The Observer, Lord help us, is coming into what we bitterly call The Groundskeeping Season. In addition to not feeling like we're a stick of butter slowly melting on the dash of a Ford Fiesta, one of the reasons The Observer loves the fall and winter is that we don't have to ever even touch the lawn mower or motorized weedwhacker between late October and mid-April. Though we know some folks get off on lawn care and making their front yard look like a putting green, The Observer just can't get joy out of decapitating dandelions and whipping the English ivy into shape. As such, the spacious grounds of The Observatory are bound to look a little shaggy more often than not, as they do now. For the umpteenth year, ol' Mother Nature has pulled a fast one on Yours Truly, the intermittent rain and warm sunshine turning our driveway — in a week, tops — from brown and patchy into something Indiana Jones would hack through with a machete in search of the Temple of Doom. Our streak of letting things get a little out of hand stands unbroken for the 14th spring in a row.
If we were out in the sticks, we would have long since let it all go back to weeds and wildflowers, telling anyone who complained that it was "An Installation Art Statement on Suburban Conformity or Restored Prairieland Ecosystem Project" or a "Five-Year Study on the Efficacy of Nontraditional Horticulture." Unfortunately, we have set up our base of operations in the midst of a major metropolitan city instead of inside the cone of a dormant volcano, as we had originally planned. Here in town, such experiments would eventually draw the attention of the proper authorities with their ticket books and dire threats, as they probably should. Nobody wants some tick-and-rabbit-infested patch of sawbriars in the middle of their quaint little neighborhood, no matter how much "The Feasibility of Small-Site Organic Poke Salat Production" is being explored.
So it begins, as soon as the rain will slack off: our yearly battle with the little green dragon that is our yard. To be honest, we don't HATE it. Once our grumbling is drowned out by the whine of the string trimmer, we kind of understand the appeal: making things look nice, squaring the edges, rounding the corners and generally keeping the steadily encroaching wilderness at bay. It's the story of America! writ tiny. That said, we do like "I have mown" a hell of a lot better than "I have to mow." Wish us luck. It's deep enough at this point that we might scare up a snake.
Sometimes, working in a newspaper office, as The Observer has for longer than we'd like to admit now, folks send you free stuff. The swag harvest used to be bigger at the beginning of our career back in Ought-Two, but we still get some goodies coming in over the transom around here every now and then: T-shirts and tickets to things, CDs (yes, they still make those) and DVDs, the occasional comic book or coffee cup, and lots (and lots) of press releases. Once, years ago, when a studio was promoting some island-themed kids' movie, the mailman delivered a husked coconut. No box, no crate, just a coconut plastered with stamps, stickers promoting the movie, and a mailing label. God bless you for that one, U.S. Postal Service. Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from delivering coconuts to slightly confused reporters.
We got to thinking about swag because recently we received a box containing free booze. Specifically, vodka reportedly made with American grains and the pure, free-flowing waters of Lake Fort Smith. Yes, that Lake Fort Smith. In Arkansas. Bottled there, too. We haven't quite worked up the nerve to try it yet. Might be the best thing since apple pie and ice cream. But there's something about the company proudly printing "Lake Fort Smith" right on the label that puts us off. Too, if there's one thing we've learned over all these years, it's that just because something's free doesn't mean it's good.