WHEN IN NEED, TRY A WEED

(No,not that one.)

Last spring as the surviving blades of the previous year’s skimpy lawn began emerging, I decided on a different approach to lawn maintenance with a new motto: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

The weeds I’ve always sneered at and sweared at are really not all that bad. Like you and me, they’re simply struggling to survive against the elements and the bad reputations created by the lawn care outfits and herbicide sellers.

Clover, for instance, is not our enemy. Unlike some of our persnickety grasses, it’s drought resistant and loved by the endangered honey bees as a great source for pollenization. It’s also a soil conditioner, adding to the lawn’s health rather than requiring expensive fertilization.

Dandelions are highly nutritious, full of vitamins and antioxidants. Tea is made from their roots and wine from their petals. Other misnamed “weeds” at least produce attractive flowers.

I sent a mixed variety order to a specialty seed company. In addition to clover and dandelion seeds I went for color and yellow-flowered purslane. I was tempted to include flowerly oxalis, but some versions grow very tall and might deprive other plants, and even neighborhoods, of sunlight.

Moneywort (AKA Creeping Jenny), a vigorous green ground cover, looked attractive in the catalog pictures. It might have gotten too vigorous and covered the neighborhood’s lawns, sidewalks and driveways and an occasional sleeping cat. So I minimized the order.

Just a few weeks after planting, my lawn was a real attention-grabber and almost trouble-free. Except for an occasional threatening phone call, I was a happy planter with an attractive lawn that was no longer a source of mower and blower ear-splitting noise and pollution.

However, I began to detect trouble in early July. While harvesting dandelion petals for my wine-making project, I discovered an invasive plant had already made serious inroads into my young experimental frontyard garden.

Close inspection confirmed my worst fears. An uninvited Kentucky Bluegrass variety was pushing aside Creeping Jenny and threatening my clover. By mid-August, there were six varieties of bluegrass running rampant in my yard with its unattractive, skinny green blades displacing the graceful bouquets of my weed flowers.

The blue grass had to go, of course, but then what?. I didn’t want to see my beloved wild crops obliterated by an obtrusive plant. Who knew what might have popped up next and tried to take over? Maybe potatoes, marigolds or even palm trees!

I found possible solutions in the back pages of my offbeat seed catalog with last ditch suggestions for embattled weed farmers. Astroweeds, of course, would be a trouble-free “crop” immune to the intrusions of Kentucky blues and other expensive riff-raff. But there’s something revolutionary out there that might capture the adventurous lawnkeeper’s attention.

Holographic projections of objects, places and, who knows, lawns? may soon be available to desperate gardeners. A simple click of the button before your guests arrive will project beautiful lawns, flower gardens and even dramatic fountains in your fifth of an acre estate. Weeds and Kentucky Blue will no longer be your enemy. You will fear only power failures.

LENAPE TITLES

I love living in New Jersey but I wouldn’t want to visit here. It would be quite confusing. In an indirect way, the original inhabitants, the peaceful Lenape Indians, might be getting even for being elbowed out of their ancestral homeland.

There are usually hordes of bewildered out-of-staters wandering aimlessly in New Jersey, often along the Garden State Parkway. Even their GPS guides are sometimes befuddled by our geography and place names.

At a Parkway rest stop a few years back a man leaped out of a Jeep with Ohio plates and ran up to me, shouting incoherently. I turned to run, but he grabbed my jacket. “Please help me,” he pleaded. “I’m supposed to be at my neice’s wedding in a half hour, but I lost the invitation and I don’t know where it’s taking place. I do remember it’s in a town with an Indian name beginning with ‘M’, he cried.

“That may be a problem, sir,” I said. We have Manasquan, Mantaloking, Metuchen, Moonachie…..”

“Oh dear,” he moaned. ” And I have to be giving away the bride in 25 minutes!” I don’t know if the poor soul made it to the nuptials on time. Probably not. I last saw him frantically waving down a State Trooper’s cruiser.

Our early settlers probably should not have tried to match the Lenape’s actual tribal names for their hunting, fishing and camping areas, but instead, used English translations when naming the new towns.

It would certainly add to the confusion to change the system now, but we’re in a period of contrition with our Native Americans whom we’ve treated unjustly. Therefore we could try, with a few significant changes to town and city names in New Jersey and the Metro area, just to show our good intentions. The map makers and GPS techies would have to adapt.

First of all, with the literal translation, the revised name of Hoboken would be “Tobacco Pipe” which most would agree is a more colorful name and easier to remember.

“Manhattan” would change to the Lenape’s title of “Place for wood for bows”. Admittedly, that would cause problems, especially for the song writers. (The Lenapes actually owned Manhattan and sold it to the Dutch for about $25.)

