On the Home and Lawn
Q: Will hiring a lawn service to do my mowing make me soft?
A: Well, boy hidy, Mr. Deep Pockets, seems somebody has suddenly found himself standing in some mighty high cotton. And, at the same time, in some increasingly tall grass. Did your numbers hit? Ol’ Aunt Hattie, bless her soul, remember you fondly in her will? Well come in? However it happened, you now face one of the classic quandaries of the freshly minted. It is not so much the softening that comes with newfound wealth that should concern you; in many world cultures such plumpness is a badge of honor. No, what you need to protect is the pride you now take in a job well done by your own hand. For this there is no substitute. Who feeds and waters the patch of God’s green earth on which you reside? Who risks life and limb repelling columns of indestructible fire ants and sortie after sortie of dastardly chinch bugs? You do, brave sir. And if you are anything like the Texanist, you do it with a passion that few comprehend. Apocalyptic drought? Mounting water bills? A stream of threatening notices from the local water authority? None have kept you from pouring your heart, soul, and previously paltry savings into the shorn seas of verdancy that surround your abode. And when strolling strangers stop to admire your turf while you, filthy and sopping in last night’s beer-and-hot-wings sweat, nod proudly from behind 190 cc’s of roaring John Deere, it’s all worth it, right? The feeling that rushes over a man at that moment is pride. Pride as sweet as the aroma of freshly cut grass in early springtime and as addictive as the fumes from an open gas can. It’s clear that you have reached an income level at which domestic help becomes affordable, yet in the case of your landscape, think hard about what you will be giving up. Money can buy many services, but the self-wrought happiness derived from a perfectly mowed lawn carries no price tag. Don’t do it.
Q: If I want to eradicate a stand of prickly pear cactus, can I just mow over it with a shredder, or do I need to burn it or dig it up or something?
A: The Texanist, rather than advising that you go after it with a ferocious hunger for total annihilation, would have you stop for a minute, take a breath, tweeze out those remaining spines, and maybe have a cool drink of water. Although held in low regard and deemed a noxious weed in some parts of the world (g’day, mate), the spiked flora in your yard just happens to be our official and beloved state plant. Furthermore, though it may have aroused your appetite for destruction, it is just as capable of arousing your appetite for things that are delicious. The prickly pear (or nopal), of which you seem to have a good starter crop, can be used as a main ingredient in a variety of very tasty and very healthy dishes: cactus jam, cactus jelly, cactus juice (a scientifically proven and Texanist-approved hangover cure), cactus and eggs, cactus salad, cactus-and-fava-bean soup, and so on. Instead of haphazardly plowing over the thing with a rotary cutter (leads to spreading and vigorous regrowth), setting it ablaze (difficult to accomplish), or bulldozing it (expensive and you need a permit), you would do well to embrace this nettlesome green mass. (Not literally, of course. A friend of the Texanist’s, one James Richard, attempted thusly to display his love of nature some years ago outside La Kiva bar, in Terlingua; not a good idea.) Consider cultivating and harvesting it; try marketing the product roadside. These times call for enterprise, after all. The Texanist will ask only that you enclose 40 percent of the profits with your thank-you note.
Q: Something has been wrecking my yard during the night and I suspect varmints. I consider myself an animal lover but have reached my wits’ end. What can I do to keep them from further destroying my beautiful landscaping?
A: It may surprise you to learn that the Texanist’s coexistence with God’s creatures has not been entirely free of occasional violent run-ins with sundry vermin. His fuzzy foes have ranged from beady-eyed squirrels, half-witted whitetails, and yowling feral cats to trash-scrounging raccoons, pale possums, and a bloodthirsty chupa-cabra. These encounters have tended to be relatively quick and one-sided, though at least one has graduated into a decades-long feud that as of this writing shows no sign of an easy resolution (one day the Texanist will find you, you goat-sucking abomination). But as is often the case, the Texanist would discourage his readers from doing as he does and instead attempt to promote the wisdom of what he says. The plain fact is that in the vast majority of instances, your four-legged nocturnal caller is more vagabond than vandal and will, with time, move on to greener pastures (once he’s left yours in tatters). If, however, you are as out of patience as you suggest and cannot wait for this to transpire, you may simply peruse the telephone directory and summon your local critter ridder, wildlife relocator, or exterminator. But be warned that we are speaking now of some very cold fellows, men with hollow eyes, hard hearts, and dark, drafty voids where once danced the bright souls of innocent, fauna-friendly children.
