demise.           

In the mornings I walk outside to get the paper (I know, who still gets the paper?) and I stare at Augustine. What a thirsty ugly bitch. I see other men like myself, in robes and sweats, staring at their lawns, wondering why they pursued such fickle mistresses.              

We know why. Vanity. Keeping up with the Joneses. A healthy lawn is some strange validation, twisted proof of my success. But she’s just a devil in a faded green dress, and I'm the putz who fell for her.

I hear a hiss and look across the street, and I see a fountain of water erupt from a broken sprinkler head, and I see my neighbor Steve holding his skull and stomping up and down on the sidewalk in front of his house. He just put that new sprinkler system in last month. Then, there’s Hank, our new neighbor who just bought the new McMansion three houses down. The contractor flipped the house so quick that Hank bought it before the turf they rolled out even took root. Patches died after he moved in, so his lawn now looks like a chessboard. 

My affair with Augustine went south in early December, when I got our water bill. It and comes every two months in Los Angeles, and the water charges for October and December was $350 cheaper than it had been in previous months.

At first I was proud of our little green household for saving so much! Granted, during the summer months we ran the hose to feed the double lane slip-and-slide for two hours straight every Saturday for Lily and the neighbor girls. Autumn itself creates a water savings, right? But $350 in savings seemed especially thrifty.

 Until I noticed Augustine. She seemed awfully brown and dry.

I went to the front hall closet and discovered her watering system was unplugged. In October a handyman was fixing our fence and he needed to run an extension cord, and we had Halloween lights plugged in during October, and we dragged coats in and out of that front closet as the weather changed. During all this, the plug had either come out of the socket, or it had been pulled and never plugged back in. I figure she’d gone four weeks without water----six weeks, tops.

Month after month after month for eight years, I watered her. Plucked her. Fussed over her. Worried over her bare spots in the dark corner that never gets sun. And then, in four fast weeks, she heads south.

I started watering, hoping to bring her back from the brink. But it’s January, and nothing is going to grow. I have a choice...I keep watering, hoping she’ll come back in March when the Vernal Equinox brings Spring, or...I kill her.

I can’t help thinking about the wasted money.  $350 to water the front lawn, every two months. Without the watering, we conserve enough that our water usage is in Tier 1 billing.  Water a lawn and you can jump into double and triple prices per gallon in Tiers 2 and 3. It can add up fast.

That’s $1050 a year. That’s $8400 in just water since she was put in, and that doesn’t include gardening costs and fertilizer and winter grass costs. Then there’s my time, trying to repair her, nurture her...save her. I’m the co-dependent enabler who has been feeding this thirsty aqua-holic, and we’ve hit rock bottom. The only way I can save her is to burn even more cash in the hopes that she comes back.

Then there is something else that is looming -- for all of us. The water reserves for Los Angeles are at 20% of normal, and we’re already a month into winter. The Los Angeles Times has an article today about the looming “mega-drought” is almost upon us, unless we get a miracle month of rain. I could water like crazy, and there’s a good chance we will be rationing by summer and she’ll die again anyway. And while all this is happening, the water prices are going up.

I have some choices:

I could put in a new lawn, but I’d have to water her just as much.

I could put in a fake lawn --but that runs about $8000 for a good one, and I hear they get steamy hot in the summer and you get a gruesome rug burn if you slide or fall on them.

Can I get away with letting her die?  My worst fear is that I have a bare front yard that looks like it deserves a Chevy with no wheels up on cement blocks, and an inbred toothless banjo player in a rocker on the front porch.

My second worse fear is getting lured into some artsy and creative vision that sucks ten thousand bucks from my pocket, and keeps sucking. Sunset Magazine is lurid pornography for homeowners, and like all pornography, it can create bizarre appetites that can never be satisfied in real life.

Why am I worrying about this anyway? I should just plant a cactus garden in the front, and accept that we’re Arizona 2.0 in the making. Everywhere else in the country you grow your own grass. In Southern California, there are grass farms out in Oxnard where the fog and the nearby ocean keep the land cool enough to grow turf. We then cut it up and cart it into the San Fernando Valley where it’s 110 in September, and two days without water can kill any plant that’s left out in the sun. We’re insane.

We’ll all be killing our lawns soon. I just have to be the brave one on our block and kill my Augustina first. I ‘ll get the broken down Chevy and the toothless banjo player next.

I heard one rumor worth exploring -- that the DWP will pay me to kill my lawn and then help cart my dead turf away. But she has to be living. I can’t let her die, and then apply for the rebate and get the money. I have to lure her back from the brink enough to prove she’s still alive, and then we can kill Augustine together, and then they’ll give me money for my crime.

It’s a little twisted, but I like having an accomplice, especially if I can get two bucks a square foot, which is for my lawn ends up being $3000. That’s a motive for murder.

For now, I will water, and investigate my options. I will keep you posted, however, because I have crime on my mind.