It was a curious little thing�a small wooden box, about a foot in any direction, unvarnished and imperfect, with a couple of knots in the grain. It was filled with dirt, the deep black kind with white dots of fertilizer, and out of the top there sprouted a profuse tuft of bright grass. On one of the sides, next to a couple of nails, and in crooked red stenciling, were the words PERSONAL LAWN.
Mom had placed it in the middle of the kitchen table, where she had previously kept her great-grandmother�s pewter candelabra on permanent display. The ancient heirloom was deported to the china cabinet to make room for an evanescent plant. I made sure not to tell Mom it was just a plant, though, because she�d grown quite fond of it and would correct me. �It�s a hundred plants, all in that little box. Isn�t it just amazing?�
What is amazing to me is that a single square foot of the most abundant plant of the civilized world�manicured suburban carpet�can produce enough of a stimulus on anybody to excite them. I suppose television is to blame: for six months they played nothing but blue-screen infomercials for the Personal Lawn. Duck hats were just waning out of vogue and people needed the next greatest thing, so some guy named Greg Paul came up with a box full of grass. He slicked his hair back and threw on a polo shirt and went on television, telling people that the Personal Lawn wasn�t just a box of grass, and that it was the future. It required no maintenance, just sunlight, because Vermont Emerald had been developed by scientists to absorb moisture in the air. The best part was that anyone could have their very own box of grass, which otherwise would require a trip outside, for only nine ninety-nine plus shipping and handling.
Dad was a toaster salesman. The next-door neighbor, Mr. Offendorf, was a refrigerator salesman. Dad had purchased a fridge from Mr. Offendorf, but the Offendorfs already had a toaster from France. The Offendorfs were richer than us and were always the first ones on the block to have something new. One day Mrs. Offendorf showed Mom her Personal Lawn, and two weeks later the candelabra was missing. My parents are lemmings. They�re doomed if the Offendorfs ever buy an invisible bungee cord.
When Mom had Mrs. Offendorf over for Bundt cake, she made sure to accidentally mention her new Personal Lawn, but to pretend as if she had purchased it independently of her envy�as something she had never heard of before the infomercial. �Isn�t it just amazing?� I heard her exclaim. �It�s a hundred plants, all in that little box.�
Mrs. Offendorf chimed in: �Oh, so I guess you��
�Yes,� Mom interrupted, �I saw it on TV, and I absolutely had to have it. Isn�t it adorable?�
Mrs. Offendorf was so, so busy for about three months after that. Mom tried calling her nearly every day, but gave up when Mrs. Offendorf claimed her deceased grandmother was in the hospital with pneumonia. Dad said he was getting the mail one day when he saw Mr. Offendorf peer at him through the blinds with expensive binoculars.
A few weeks later, I came home from school and went up to my room to drop off my backpack. There was a Personal Lawn on my windowsill. It was not the one from the kitchen.
�It�s a Personal Lawn. I thought I�d get one for each of us. Danielle�s has flowers.�
Around that time, Greg Paul had decided to diversify his monochromatic product line to include the Personal Garden and Personal Weed Patch. I don�t get that last one, but people actually bought it. The Personal Garden, though, was basically just a Personal Lawn with two or three daffodils.
I decided to ignore Mom�s decision to spend an additional fifty dollars plus shipping on something that would cost close to nothing to make, and which was probably the stupidest product since duck hats. Fortunately, mine was just a box of Vermont Emerald, so it was never thirsty, because I wouldn�t have taken the time to water it. After a while it faded from my peripheral vision. I actually didn�t notice it again until it was gone.
That night at dinner, there were six wooden boxes on the table, three of which had flowers. �I decided we should put our Personal Lawns together and have sort of a family garden,� Mom said. �There�s the original, plus we each have one, which makes six.�
�I don�t have any room to eat,� Adriana said.
�Put your plate on your lap,� Dad said. �Mom wants to have a garden.�
Halfway through dinner Danielle tried to pass me a roll but it got lost among the plants.
�Forget about it,� I said. �May I please be excused?�
Now Greg Paul specifically advertised that the Personal Lawn does not grow taller than six inches. But infomercial miracles usually turn out to be substandard junk. Each week it was becoming more difficult to communicate at the dinner table, and eventually we had to part the grass if we wanted to make eye contact. I suggested we cut it, but Mom said that would kill it. I think it was a front for her war on Mrs. Offendorf, who, the last time Mom heard, had up to ten Personal Lawns. �People don�t cut grass in the wild,� Mom would say.
To compromise, I decided to move the family garden somewhere that would not inhibit dinner. Whether this was fortune or fate, I can only guess�but the ledge below the bay windows in the kitchen was exactly six feet long and one foot wide.
�Oh, how nice! Why didn�t I think of that?� Mom said.
Two weeks later we had six more to replace the ones from the kitchen table.
One day, not long after our garden expansion arrived, Mom finally coaxed Mrs. Offendorf out of hibernation to have some homemade raspberry pie. The reason for the invitation became obvious when the two of them sat opposite one another at the kitchen table. At the time I was fixing myself a sandwich from the Offendorf fridge.
