Sunday, June 03, 2007

Great Gusto

Weed says "gusto" is one of his favourite words in the English language. He likes the way it sounds. In fact, he claims a strong affinity for any English word that ends in "o," providing, of course, it's preceded by a consonant.

"Gecko, jello, boffo, presto. . . .," he said pointedly. "Those are fun words."

While Weed is a big fan of "gusto," it isn't a word he would ever want associated with himself. He said he has made a concerted effort to avoid doing anything with gusto during his entire adult life.

"I'm a half-throttle kind of guy," he told me on the Wonders' porch this week. He said he knew he could go "full throttle" if he wanted. But so far, he hadn't found anything to warrant it.

"I'll give it the gusto when I've got to," he said with a smile.

It's show time in the Sack.

Summer is quickly approaching. Lawns must be dusted off and prepared for the season. Gardens will be awakened and encouraged to bloom. There will be pruning to be done.

Various outdoor painting projects will also await. Perhaps the back deck will require a new coat of stain. Maybe the driveway needs a new layer of black sealant.

It's the time of year when the Sack puts on its lipstick.

Creating a pleasant and well-maintained exterior is important to most Sack residents. Of course, some people take the matter far more seriously than others. Gordon and Big Doug, for example, take the measure of a man by the appearance of his home. In their eyes, it's a matter of character, pride and civic responsibility.

But the majority expend as much energy on outdoor work as brings them pleasure. For some, this might involve a lot of effort, while for others, it means very little.

So, as the summer approaches, the increasing tempo of lawn and garden activities becomes obvious. Sack residents start building toward an imaginary Opening Day when their homes will be declared ready for presentation to the world.

Oscar calls this "the silly season." He could be right about this.

Spring in the Sack has been largely cold and damp. It has been a late start for gardening, lawn care and other maintenance. Last weekend, however, brought the promise of better things to come. It was sunny and hot on Saturday and decidedly pleasant on Sunday.

As usual, Gordon has been well ahead of the pack when it comes to the exterior of his home. Despite the cool spring, his lawn looks healthy and manicured. Some of his perennials have started to bloom. A fresh coat of white paint has already been applied to his front porch.

Nevertheless, Gordon was still a busy man on Saturday. At seven-thirty in the morning, he was sweeping his driveway. By nine o'clock, he was atop a stepladder, washing his windows. Then, just after eleven o'clock, he wielded an annoying gas-powered trimmer to tidy the edges of his lawn.

Gordon, as Weed noted, was working on his property with great gusto.

In the early afternoon, Oscar, Weed and your agent reclined on the Wonders' front porch. Baby Doug was also present, but he was sleeping in his stroller. We had just returned with a take-out order from the local coffee cathedral. The day's humidity simply demanded a round of iced cappuccino.

As we loitered on the porch, Gordon emerged from his house. He gave us a friendly salute and then departed from the Sack in his raspberry-coloured SUV. Oscar said he would bet one of his kidneys that Gordon was off to the local home improvement centre.

While Gordon was gone, our attention was drawn to Big Doug. He was standing in the centre of his lawn with his hands on his hips. His eyes were drawn to an area of grass directly in front of him.

He was in the midst of a major lawn crisis.

Since his arrival in the Sack about ten years ago, Big Doug has been the sole winner of the Sack's best lawn award. This honour is awarded by Oscar, Weed and your agent. There is no actual prize, nor is the winner aware of his victory. Nevertheless, Big Doug has been the perennial champion.

Big Doug's lawn is cut perfectly to an even three inches. It's a deep, consistent shade of green. It's almost like a plush carpet. If you're going to walk across it, you'll feel a vague desire to take your shoes off first.

Weed says there's a good chance that angels live on Big Doug's lawn. I have no idea about this. Oscar, on the other hand, attributes the lawn's superior appearance to Big Doug's use of nuclear waste as a fertilizer. I have no idea about this, either.

