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Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Gardener's Diary: Dog Days


Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn't it a pity
Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

“Summer in the City”, 1966

It's 2.00 on Thursday afternoon, and only 100 degrees out. I had a feeling Mother Nature was slacking up a bit last night. It was 90 when I went to bed, and 80 when I got up this morning. Nobody's cracking 110 with that slow a start.

I ventured out for a bit to clear my head of the life of art critic Robert Hughes (he will appear at Henry Bemis Books at 4.20 today, a nod his rambunctious social life), and to do some triage watering. Even well-established plants are drooping in this heat.

Ferns are right fussy to not have evolved in a billion years. You'd think they'd seen heat before.

Old Men Mowing Friday has been suspended for the duration in my neighborhood. This is causing jarring discontinuities across the Peachtree Hills greensward. A few weeks ago, on a long walk, I did a census of the last mile from Sunset Drive home. Of 58 homes, the lawns of all but three had clearly been mowed that week. Everyone will be out of sorts now.

While out today, I got some big limbs sawed down to the length the county sets for taking them away, and hauled them out to the street. Thursday has become de facto yard work day. Down in Raleigh, the mania for cutting taxes- especially those thriving cities like Charlotte impose on themselves to fund needful work to absorb the 1200 new people who move here every month- has the city scrambling for money.

That has meant more patrolling to find yard-slackers with dandelions over twelve inches high. That gets you a $50 public nuisance fine. My next door neighbor got one recently, after she bade me not to mow her lawn for a third week to save money, despite my warnings.

It's hard, sometimes, to be magnanimous when proved right all along. But my neighbor is like Casablanca's Captain Renaud when it comes to service providers:

-Oh, no, Emile, please. A bottle of your
best champagne. And put it on my bill.

- Captain, please.

- It's a game we play.

-They put it on the bill, I tear up the bill. It is very convenient.

So if you've got any work to do that will involve yard waste you don't want to keep, Thursday is the only day for it. The yard waste guys come through early Friday morning. The rest of the week, you put stuff out, you're in scofflaw territory.

Mind, I could thumb my nose at such conventions. Though waste pickup is consolidated between city and county, each retains its own service area rules, and the county line is at one end of my yard. I could stack limbs every day of the week and the city guy would have to sit in his car on the other side of the law’s invisible force field, unable to do a thing about it.

But I remember being a boy on a street mostly inhabited by retirees. Fifty years on, I try not to roil the social conventions. I am in the place of those I once only observed.

One of our ways, unspoken but always observed, is the putting out of the trash bins on Thursday evenings. No one's goes out until after the oldest resident ("85 come August!") puts hers out. Then, in a few, Doug (late 70s) rolls his out to the street, and he crosses over to put out the bin for the McIntoshes, who are in their 90s and don't get out much (coupla months ago the school bus driver who always takes the turn into our street too soon also took down their shared mailbox stand; Mr Doug called the post office for a chat, and now our driver pulls up the McIntosh's driveway to pop the mail in their box, relocated to end of their carport).

After that I figure, at 60, it's my turn to roll out my bin. Decorum in all things, done decently and in good order.

While I was out, two other thoughtful neighbors- each several hundred feet away, here in the land of half-acredom- felt I must be needing some music to accompany my efforts. Alas, among my frailties is stereo ears hooked up to a monaural processor. I got all out of synch, hipping when I shoulda hopped, and the other way, too.

Thank goodness I was in the back yard. To the many passersby who stop in front of my house to text their friends, I'd'a looked like a millipede having a stroke, I'm sure. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, she stole all of Elaine's dance moves from me.

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