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The Village Idiot: The crabgrass chronicles

Jim Mullen • Updated Apr 28, 2017 at 4:00 PM

I drove past a dilapidated house the other day with a 20-year-old car sitting in the driveway. The car was missing half its tires and had seen better days. I’ve driven by this house every now and then for years, and the car never moves. What I can’t figure out is: Why are these people keeping that car?

What are they saving it for? Are they under the impression that the car is going to get more valuable the longer it sits there? Because usually, that equation falls the other way. There are exceptions, like high-performance vehicles and rare collectible cars, but this is just a regular mass-market automobile. It won’t even qualify as an antique for another 30 years.

Maybe they had plans to repair it, but just never got around to it. My suggestion in that case would be just to put some tires on it. Then it would just look like a parked car, whether it actually runs or not. And if they ran out of money to fix it, wouldn’t it be better to cut their losses and sell it to bring in some cash? It may not be worth much after sitting in the rain for 10 years, but someone would buy it – for scrap, if nothing else. Either selling it or fixing it would seem to be the logical thing to do. Using it as a lawn ornament, not so much.

There is another house I pass now and then that has an old washing machine on the front lawn, joining a claw-foot bathtub, an old gas pump and the waterlogged remains of an upholstered sofa. It would never occur to me to put a washing machine and a sofa on my front lawn. I don’t know why; the lawn-decorating gene must have skipped me, I guess. The best thing about having a washing machine on your front lawn is that no one notices the crabgrass. They must save a fortune in lawn care products. I have an old refrigerator in the basement that doesn’t work anymore. Maybe I should put it outside where everyone can admire it.

If you’re thinking of putting nonworking cars and washing machines on your front lawn, I’m thinking you should look into a bigger house and a bigger garage. Maybe I’m just one of those extra-prissy people who think cars in driveways should have wheels on them and that washing machines and bathtubs should be in the house, not the yard. 

I like to think I have the average amount of acceptable junk in my yard -- a barbecue grill, patio furniture, swing set, badminton net, horseshoe pit ... Come to think of it, maybe my yard has more junk than average. But my car has four tires on it, and on a good day, it looks as if it might run. I’m not in a competition with my neighbors to have the best lawn on the block, as they constantly remind me, but neither am I anticipating the guys from “American Pickers” knocking on my door.

The problem is not with putting stuff outside; it’s with the kind of stuff you’re putting outside. If I left a Rolls-Royce with only two tires on it in my driveway, I don’t think the neighbors would complain too much. Or a classic car like a ‘56 T-bird, or a curiosity like a 1960 Corvair. Even in bad shape, they look good. 

But a 1999 Geo Metro? Even in good shape, it looks bad.

What is the message they’re trying to send by putting a washing machine on the front lawn? That we’d all be better off ditching our appliances and using washboards instead? Or maybe it’s “The family that hordes together, stays together,” “You never know when you’ll need a spare washing machine,” or “If you like this, you should see what’s inside the house.”

Do they not notice that almost no one else has a washing machine out front? This time of year, newspapers and magazines and TV shows are full of tips on keeping a happy, healthy, good-looking lawn. But I’ve yet to see one of them recommend a washing machine as a planter.

Contact Jim Mullen at mullen.jim@gmail.com.

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