Itching for a Fight

I’ve suddenly become nostalgic for my old one-room, half-bath, 12-story walk-up in the city’s hovel district. Let me explain.

It all started simply enough. Soon after we moved to the country, my wife, Jennifer, decided that our backyard was sorely in need of some landscaping work.

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked. “Look at how fat and sassy our grass is. I bet we have the fattest, sassiest lawn in the neighborhood.”

That’s when Jennifer let me in on a little secret. There is no grass on our lawn. Only fat, sassy poison ivy.

I pointed out that unlike everything else in the yard, the ivy was thriving and maybe we should go after something else, like that malingering rosebush.

“Why evict the one thing that actually wants to be here?” I reasoned.

Here’s why: Jennifer doesn’t like poison ivy. Something about the word poison makes her think it can’t be good for you.

So we called in landscapers to get estimates. The first took one look at our lawn, then called his car dealer and ordered a BMW, the one that comes with a chauffeur. The second charged by the blade of grass. That’s when I drove into town looking for one of those cheap illegal aliens the media insists is on every street corner in America.

“Are you an illegal alien?” I asked the first man I saw.

“No, I’m the mayor,” he said.

“Are you an illegal alien?” I asked another.

“No, I’m your neighbor.”

“Are you an illegal alien?”

“No, I’m your wife, you idiot,” said Jennifer, shoving a rake in my hand and telling me to take care of things myself.

One of the problems with poison ivy is you can’t simply grab it by the collar and toss it out like some drunk from a bar. You have to suit up for battle — rubber gloves duct-taped to a long-sleeved shirt buttoned to your neck. Long pants with the cuffs duct-taped over your socks and work boots. A scarf wrapped tightly around neck and face, duct-taped to goggles and hat, completes the jackass look. Armed with pruner and weedkiller, I was no longer simply a homeowner unable to find an illegal alien to do the work he didn’t want to do. I was, in fact, a Knight of the Backyard Realm.

Since I had no idea what poison ivy looked like, I kept my plan of attack simple: Anything remotely planty goes. Ferns? Gone! Hosta? Gone! Rosebush? Gone! Trees? Gone! Mailbox? Gone! I was Sherman marching on Atlanta, laying waste to anything in my path. What the weedkiller didn’t get, I ripped out by hand. What I couldn’t rip
out, I ran over with my car.

“That’s the Japanese maple!” screamed Jennifer.

“Now it’s mulch,” I said, grinning devilishly over the whirring engine of my ’95 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.

By the end of the day, I’d rid the yard of all the poison ivy save for one sorry little clump. Like the heads of the vanquished left on spikes outside medieval castle walls, it served as a warning to any of its kin that might dare to show their three shiny leaves around here.

Hot and tired, and feeling pretty damn good about myself, I unraveled the four rolls of duct tape that had adhered to my body and stepped out of my sweat-soaked clothes, 27 pounds lighter than when I entered them. The shrieks
of horror from my 78-year-old neighbor spying my near-naked body startled me so, that I tripped down a small embankment — only to be saved by the soft, pillowy
embrace of the remaining clump of poison ivy.

As I bathed in calamine lotion, Jennifer figured out that all my tireless work had reduced our home’s value by a third. So she hired one of the landscapers to return the yard to its previous state of disrepair. We went with the guy who charged by the blade of grass. With no lawn left, how expensive could it be?