On Saturday, however, one thing was abundantly clear: Big Doug's defence of his lawn title was suddenly in a precarious position.

Almost overnight, a two-metre square patch of dead grass appeared in the middle of Big Doug's lawn. Nothing of the sort has ever happened before.

Big Doug was now standing over the patch with his arms folded across his chest. Occasionally, he scratched his chin. From the viewpoint of the Wonders' porch, he looked like he was talking to himself. Oscar said it was the first time he had ever seen Big Doug look uncertain about something.

Eventually, Big Doug disappeared into his garage for a few minutes. He returned with some digging implements balanced across a wheelbarrow. Then he started to dig out the offensive dead grass. When this was done, he carefully raked the soil that remained.

"He's going to reseed it," said Weed.

"Naw," replied Oscar, "he's gonna resod it."

"Reseed," Weed answered quickly.

"Resod," said Oscar.

Thankfully, Baby Doug suddenly emerged from a deep sleep and sneezed violently. A bubble of mucus imploded across his face. Weed had to withdraw from this highbrow debate to wipe the little tyke's nose and mouth.

By this time, Big Doug had left the Sack in his pick-up truck. The local home improvement centre was clearly on his agenda, too.

Moments after Big Doug's departure, Gordon returned to the Sack. He unloaded several bags of soil, some plants and a large plastic bag from the back of his SUV. Oscar says Weed now owes him a kidney.

Leaving the soil and the plants on the driveway, Gordon sat down on his porch steps and peered into the plastic bag. Then he retrieved a number of small boxes from it.

Gordon, it seemed, had bought himself some solar garden lights.

The solar lights might seem like a reasonable purchase for an ordinary homeowner. But Gordon is no ordinary suburban man. He already owns a multitude of solar garden lights. His property is littered with them. Weed says Gordon has the largest collection of solar garden lights in the entire Western Hemisphere.

"It could be the biggest collection in the world," he added, "but I don't really know anything about the other hemispheres."

Oscar, on the other hand, claimed to have good knowledge of the Earth's other hemispheres. By a wide margin, he said the Western one remains his favourite.

Unfortunately, Baby Doug had no opinion on the matter.

Gordon assembled his newest solar garden lights. Then he started to place them carefully along the side of his driveway.

Oscar says Gordon now is drawing enough solar energy to his lawn to power the entire cul-de-sac. He could be right about this.

Weed, however, said it was hard not to be impressed by the orderliness of Gordon's solar lights. Each light is spaced evenly apart from the others, marking the perimeter of his yard and lining a path leading toward his back deck. At night, Weed said it looks like Gordon has constructed a landing strip for alien spacecraft.

Oscar, of course, thought this was preposterous. Any aliens landing in Gordon's yard, he said emphatically, would have to be the size of a red squirrel.

"That's correct," Weed replied. "Gordon's yard is a landing strip for squirrel-sized aliens."

Oscar and Weed began to debate the possibility of squirrel-sized aliens. Weed accused Oscar of being "alienist" for the irrational belief that extraterrestrial beings would be the same size as humans. Oscar said he was just being a "realist."

Thankfully, Baby Doug came to the rescue again. Feeling the need for some nutrition, he began to bawl with great gusto. Weed retrieved a baby bottle filled with apple juice from a pouch at the back of the stroller. The alien debate quickly came to an end.

That's also when Big Doug returned to the Sack in his pick-up truck. In the back was a small load of new sod.

"Told ya," said Oscar smugly.

It didn't take long for Big Doug to fit the new sod onto the gaping hole in his once-perfect lawn. When he was finished, he stood back to inspect his work. Then he retrieved a garden hose and began to sprinkle water gently on the new sod.

After carefully respooling the hose, Big Doug circled the repair area with his arms folded. At one point, he squatted to the ground and peered at the new grass intently. He was rubbing his chin the whole time.

Finally, he walked away from the lawn, pausing once to look back at the new sod. Then he began to wash his truck with great gusto.