Q: My husband and I have just finished remodeling the front porch of our home, but our homeowners’ association nixed our paint color choice for the porch ceiling, saying it didn’t conform to the guidelines. This color, a shade of baby blue, is very common for a porch ceiling in Texas, and we think it should be added to the list of acceptable colors. Can you back us up on this?
A: You and your husband are correct with regard to the color choice for a porch ceiling and its commonness throughout Texas. The Texanist’s own eaves are this same hue. He is not entirely sure of the origin of this practice, which bears some similarity to the “haint blue” tradition, in which dwellings throughout the South were painted in a bright, watery shade to ward off “haints,” or evil spirits. In Texas, the color is believed to ward off yellow jackets, which is also important. So for what it’s worth, you have the full backing of the Texanist on this. The HOA is on unsteady, yellow-jackety, and possibly “hainted” ground. They should relent.
Q: I recently hired a yardman who was recommended to me by a friend. This fella did great work, and I would like to use him again, but something has me thinking that he may not be a properly documented, legal citizen of this country. Should I be concerned about this? Does it matter?
A: The upkeep of the grounds around one’s home is a pursuit that has the potential to escalate rapidly, progressing from a harmless weekend pastime to an out-of-control obsession with showing up the neighbors. It’s at this point, after a formal declaration of neighborly yard war is made, that the hired guns are often sought out to achieve that perfectly trimmed turf with the sharply edged border and the consummately pristine beds. Is it possible that these green-thumbed mercenaries may be of questionable status with regard to their eligibility to lawfully work in this country? Yes, it is, though the Texanist would advise against judging a book by its cover, in this or any other circumstance (except perhaps when you are actually buying a book). The letter of the law would have you make inquiries as to the yardman’s status—and, beyond a certain price point, collect Social Security and Medicare taxes, match 401(k) contributions, and send the total to the feds. But for better or for worse, few people do this. Among the folks who farm out the lawn-cutting, there are those who are sticklers for the rules and there are those who subscribe to more of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. And then there are those, like the Texanist, who cut their own grass.
Q: I just relocated to Texas from Wisconsin and now reside in a nice little home out near Sugar Land. My new abode came with a lawn, an amenity my Milwaukee apartment did not have. A neighbor told me that I need to winterize my grass, but I’m wondering, with “winter” being what it is here, if that’s really necessary.
A: The Texanist is known in certain parts of the state (i.e., the one-block radius surrounding his home) as the keeper of a well-maintained lawn. As such, he likes to think that he possesses at least a smidge more familiarity with meteorology, climatology, and horticulture than the average joe. While you will no doubt be pleased with the relative mildness of the Texas winter in comparison with the icy hell you endured back in the Badger State, your lawn will not really appreciate the difference. Think about it: those coddled shoots of grass have never known anything but these balmy climes. They were born and bred in an exceedingly temperate part of the world, and no matter how many times you try to explain to them how good they have it down here below the 36.5th parallel, they are guaranteed to pass the short few months of chilliness in a state of crunchy, yellow dormancy. You can help, however, by feeding the turf, which, like a badger who fattens himself for the winter, prefers to face the freeze with a full belly. A dose of nitrogen is usually enough (the other two common winterizing fertilizer ingredients—phosphorous and potassium—are actually not all that necessary here in Texas). But be careful: confusion over fertilizer-nutrient ratios can cause fits for unseasoned grass maintainers, so in your case the Texanist prescribes a quick phone call to the fine folks over at the Fort Bend County extension office, in Rosenberg. They’re at 281-342-3034. Good luck.
Q: My housemate and I have very different political leanings, but we’ve never let this get in the way of our friendship. We have an agree-to-disagree policy. Then, without any discussion, she put a yard sign out in front of the house supporting her presidential candidate of choice. So I asked her about it, and she just shrugged and said I was free to put up a sign too if I wanted. What to do?