The desperate wedding place seeker would have had no problem if his neice was marrying in Moonachie. It would then have been in the town of “Groundhog”. I’m sure he would have remembered that name on the invitation.

There certainly would be pros and cons for the literal name changes. Absecon residents might not object to living in “Swan Place”, but Secaucus citizens would most likely resent having “Black Snakes, NJ” on their return address labels.

“Metuchen” isn’t a very dramatic town name, but it has more punch than the Lenape designation. “Dry Firewood, NJ 08840” certainly lacks pizzazz. . I would be in the same boat having to live the rest of my life in “River That Creeps, NJ 07054”

CAMPING VACATION-With in tents suffering.

Hi Bill: Just a few email lines re our great family camping adventure. You should try it w/ Helen & lil Billy. Thisll be 1 of those special vacations Mildred, Tommy & I will always remember. Theyre emailing Helen & Billy now, sitting in front of our campfire.

Our new tent made quite an impression. Campers came 2 help me put it up. I love it. Camping brings down the barriers. You can make some BFs. TTYL about the chx in the next site. They need a lot of help & Im happy to oblige.

The 1st night I built a bonfire 2 sit around & swap stories. B4 I knew it other campers came over. An OK evening…..Im the cook. Women cant cope in the wilds. I made 2 great dishes, Chuckwagon chili and Frontier flapjacks. Tommy loves em. Its gratifying…….We took a nature walk 2day & I gave pointers on flora & fauna. Mildred asked about the places we could see from atop the mtn. Ranger Joe just pulled up. Probably wants to swap Rx’s. CU later. Rgds, Herb.

Dear Helen: Greetings from Camp Misery. This has been 1 of the most awful wks in my entire life. I dont hv 1 unbroken nail & my hair is a rats nest. I cant believe todays families will actually pay to stay someplace where the toilets are barely within walking distance.

Its been an endurance contest. Tommy enjoys it but he’s young & doesn’t know better. Herb claims its the best vacation ever for him. He’s either lying or Ive got to kp a closer eye on those 2 pole dancers next door…….I did hv some laughs. Herb putting up the tent e.g. At 1 pt he was lashed to the center pole. Some vet campers got him loose & put the tent up. On todays hike Herb had a garter snake run up his pants leg. I never knew he was a soprano. Then he fell into some poison ivy & I had to wash him down later with bleach. He still smells like a laundromat.

The bonfire disaster wasnt funny. Ill tell you about it later. Herbs meals arent funny either. I just smile & try not to gag on his Upchuck Chili and Faulty flapjacks……Today I asked him to point out Rt 46 when we were up on the mtn. Now that I hv an escape rte Ill try to convince him to take us home or Ill make a break for it with Tommy. 3 cheers for the great indoors! Love, Mildred.

Hi Billy. Camping is neato! I havent had to take a bath for days & my Dad has been real funny trying to put up the tent & bldg a fire so big & smokey that people were choking & getting really mad. But then 2 trees and a trailer caught fire and we had to carry buckets from the bathrooms. What fun!

The 2 ladies next to us are a pain. Every time I want Dad to take me fishing they have a clothesline to put up or wood to chop. I only went on 1 hike & saw just 1 snake & that was for a few seconds. Those ladies shouldnt be camping anyway. They just sit around in little swimsuits getting sunburned.

Dad says we have to help people in need & hes always looking over there to see if they need help. Today he walked into a big tree. Ranger Joe just came. I bet its about the sick racoons. 3 of them were doubled up by the garbage cans & they took em to a vet. I think it mighta been Dad’s chili. Ranger Joe is now telling Dad to bury our leftovers.

Tomorrow me and Mom are going hitchhiking, but we’re not telling Dad. It’s a surprise, she said. Your BF, Tommy.

GRIDIRONY

Coach Blitz paced the locker room in his cleats at halftime. Clickety-clack, Clickety-clack. I noticed the twitch had returned to his left eye.

“Five mistakes!” he kept repeating. “Not that bad, but five touchdowns make a very big deficit especially since we have no offense to speak of and far too many injuries.

We listened quietly. We were quite mature for a high school football team. We recognized our incompetence and learned to live and lose with it. The school had two dozen empty football uniforms, so we volunteered to wear them. We worked hard to get in shape and learn the plays but we never promised a winning season – or even a winning.

I felt no responsibility for the 35-0 halftime score that day, not having been a participant. I had a comfortable bench seat with a good view of the action and within earshot of Coach Blitz’s profane exclamations. That was going to change, I realized when I remembered the coach saying “far too many injuries” and caught a glimpse of Billy McGinty, our waterboy, suiting up. And now the coach was approaching me.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to put you in,” he said. “What’s your name again, kid?”