No one could think of a good reason for Big Doug's lawn woes. There's no way he could've caused it himself accidently. He's too methodical to do such a thing.

Oscar said the dead grass could've been caused by a local dog who somehow gained access to Big Doug's lawn without detection. Weed snorted at this. He said the dog would have to be the size of a moose to urinate on such a large area of grass.

"Okay," Oscar replied, "maybe it was a moose."

A new debate raged over the possibility of a moose visit to the Sack. Oscar said it was entirely possible for a moose to venture into the cul-de-sac from the substantial lake and woods accessible from just across the road. Weed said Gordon would have picked up the moose on the webcam in his front window. He said Gordon surely would've called for military intervention by now.

"Maybe a squirrel-sized alien landed on that spot," Oscar suddenly said sarcastically. "It landed vertically on Big Doug's lawn instead of using Gordon's landing strip."

"Now, you're just talking foolish," said Weed.

Once again, Baby Doug provided a timely interruption of the debate. Sitting happily in his stroller, his face was suddenly set with intense concentration. He was pooping with great gusto.

"Aw, poop," said Weed and began to look in the back of the stroller for a diaper.

Big Doug wasn't the only one with lawn woes as the Sack's frenzied summer makeover continued.

Elizabeth and her husband, Philip were standing forlornly in the middle of their lawn. Philip was dressed like a country squire. He wore a blue English flat cap, a crisp, white, short-sleeved dress shirt and pair of dark brown slacks. He also had a pair of rugged hiking boots on his feet.

Elizabeth was in her typical gardening attire. She wore a pair of stiff blue jeans and a flowered smock. She had pink Crocs on her feet. A floppy, bright-yellow hat was covering her head.

Last year, Elizabeth replaced her old lawn with new sod. She paid a lot of money for the job by a local landscaping outfit. Sadly, the new sod has been a bust. Philip and Elizabeth were standing amidst a forest of dandelions and weeds.

Philip, of course, recently returned to his spouse's welcoming arms. He had sufficiently recovered from a nasty gambling addiction and a damaging case of infidelity. They had been divorced for more than four years.

Elizabeth now has someone to share these moments of suburban woe. She has an ally or comrade-at-arms to call upon. Her lawn problems are also Philip's lawn problems now.

Elizabeth has tried in vain to get her money back for the crappy lawn. She told the company she wanted them to take the lawn back and refund her money. Apparently, the company said they were not in the habit of accepting returned lawns. Nor, unfortunately, were they prepared to refund her money.

Now Philip is pledging to take the company to small claims court.

Either way, this legal initiative could do nothing to resolve the more immediate problem. What were they going to do about their forest of dandelions?

After looking dejectedly at the lawn with Philip, Elizabeth seemed to come up with a plan. She disappeared into her back yard and returned with a weeding utensil and a large bucket. She placed these in Philip's hands and then retired to the backyard to tend to her garden.

Philip stood on the lawn for a long time gazing at the dandelions. He didn't seem to know where to start.

Eventually, Phillip moved to the top of the lawn and began to remove dandelions with great gusto. The sun was now prominent in the sky and a dense heat descended on the Sack. Every now and then Philip would stop and remove his cap. Then he would wipe his bald pate with a handkerchief.

Weed says Philip is the first person he's ever known to carry a handkerchief in his pocket. He said he's considering adopting the practice himself.

Phillip continued to toil on the dandelions. Occasionally, he would stop and check on his progress. Oscar said it would probably take about four hours for the entire lawn to be cleared of the dandelions. Weed disagreed. He said it would take at least eight hours. Another mock dispute erupted.

Unfortunately, Baby Doug had gone back to sleep. One can only assume that he was dreaming with great gusto.

The most surprising beautification efforts of this year's silly season occurred at Burning Manor.

Historically, Dirk and Dora have paid very little attention to their property. Last year, Dora stuck some annuals haphazardly on the corner of the front lawn. Then Dirk placed a line of solar lights on one side of the driveway.