A: The Texanist applauds both you and your roomie for having put your differences aside for as long as you have. In these bitterly argumentative times, it is rare indeed to find people who are willing to come together and work across the aisle (y’all might call it the hallway). Although the policy decisions you must confront are more likely to involve the cable bill and the recycling bin than corporate tax reform and nuclear proliferation, there is still much to admire in your steady bipartisanship. Would that the problems of the day were approached with the same tolerance for opposing viewpoints with which you and your co-habitant decide between watching Mad Men andHomeland. Alas, of late the drama of a presidential campaign has strained this cooperative spirit for you two (just as surely as it has broken that spirit completely for our elected officials nationwide). The Texanist finds your options to be threefold. Option Number One is to do as the roomie says and just negate the effectiveness of her sign by pounding in one of your own. This option has a straightforward and obvious appeal, but it is likely to result in a great deal of confusion on the part of passersby. Which brings the Texanist to Option Number Two: offer to replace her sign with one of those nonpartisan “Vote” signs. If she refuses to allow this, you cannot be blamed too much for proceeding to Option Number Three: tear her sign down, set it afire, and dance around the ash pile chanting, “USA! USA!” Make a big enough ruckus and someone may ask you to run for office yourself.
Q: My wife and I are working toward finally buying some property in Washington County to retire on and have a place for the kids and grandkids to come and enjoy the simple life on occasion. I would like to know if it is legal, when the time comes to pass on to that great pasture in the sky, for us to be buried on our own property. Do we need a special license?
A: The Texanist hopes that it is a good long while before you and your missus have the opportunity to push up the trademark Washington County bluebonnets. But he is very much in favor of y’all’s doing so, when the time does come, from the comfort of your own family boneyard. Why bother with the clamor and din of a public cemetery when you can opt for the peaceful convenience of at-home eternal rest right there in the family patch? Cermak Cemetery has a nice ring to it. There are, however, some red-tape-adorned hoops to jump through before you can actually break ground, and since no one’s getting any younger, you are wise to get the ball rolling. The Texas Funeral Service Commission, the agency responsible for the ultimate disposition of most dead Texans, recommends that before burying yourself you check with the county authorities to ensure that you don’t run afoul of any local rules or regulations dealing with deed restrictions, flood plains, underground pipeline or cabling, and the like. The good folks at the Funeral Service Commission and your county clerk’s office will provide the rest of the details and help guide you along your journey. Once all your ducks (and plots) are in a row, it’ll be time to think about the finer details: creaky gates, rusty fencing, and some tall grass for the wind to spookily rustle ’neath the full moon. Do you have the number of a good grave digger? Have you thought of an epitaph? Maybe something like “Here Lies M. Cermak, Husband, Father, Grandfather, Cemetery Establisher.” That’s okay, but it’s a little clunky. Needs some work. Luckily, you’ve still got time for that.
Q: A sizable possum has started making nightly trips across my back porch, and it’s driving my two dogs nuts. I don’t like possums at all, so I’ve been thinking about just sliding the door open one of these nights and letting the dogs go after it. Is this one of those things that I will regret afterward?
A: This letter hits unusually close to home for the Texanist. One recent night, he opened the back door to let his family dog, Lulu, out for the last of her patrols. A loyal and puffy bichon frise, Lulu currently possesses only three of her original four legs, yet she is still a fast dog when she means to be, and before the Texanist could react, she darted toward the garage, which is separate from the house. The Texanist’s keen eyes quickly detected the source of her excitement: a midsize, scrabbling varmint heading for the garage’s open door. Not wanting the filthy creature to seek refuge among his pristine gardening implements and boxes of old taxes, the Texanist sprang into action, dashing across the yard with such speed that his bathrobe flew up behind him, revealing to the neighbors nearly all of his pale and impressive physique. Unfortunately, just as he leaped through the open door and attempted to slam it shut from the inside to keep the creature out, the thing tried to back itself through the door to escape Lulu’s ferocious and incessant yapping. The Texanist, barefoot and partially exposed, wound up with a large, writhing possum pinned to the doorjamb, its hind end inside and its hissing and tooth-filled head outside. Holding the door–cum–snap trap tightly, the Texanist considered his options. He could stand against the door until daylight, with the possum secured, hoping that Lulu would remain at a safe distance on the other side. Or he could open the door and risk the silvery beast’s attacking Lulu (or the Texanist’s own unshod feet) or disappearing ominously into some dark corner of the garage to die a smelly death. None of these options were appealing. Nor was there any sort of weapon within reach. Fortunately, the hullabaloo had rousted Mrs. Texanist, a hardy sort, who emerged on the back porch for the following exchange:
MRS. TEXANIST: What the %*[email protected]#& are y’all doing out there?
TEXANIST: Grab Lulu! Run down here and grab Lulu!
MRS. TEXANIST: Where are you?
TEXANIST: Inside the damn garage. Hurry up! I’ve got a possum in the door! I can’t open it!
MRS. TEXANIST: Why’d you do that?
TEXANIST: Can’t get into it right now, babe! Just get Lulu!