“I forget, Coach. I’m very nervous. Just call me Kid.”

When the whistle blew for our kickoff to the oversized Jugville Juggernauts, nervous energy sent me racing down the field where I quickly toppled two men, the head linesman and the referee. “Son,” the ref said as he rose, “Your facemask goes in front.”

Anyway, I was defensively effective on the Juggernauts’ first running play. I stopped two of their blocking backs in their tracks. I really scared them. They were afraid they had killed me.

As a defensive linebacker with ten teammates between me and our burly opponents I felt reasonably safe, but right after the ball was snapped the entire team stampeeded over me.

I decided a better strategy would be to float with the play and not be one of the collaterally damaged. This worked well until the coach sent McGinty in with a message. “Coach Blitz said to stop running in among the cheerleaders. You might knock one of them down.”

As a blocking back I was supposed to give our battered quarterback an added half second after our line collapsed. Just throwing my body at the charging linemen proved ineffective and painful. Psychology worked a little better against well-disciplined high School boys. As the howling juggernauts crashed through, I shouted, “Juniors to the left, seniors to the right. Now keep in line and no talking!” I managed to sound like an angry high school principal.

Our offense began to gain some yardage toward the end of the fourth quarter. By then we were playing against the Juggernauts’ fifth-stringers. I was quite sure their left tackle was a large girl.

Finally, the gun went off to end the debacle and we survivors watched as the jubilant Juggernauts fans carried their victorious coach off the field. There was also an attempt to carry Coach Blitz off the field, but effective police action prevented that.

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IDENTITY CRISIS

Could you describe yourself accurately over the phone to someone you’re going to meet for the first time in a crowded restaurant? Many years ago I spent a frustrating hour waiting for a blind date who was supposed to be, according to her description, a slim, young flaxen-haired girl of average height.

I eventually spotted her wandering around the tables, searching for me. She was a thirty-something, pudgy, peroxide blond, about 5 feet nothing in her stilletos who was looking for a guy, according to my description, who could have been Clint Eastwood’s stand-in.

Who knows, she might have been an avid Mets fan who also shared my addiction to crossword puzzles, freshwater fishing and pepperoni pizza. By sneaking out I may have lost potential a good buddy.

Mother seals in the nature documentaries can pick out their pups on enormous beaches, packed flipper to flipper with crying infants. We seem to have lost that ability. A typical family gathered around a newborn will have a serious debate about the inherited looks of the baby. “Anyone can see he’s the spitting image of his father.”……….”I don’t see Oscar in him at all. He favors his mother.”…….”He definitely has Aunt Martha’s nose. See how it turns up and then down again?”…….”You’re all wrong. He’s an Uncle Billy look-alike, but with modern plastic surgery there’s no cause for alarm.”

This identity problem is often manifested on a grand scale. Many will confess that, to them, all Asians look alike . That could mean they can’t tell the difference between Jackie Chan and Madam Butterfly.

And why do we have imperfect ideas about our own appearance? Why are we sometimes willing to dismiss all the visual evidence and believe, for the moment, that we resemble someone else?

Watch closely the next time you’re exiting a Brad Pitt or Liam Neeson movie. Some of the men will be swaggering, acting like six footers, lean and very athletic. This only lasts for about 20 yards. Swaggering while sucking in one’s gut can be exhausting.

We also manage to misinterpret photos and drawings of ourselves, believing they’re inaccurate because of poor lighting or an artist’s style. The talented artist Deb Polston illustrated my humor columns years ago. “Deb really creates great cartoons of me,” I said to my son back then.

“I never thought they were cartoons, Dad.”

“Well, caricatures then, with exaggerated features.”

“Dad, I’ve always considered them accurate portraits.”

“Portraits?…..Really?”

NOISY NIGHT VISITORS

I just watched “The Shining” again. I should know better. Spooky movies should be avoided on nights when you’re home alone. Wait a minute! What was that? It sounded like moaning upstairs someplace. Why is it an old house can be perfectly quiet all day, but right after sunset, begin to squeal and rattle like a three-master in a typhoon?

Last week it got so bad after I watched “Poltergeist” I had to ask my neighbors, Brock and Julia, over to sit with me awhile. It was quite embarassing. The twins are only 14.

I once had a great dog. I thought she’d keep me company and be a calming influence, but Molly heard twice as much as I did and spent most nights snarling at dark corners and barking at strange sounds. Molly ran away years ago during a Dracula TV movie, but sometimes I hear her growling up in the attic. Well something is growling up in the attic!