Unfortunately, these initiatives proved unsuccessful. Dora ran over the solar lights with the car and the flowers died quickly from inattention. The only decorative feature that remained in front of Burning Manor was an old tree stump that Dirk placed near the front entry. Even the new lawn they received after the great fire looks like a desert now.

But the denizens of Burning Manor are not the kind of people to give up easily.

On the previous weekend, Dora and her younger sister, Dixie drove into the Sack together. They were in Dixie's ancient Ford Fiesta, the same vehicle Philip dented while backing out of his driveway. The dent is still prominent on the passenger's door.

After parking in the driveway, Dora and Dixie removed a number of items from the car. There were two hanging flower baskets and two planters for display beside the front door. Mrs. Wonders tells me these items would've been quite expensive. It was an impressive display of colourful flowers and wild grasses.

For about forty-eight hours, the front porch of Burning Manor actually looked somewhat inviting.

On the following Monday, it was blustery and cold. The evening forecast called for overnight frost. As your agent and Mrs. Wonders drove into the Sack, Mrs. Wonders noted the array of flowers still on Burning Manor's porch.

"Those will be dead by tomorrow, if they don't bring that stuff inside tonight," she said sagely.

On Saturday, as we continued to relax on the front porch, it was evident that Mrs. Wonders had been correct in her prophecy. The hanging baskets were almost invisible under the wilted stems of flowers and grass. The containers on the ground were filled with drooping and discoloured foliage. Oscar said the dead flowers made Burning Manor look like a haunted house.

As we studied this floral carnage from across the street, Dora suddenly emerged from the house. She was carrying a plastic milk carton. She started to pour water on the dead plants in the containers. Then she returned to the house for a moment. She reappeared with a folding chair.

Dora was going to water the dead flowers in the hanging baskets, too.

Standing on the folding chair, Dora poured water awkwardly into the first basket. As started to do the same for the second one, she suddenly lost her balance. She grasped the wall of the house for leverage, but the chair slowly started to collapse under her feet.

Dora tumbled to the floor of the porch in slow motion. She stood up quickly and then cursed. Then she looked around to see if anyone had witnessed her misfortune.

Instinctively, we averted her gaze in our direction. No one spoke as we shifted our attention toward Big Doug's house. He was still washing his truck.

Dora quickly grabbed the chair and disappeared into the house. Oscar and Weed erupted with laughter. Oscar said it was the best mishap in the Sack since Little Doug last fell off a ladder.

Baby Doug, however, was startled by the sudden laughter. He awoke from his slumber and looked about in surprise. Then a wide smile broke across his little face.

As our collective attention focused on him, he started chuckling with great gusto.



Balloon Pirate said...

i posted a comment here yestiddy, and now it's gone.

so i post again:

Gusto is a great word. As is loiter. It could be argued that 'loiter' is the anti-gusto.

A friend of mine and I often email unusual words to each other. I've used both. So far, my favorite word is arborvitae

Guy Wonders said...

Loiter is definitely a good one. Every now and then, I quite enjoy doing it, too.

I had to look up 'arborvitae' (I thought it might have something to do with trees). I'm gonna try and work it into a conversation sometime. . . .

Dear Lovey Heart said...

i watched my first hockey game on monday and i couldn't help thinking of you, have a good weekend!

Guy Wonders said...

Congratulations on your first hockey game - you're well on your way to becoming an honourary Canadian (which is better than being an honorary one)!

I'm going to guess you saw the Stanley Cup finals on TV - everyone in the Sack is sad because Ottawa lost to Anaheim. I'm actually quite pleased about it, because I'm a Toronto fan and Ottawa is one of their bigger rivals. Besides, there are more Canadian-born players on Anaheim anyway. Finally, there is a player with Anaheim who is from the old town. He, like all the players, gets to bring the Stanley Cup to his home town for a day sometime this summer. . . .

Anyway, enough about hockey - I hope you have a fantastic trip to Alaska. I'm deeply envious. . . .


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