[Sound of boots clomping across the yard, followed by renewed hissing from the possum, a whimper from Lulu, boots clomping back across the yard, and the door to the house slamming shut .]
TEXANIST: Thanks, hon.
After that, the situation resolved itself quickly. The Texanist grabbed a broom, shooed the possum out the door, fastened the door, refastened his sash, and returned to the house. The point of this story is that the Texanist, like everybody, has ample reason to dislike possums, and yet even he cannot bring himself to condone the violence that would ensue if you released your hounds into the backyard to tear the critter limb from limb. That is simply not sporting. Just keep the dogs in the house. And make sure the garage door is securely closed.
Q: Recently, we have been hit up for money for a wide variety of causes by door-to-door solicitors. How do we know whether or not they are on the up-and-up, and should we feel obligated to make these donations every evening during supper time?
A: As long as the transactions are executed at the proper time of day, which is to say before he dons his Midnight Robe, the Texanist doesn’t mind being shaken down for the sake of the children, clean groundwater, owls, political candidates of every stripe, Jesus, or, most especially, Girl Scouts. Of the many, many things for which the Texanist is well-known, his limitless appetite for doing right by his fellow man, beast, or waterway ranks right up there among his most notable hungers, lodging somewhere between his renowned love (bottomless) of espresso macchiato and his legendary affinity (bottomless) for the roulette wheel. At the same time, unfortunately, the Texanist’s reputation for sudden bursts of violent hot-temperedness has preceded him since childhood. For the soul who would darken the door of Texanist Manor during the dinner hour (or, may God help him, cocktail hour), he reserves a level of annoyance and twitching fury worthy of maximum-security institutionalization. It is for this reason that the Texanist’s team of court-ordered anger managers always advises that he just not answer the door. Maybe this will work for you too.
Q: I moved to Texas from England two years ago and I love it here. But the flies! The man at my hardware store has supplied me with flyswatters, flytraps, and flypaper, and none of them work. A neighbor told me that the only surefire way to get rid of them is to hang clear plastic bags of water around my patio. Is he pulling my leg?
A: The thing about flies is that they always bring with them a little bit of shame, as the subject of their attentions inevitably has to wonder to him- or herself, “What have I done to attract so many insects that are also drawn to untended piles of feces?” The Texanist, to the best of his knowledge, does not draw an above-average number of flies, but nor is there any corner of this state in which he has not had the opportunity to shoo swarms of them away. Which is to say, he has tried all forms of fly abatement (citronella, toads, Venus flytraps, DDT, mud baths, excessively loud hollering) and considers himself well equipped to answer your question. Are you ready? There’s an old saying that goes, “Don’t like the weather in Texas? Stick around for a minute; it’ll change.” Unfortunately, there is no similar saying relating to the prevalence of flies on patios. Your best defense is a stiff upper lip. Welcome to Texas.
Q: My neighborhood has been absolutely crazy with grackles in the evenings lately, and they’re driving me nuts. They’re loud and very messy, if you get my drift. I don’t think I’m allowed to shoot at them, but I’m seriously considering it. How can I rid my yard of this nightly nuisance?
A: If the grackle possesses a redeeming quality, it has escaped the Texanist’s notice, unlike their loud, filthy, Hitchcockian roosts. So what that they eat bugs?! They also eat the tortilla chips of unsuspecting diners who momentarily step away from the patio table to answer nature’s call or place an order for another Mexican martini. Believe the Texanist when he tells you that he feels your pain. He hates these ugly birds with a passion. Alas, peppering the cacophonous menace with bird shot, a tantalizing thought if there ever was one, would be ill-advised, as the cowardly creatures take cover behind the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, among other local ordinances preventing their hot-leaded extirpation. The lamentable fact is that there is no easy way to rid oneself of these useless winged rats. The Texanist has made many futile efforts, including but not limited to the deployment of rubber snakes and plastic birds of prey, the rattling of a huge variety of noisemakers, and the clutching of a baseball bat while pacing up and down the driveway with a cruel look in his eyes. In each case he’s simply ended up covered in grackle droppings. The best tactic he’s tried is running around yelling and flapping his arms like a deranged asylum escapee. The grackles hardly notice, but it’s a good way to let off a little steam. Hope this helps. The Texanist will now await the sacks of hate mail from ruffle-feathered grackle lovers with their sights set on setting him straight about the worthiness of these gimp-legged, gotch-eyed limb urchins. On that score, he will not hold his breath.