With 20/20 ears and Irish roots, I not only hear every little twitch of lumber and creak of plaster, but I often attribute them to supernatural causes. Some of the noises are hard to explain otherwise.

It can’t always be just the house settling or cooling down or the wind flapping a loose shutter. Those would be random noises, but sometimes I hear a definite tempo like that stacatto in the back room now. It sounds like a ghostly troupe of flamenco dancers.

Speaking of definite tempos, last night there was a rap-tap-tapping on the north side of the house that lasted a half hour. My Morse code isn’t what it used to be, but I’m sure there was one stretch that twice spelled out “Otto Blegnitz”. I don’t know an Otto Blegnitz. I’ll have to Google him and tell him I’m getting his messages from the other side.

Way back when my whole family lived here, I sometimes had to pretend I didn’t hear strange noises, or at least I didn’t consider them strange. “That’s only a tree limb brushing the side of the house,” I’d say. But down deep I’d be wondering who or what was dragging something through the attic.

Sometimes the family would insist I take a look, just to be sure. I would chuckle and say, “This is so silly, but if it makes you feel better….” Once, while checking strange attic noises, I stumbled in the dark and an old fur coat slid off its hanger and fell on my back.

I found my family cowering in the living room. “Didn’t you hear that blood-curdling scream in the attic?” my wife gasped.

“Oh, that was no scream,” I said nonchalantly, “I found my old cornet up there and was trying to play “Moon River”, but I’ve lost my lip.” Then I went into the bathroom and threw some water onto my face, trying to keep from fainting.

I also see strange things, night and day, but they’re not as clearly defined as that clanking down in the cellar right now.

I can’t be precise about what I glimpsed peripheraly today, running behind the couch. Whatever it was, it was certainly fast and had a rounded top, like possibly a gnome wearing a derby. It couldn’t have been Molly. She was a small dog and never wore a derby.

CRUDE AWAKENINGS

So much has been written about sleep, “Nature’s soft nurse” who “knits up the raveled sleeve of care”, but too little attention has been paid to the subject of waking up. Why is that?

Anyone who drops off to sleep, “perchance to dream”, will have to regain consciousness eventually. Why have the poets neglected this? I once thought I might be the one to write about the pleasures of awakening to a new day, ripe with opportunities for discovery and adventure, but Sergeant McBrootle changed all that.

Sgt McBrootle, or old #%@*! as he was known to the lower ranks, felt that bugles were all right for parades and horse races, but, to awaken men sleeping off the effects of 16 hours of calisthenics and marching, something more to the point was needed.

Two hours before dawn on our second day of basic training we were given a demonstration of the sergeant’s theory. Reveille began with the tossing of a garbage can filled with steel mess kits down the barracks stairs, folllowed by McBrootle’s obscene shouts while marching up and down between our bunks, banging on a washbasin with a bayonet.

It was an effective method. The transition from sleep to wakefulness was instantaneous and universal, but there were glitches. Two rattled rookies had to be coaxed down from their upper bunks. One was actually hanging from a rafter. There was also the suspected heart attack.

Sgt McBrootle would probably have worked out these little bugs had he not been seriously wounded in combat the following year. The combat took place behind the For Dix mess hall. He’d been pummeled with a heavy wash basin. There were several hundred suspects, but no arrests.

However, two months of being shocked into wakefulness by the McBrootle method took its toll. I was no longer an “Oh what a beautifyl morning” (OWABM) riser , but, for survival purposes, had switched to the “Dead on arrival” (DOA) category.

The world is probably divided evenly between OWABM’s and DOA’s which, in my opinion, is one of the major causes of high school dropouts, broken marriages, assault and battery cases and unsolved disappearances.

In a slower-paced society, DOA’s might find suitable employment as night watchmen and similar professions where the wake-up process can take a half hour or so of coaxing, but a real cure must be found very soon. Many of these unfortunate DOA’s are now in high government positions.

In the meantime, some of us DOA’s can be lured back to consciousness by the inviting aromas of bacon, eggs and coffee or an electrifying announcement like, “Thank goodness, the fire engines have finally arrived!”

IT’S WEED TIME! HOE, HOE, HOE!

“Spring has finally sprung,” the daffodils sang outside my kitchen door this morning, a joyous song, well received, but with slight misgivings. There, beside these cheerful golden blossoms, were early signs of pesky intruders.

A weed, according to Webster, “is a plant that is not valued where it is growing.” That could even apply to a beautiful sunflower that migrates into your vegetable patch competing with the tomatoes and cabbages for water, sunlight and nourishment like a drop-in third cousin who disrupts the family’s sleeping and eating arrangements. You can’t throw him out. A fourth cousin maybe, but not a third cousin. He’s a close-enough relative.