Mrs. Offendorf strained to see to the other side. �I can�t really see you, Joyce.�
�Doesn�t that add to the fun? You never know who�s on the other side!�
�It�s not a mystery, Joyce. You invited me over for pie.�
�Well, I was thinking of moving my Personal Garden, but you know, it just looks so beautiful where it is, and besides, I already put another section on the window ledge, so there�s not really anywhere else to put it. Pie?�
�Sure,� Mrs. Offendorf said. �I, uh�there�s a bug! Get it off!�
�Where?� Mom screamed, and dropped the slice of pie in the garden. A ladybug flitted around in the air and hid behind the breadbox. �Looks like I�m growing raspberry pie now!�
Mrs. Offendorf said she was disgusted with Mom�s stupid garden, and she stormed out sans dessert. Mom looked distraught, but I know she wanted to let out a malicious laugh. Everything had gone exactly as she had hoped it would.
That little ladybug had disappeared when I went to capture it. It would have been the least of my concerns had I not spotted a dozen more bugs circling the window ledge garden. I grabbed the Raid and asked them if they had any last words.
�Don�t do that! You�ll kill the garden!� Mom said from the doorway. �Bugs are a completely natural part of this ecosystem.�
�Since when is this an ecosystem? I thought it was just boxed plants?�
�No, it�s an entire ecosystem. The sun feeds the plants, and the plants feed the bugs.�
�Who gets rid of the bugs?� I asked.
Mom walked off pondering my question.
Two weeks later there was a Personal Venus Flytrap on the kitchen counter. �A Venus flytrap gets rid of the bugs,� she said. �Hey, how do you think that guy, Greg Paul, invents all these things? He�s like Leonardo DaVinci.�
�Definitely. He�s like the DaVinci of our time.�
Mom said to me one day that Mrs. Offendorf was out to get her. �Dolores has about forty Personal Lawns by now,� she told me with all possible confidence. I asked her how she knew, because she hadn�t been to the neighbors� since before we owned any patches of Vermont Emerald. �It�s my motherly instinct,� she told me.
I think that Mrs. Offendorf probably only ever had one Personal Lawn. But I don�t really know for sure because I�ve never been over there. Mom wasn�t convinced, though, so she ordered a whole bunch more.
�For the family room,� she said. �You know, on the coffee table. And above the fireplace, maybe.�
Sure enough, I came home from school about two weeks after that and the family room was greener than it had ever been before. Mom was on the phone with somebody. �Why yes, Nancy! I myself only have a couple of them. I�m thinking about getting more, though. They�re all the rage these days! Uh-huh. Well� oh, okay. Well, then, is Sunday afternoon good for tea? Great. I mean, I don�t have many to show you here, but they�re in the finest shape. Yes, I take good�what? Oh, yes, I know they don�t need any kind of�well, okay, I�ll see you on Sunday.�
�Hi Mom,� I said.
�Hi honey,� she said. �Do you like what I�ve done with the family room?�
�Um, sure. Hey, what�s that sound?�
�There it is again,� I said. �You know when someone runs their fingernail down a guitar string really fast?�
�No, I�m not quite sure how that��
Before Mom could finish her thought, there was some sort of low rumbling sound, which quickly became a loud, steady roar.
�WHERE IS THAT COMING FROM?� I yelled. Mom made that gesture that says, �I can�t hear you.�
I ventured through the kitchen and into the dining room, where I found Dad pushing a lawnmower across the floor. There was no carpet anymore�just sod. Dad didn�t see me at first. Nor could he hear me through the industrial earmuffs on his head. When he arrived at a wall, he spun the mower around to cut a new row of grass. The mower slammed into the leg of the dining room table and it collapsed onto the ground, taking several chairs with it.
�HI, SON!� Dad screamed, unaware that the lawnmower had shut off.
�TAKE OFF YOUR EARMUFFS!� I yelled, cupping my own ears as a hint. He removed them and set them on the slanted table. They slid onto the grass.
�Nothing quite like that freshly mown dining room smell, huh?� he asked me.
�What is this?�
�We decided it�s time to go green,� he said. �Everyone�s doing it now. It�s good for the environment.�
�I don�t think that�s what they��
�We�re doing your room on Thursday. Then Danielle�s, then Adriana�s, then ours. What do you think about the bathrooms?�
Trying to argue with someone who�s being irrational is impossible. I tried to stop them from replacing my area rug with fresh grass, but Dad said I was wasting electricity and killing the planet. Mom told me the Offendorfs were doing the same thing, and that they even had green ceilings. So yes, my bedroom now has a lush blanket of Vermont Emerald, which I wouldn�t mind so much if it weren�t for the earthworms.
I made emergency arrangements soon after to room with my friend John from college, whose previous roommate had been expelled for doing acid in a lecture hall. College is nice because your parents aren�t there, and there is carpet.
Last night, John was clipping his toenails. At least I thought so. I heard some scissors. �You clip your toenails with scissors?� I asked.
�No, man. It�s this thing called the Personal Lawn. I�m pruning it so it stays healthy. And the best part is, you don�t need to water it. It�s this, like, synthetic grass or something called Vermont Emerald. You should get one.�
�Wow,� I said. �It�s like a hundred little plants, all in that one box.�
�I know, right?� he said. �It�s amazing.�
BIO: Kevin Dickinson was born and raised in New Jersey, where he is working toward an English degree at Rutgers U. He is the editor of Writers' Bloc, a literary journal of the aforementioned university. Here it would be optimal to list a broad swath of publication credits, but he does not have any, and wishes to begin accumulating them immediately. The reader may imagine extensive credentials if he/she wishes, however.