Ah, it’s Spring time. That wondrous time of the year when the birds come back to the feeder, squirrels battle over their nuts, and I dump a hundred or so pounds of grass seed on the lawn in hopes that whatever of it that manages to sprout doesn’t die of loneliness before the hot months come, at which point everyone else’s lawn is just as brown as mine and it doesn’t matter anymore. Apparently, Spring time is also when I feel most like abusing the associates who check your cart as you leave the warehouse club because it was about this time last year that I first wrote about Nosy Store Clerks. The store thinks of them as loss prevention. I think of them as a captive audience provided by the store for my amusement. Of course, I only abuse the ones whose friendly banter crosses the line into mind-yer-own-bizness-bub territory. This, then, is Part 2 in the continuing saga of Nosy Store Clerks.
On the latest trip to the warehouse store we needed cat litter, as usual. But as I pointed out above, it’s Spring time. The birds have returned in force and are demanding large quantities of black oil sunflower seed. So that’s what I bought: Three 40-lb buckets of cat litter and one 40-lb bag of sunflower seed. This prompted a question from the nosy store clerk manning the exit door.
“You’ve got cat litter and bird food? Don’t normally see those together. Why no cat food?”
We have three highfalutin’ rescue cats from the pound. Due to medical problems from their past lives, they eat a prescription diet. Their food and medical care are single-handedly putting our vet’s kids through college and their dogs through obedience school. We don’t buy our cat food from the warehouse store. I wish we could. Of course, I didn’t tell her any of that.
“Actually,” I replied, “I buy bird food and then convert it to cat food.”
“You convert bird food to cat food?”
“Sure,” I said. “It’s a lot cheaper that way.”
“How did you get your cats to eat seeds?”
“I don’t. I have to convert it to cat food first. Then they gobble it up like nobody’s business. They can’t get enough of it.”
“What do you do? Do you have a recipe?”
Now I knew I had her hooked. “A recipe for what?”
“How do you convert bird food to cat food?”
“Oh that. It’s easy. I pour it into the bird feeder out back.”
“That’s it. I put seeds in the bird feeder and it converts itself to cat food.”
“Oh.” Puzzled look. Long pause. “Ohhhhh.” Disgusted look. “That’s terrible. You just turn the cats loose on them? I would think the birds would stop coming to your feeder.”
“I thought they might warn each other too. But we have three cats and not many birds live to tell the tale. When we first started feeding the birds we used to get the same ones all the time at the feeder. We actually got to where we could spot them by their unique markings and even gave some of them names. We don’t get much repeat business now though.”
“Sure. Because you let your cats eat them” she huffed. She tried her best to pierce my cold, empty heart with an icy glare. “Don’t. You. Miss. Them?” She enunciated each word for emphasis.
“Well, we did for a while,” I replied. But now we see new and different birds all the time. There’s an incredible variety we never even knew existed. Back in the day, the aggressive jays and blackbirds scared all the other birds off. Now that they are gone we are seeing finches, titmice, hummingbirds and even what we think are some very rare birds from the endangered species list. We aren’t sure because the park ranger wasn’t able to positively ID the feathers we showed him.”
“Your cats ATE an endangered bird?” Her fists were clenched and her nostrils flared. Even with Asperger’s I was able to recognize the danger signs. I wondered whether she might be the president of the local Audubon Society. If so I might be in physical danger. Fortunately a line had started to back up behind me.
“Yeah, we’re pretty sure of it. We are hoping to collect more feathers next time and make a positive identification. The ranger was so excited to find we have some of these in the area. Well, I see I ‘m holding up the line. I’ll let you go.”
And with that, I pushed off with the cart and high-tailed it out to the car. I must have made an impression because after she finished checking everyone through the door she left her post walked out to the parking lot. She tried to wave me over as I passed by, but I just honked the car horn, gave her my biggest smile and waved back.
Abusing the store clerks is always fun but it isn’t my only pastime. Another of my Spring time rituals is to throw a big party for the birds once a year. If you are my neighbor and see me driving a lawn tractor around the yard towing a broadcast spreader you probably think I ‘m reseeding. Having now accumulated a decade of experience as a homeowner, I know that what I’m actually doing is throwing a giant tail-gater for the regional bird population. They come from miles around to fill their little birdie bellies with grass seed until they are so heavy they can barely fly, leaving my lawn a virtual desert.