It also defines the dandelions and crabgrass growing vigorously wherever they please, in your garden, lawn and through the cracks in your driveway. In the meantime the expensive grass seeds you planted in the lawn’s bare spots have failed to sprout although you watered and spoke warmly to them daily. Even your unprintable threats had no effect.

Weeds are mentioned in the Bible’s parable of the sower where some represent the worldly distractions that impede our spiritual growth. In another parable they stand for the bad characters who will ultimately be weeded out and (Ouch!) burned.

There are many weeds in our lives, events and people that are uglifying our garden. Some are not intrinsically bad, but just in the wrong place at the wrong time, like a Good Humor man with his chimes ringing while he’s parked outside a Weight Watchers’ meeting.

Junk mail, TV commercials and traffic jams are weeds we have to live with. A federal weed-killer, the “Do Not Call List” is about as ineffective as a toothless, friendly watch dog.

We need more effective “herbicides” for the cookies, spams and scams. In a few months some annual weeds will begin to proliferate, the political campaign ads. However, we can strike back. Don’t forget to vote.

TALKING TO THE TULIPS

Do you talk to your plants? Many people feel it’s beneficial for their potted friends to hear a warm, encouraging voice. But we not only talk to our petunias, we seem to think every living creature on earth and even inanimate objects understand our endearments and reprimands to some extent.

Just yesterday I apologized to my wilting forget-me-nots for neglecting my irrigation responsibility and wished them a speedy recovery. Later, I had harsh words for a footstool I’d tripped over. After all, why was it lurking in the middle of a dark room like that? It should have known better.

There may be hope for meaningful talks with our plants, but there’s still a lot to be learned. Scientists have discredited the belief that plants respond favorably to classical music. They are as deaf to Beethoven’s music as he eventually was., they say. However, the threatening sound of an approaching hungry caterpillar has been shown on lab instruments to show sudden defensive plant responses.

I am confident our experts will eventually discover ways for us to communicate more efficiently with our leafy friends. I’ll keep in touch with them in the meantime, but now I’ll have some lingering doubts.

Suppose, like us humans, all plants don’t speak the same language and the sweet nothings I’ve been uttering to my geraniums are actually filthy curses in the gardenia lingo. My encouragements might be going in one petal and out the other.

Also, at my age, my voice has become a little raspy. It just might resemble the multiple footsteps of an approaching hungry caterpillar and, when I think I’m endearing myself to my daffodils, I’m actually terrifying them. That could explain the dry rot.

YOUR FAMILY STORY ON BROADWAY

What would it be like if our family’s life story was subjected to the unmerciful scrutiny and the no-holds-barred comments of a Broadway critic? How many of us could withstand a probing analysis of the acts and scenes of our family’s life and still emerge with egos intact?

Our very real lives are not plays in spite of what Shakespeare wrote. All the world may be a stage and we may all be players, but nobody is going to close us down with a few deft thrusts of a vitriolic pen. But still, it would be interesting:

” ‘The McAverages’ is an off-off-Broadway production that has been running for what seems to be forever. It took ten years to cast and has pushed its budget beyond the two million dollar mark. Despite frequent ho-hum performances by the male lead, the show has managed to stay on the boards and off the rocks.

One of the weaknesses of this multi-character piece is an apparent lack of plot direction. It opens as a love story and that theme prevails throughout, but there are distinctly farcical scenes and, as the younger characters move through adolescence, the theme begins to approach cheap melodrama.

Yet, it holds one’s interest. The very aimlessness of the script and the variety of pace piques the audience’s interest. How is this thing going to come out?

The sets are by Sears Roebuck and estate sales. Casting was by amazingly good fortune and by various always welcome storks. All of this adds to the realism generated by the cast members and their freewheeling pets.

The attractive leading lady is well cast and turns in a stellar performance. However, in the later scenes as the younger players mature and shed braces and pigtails, the heroine’s attractiveness could have faded a little, but this is an observation, not a complaint.

Most of the play’s incongruities are generated by the male lead. Is he a dashing urbane man of the world posing as an accident-prone bumpkin, or is it vice versa?

Is he basically cheerful but subject to periods of depression or is he a pathological grouch who has occasional seizures of jollity? And why does the script have him shouting so much, especiallly when he’s demanding quiet?

While the play’s tempo often swings from humdrum to hectic, the general mood seems to be comfortable affection between characters. You may not always enjoy or even understand the interplay, but you will sense that the characters do.

‘The McAverages’ is an interesting play to visit and I wouldn’t mind living there.”