What’s the inverse of an oasis? Is there a word for that? Flying into Charlotte Douglass airport the city appears to rise from under a vast expanse of trees. The carpet of green is broken only by the occasional church steeple poking up through the canopy, and to the East of the city proper a rectangular patch of desert in which, if you were to fly directly overhead, you’d expect to see coyotes, stately saguaro cacti and the occasional tumbleweed. That’s my house. I don’t actually have coyotes or saguaro, but I do have the occasional tumbleweed. If there ever is a name for the inverse of an oasis, it might be “Casa de T.Rob”.
You might actually call it a compound instead of a house. We own the house next door which makes it convenient to keep an eye on the tenants. They moved in when we first bought that house and the previous owner had left us with a luxuriant green carpet of lawn inviting of bare feet, flag football and summer barbeques. Since I’m the groundskeeper for both properties, their lawn now looks like my lawn and they regularly threaten to invoke North Carolina’s slumlord statutes against me, or worse – complain to the homeowner’s association. So far I’ve prevailed in these disputes by jacking up their rent each time they complain about something until they get the hint. I’m practically getting rich off them but I don’t know how long I can keep that up. Eventually I’m just going to have to tell them “Look here Mom, Dad, if you don’t like it, pack up and haul your asses down to Florida with all the other retirees where, by the way, you’ll also have sand for a lawn.”
Despite all that, once a year I do put forth a token effort and seed the lawns. With almost two acres between them, I buy grass seed at the warehouse store in 50-lb bags. If I’m feeling generous, I also toss in some fertilizer. The warehouse store doesn’t have fertilizer and I was feeling generous this year, so yesterday I stopped by the local home store to pick some up. The cashier seemed friendly enough.
“Oooohhh, everyone’s doin’ lawn work this weekend.”
Then she crossed the line.
“Just fertilizer? You don’t need no grass seed?”
“We keep pet grass,” I replied. “I don’t buy it here.”
“Pet grass? You mean like special grass for dogs?” She seemed intrigued by the prospect. Probably a dog lover.
“No, I mean we keep grass as pets. A lot of people do but most folks only want a certain kind. We don’t buy pure bred seeds though. Those look nice but they are prone to health problems and pest infestations. I’ll take a mixed breed grass any day.”
“A mixed breed grass? I’ve never heard of that. Where do you get it?”
“Usually you can pick up a nice Fescue grass by the pound.”
“You mean rescue?”
I could tell I had her off balance. I kicked into high gear. “No, Fescue. It’s a family of grass seed varieties. We get a nice mixed breed.”
“And you get this at the pound?”
“No, by the pound.”
“Oh, you buy it in bulk.”
“No, I meant literally by the pound. You go down to the city pound like you were going to adopt a dog. Right across the street there’s usually a taco truck. Right next to that, but only in the spring time, there’s a guy in a big panel van loaded to the top with grass seed. You fill out the adoption papers and pay the costs of the treatments they used so far and it’s all yours. You have to be careful though because you never know where they get that seed. Some of it’s been abused and we have a 6-year old grandson to think about.”
“Bad grass will hurt kids?” She was beginning to look more skeptical than confused now. I was going to have to work hard to keep her in play.
“Sure. You don’t want a sharp-bladed plant that will scratch them up. Everyone always imagines fresh new grass to play in but you have to consider what it’s like when it gets older. I expect to have this grass until it finally dies of old age.”
She considered that for a moment. She must have accepted the explanation about sharp edged leaves. “How long does it live? Five or ten years?”
“Naw. It’ll be dead by Winter. But that’s like 75 in Grass Years.”
“Grass years? Is that like dog years?”
“Exactly!” I exclaimed so loudly she jumped back a bit. I continued in more normal tones. “Grass has a shorter life span than us so it’s measured in Grass Years. One season is a lifetime for Fescue.”
“Now I know you’re messing with me. We have Fescue and our grass doesn’t die off every year.”
“Actually it does. But your grass reseeds itself several times a season. It looks like the same lawn but it’s really generation after generation of new grass.”
“Oh. I didn’t know that. Doesn’t your grass reseed itself?”
Victory! I had her back now. Time to wrap it up. Although the guy behind me in line seemed to be amused by the whole exchange and not in a particular hurry.
“No, the guy at the pound makes sure of that. They don’t sell grass that will reproduce.”
“They must treat it with something then?”
“No, they put each seed under a microscope and perform a minor operation on it.”
Grinning now, she gave me a mild smack on the wrist from across the counter. “Oh, you had me going, honey. You come back again, OK?”
“Sure thing,” I replied. “Next time I’ll tell you all about my cats and their steady diet of endangered birds.”