Up to this point we have been concentrating on the inside of your house, because that's where you actually live, unless you are even dumber than we thought. But the outside of your house - the grounds and how they are landscaped - are also important, especially in terms of property values.

To illustrate this point, let's consider two homeowners, whom we'll call "Smith" and "Jones." (These are not their real names. Their real names are "Smith" and "Brown.") Let's say these two people bought identical homes in the same neighborhood on the same day for the same price, $50,000."Smith," a very hard worker, takes excellent care of his yard. Every weekend he's out there mowing his lawn, pruning his shrubs and crouching in the dirt working on his flowerbeds. Meanwhile, "Jones" is a lazy lout who never does anything to his property except occasionally empty his car ashtray on it on his way to the convenience store to buy more beer.

Now let's say that at the end of five years, both properties are placed on the market. "Jones," who failed to maintain his yard, gets $72,500 for his property. This price, when adjusted for inflation, works out to a profit of just 7.2 percent for our lazy homeowner. But "Smith," the hard worker, would have received $86,300 for his property, if he had not been attacked by fire ants one afternoon while he was weeding the pachysandra patch and stung an estimated 500,000 times before his body was found by the water softener man, who later married "Smith's" widow, who was able to use the life insurance money to buy them a luxury condominium where the closest they ever come to yard work is sometimes they fling the ice from their gin and tonic off their balcony onto the golf course. So there should be no question in your mind about the value of properly maintaining your property.

The key area, of course, is the lawn. We Americans can make the proud boast that no other nation cares for its lawns as much as we do. Lawn care has made America what it is today. As a patriotic noncommunist homeowner, you are responsible for maintaining the American tradition of lawn care and learning as much as you can about this important subject. You definitely won't find anything useful here. I care for my lawn about as well as Godzilla cared for Tokyo. When I die, I will go to Lawn Hell, where homeowners like myself are forced to lie outside with no food or water while their lawns relax inside on Barca-Loungers, eating barbecue chips and watching football on TV.

Nevertheless, I have, over the years, learned a few basic facts about lawn care, the two major ones being:

- If you fail to feed, fertilize and water your lawn, it will die.

- If you feed, fertilize and water your lawn, it will die.

Fortunately this is not a problem, because you can always get a new lawn, in the form of "sod." The way sod works is, you pay a large sum of money, and sweaty men arrive at your house driving a filthy truck, on the back of which is stacked an actual living, breathing, feeling lawn, Some Assembly Required. Heaven only knows where the sweaty men get this lawn. My theory is that they simply go and borrow somebody else's lawn, so that over the course of several decades, the same lawn could make its way, house by house, through an entire subdivision.


It's important to take good care of your lawnmower, because as the old yard care saying goes: "A lawnmower that is running right is a lawmower that is capable of slicing through you foot like a machete through Wonder Bread." This is why manufacturers recommend that you perform the following routine maintenance procedure on your lawnmower every two weeks or 10,000 miles, whichever comes first.

1. Lubricate the linkage connecting the abatement disk to the invective moderator, taking care not to masticate the tropism extractor.

2. Remove the parameter valve from the heliotrope converter and examine the reversion unit for signs of fatigue or drowsiness.

3. Let's not kid ourselves. You're not really going to follow this maintenance procedure, right? I bet you never engage in any of the Goody Two-Shoes consumer activities that manufacturers are always recommending. Me either. Like, whenever I buy an electronic product, the first thing I do is remove the safety information sheet that says "URGENT EMERGENCY ALERT: BEFORE YOU ATTEMPT TO USE THIS PRODUCT, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE IF YOU VALUE YOUR LIFE READ THIS SAFETY INFORMATION SHEET," and I toss that baby right into the trash compactor. I would no more perform routine maintenance procedures on my lawnmower than I would clean my barbecue grill, or inspect my air conditioner filter, or save my original appliance cartons, or wipe my telephone answering machine with a damp cloth, or any of the other 1,536,862 other idiotic things that various manufacturers, in an effort to turn me into a mindless consumer geek, have recommended that I do. Because this is America. This is the land of rugged, independent, self-reliant freedom fighters like Davy Crockett, who stood tall at the Alamo and fought on bravely even though he and his small band of men were badly outnumbered by thousands of manufacturers, coming over the walls in waves, armed to the teeth with Limited Warranties.

And I am proud to say that the same spirit still exists today; that people like yourself and myself deal with lawnmower maintenance the way Americans have dealt with it since the Revolutionary War, namely: We leave our lawnmowers unattended in the garage all winter, and then we drag them out, brush off the spiders and yank fruitlessly on the cord until we are about two yanks shy of cardiac arrest; then we remove the spark plug and peer into the little hole, hoping that maybe the Spark Plug Fairy will appear in there and wave her tiny wand and make everything OK. But of course she doesn't, so we hurl the lawnmower into our car and drive down to the lawnmower repair place, where they tell us that it will be two to three months before they can even give us an estimate, because of the large backlog caused by other rugged and self-reliant homeowners like ourselves.


Shrubs are pathetic little mutant trees that you purchase to replace the nice big trees that were probably on your property before the developer came in and knocked them over with bulldozers. The way you plant a shrub is, you and your spouse lug it around your yard, setting it here and there and then standing back to see how it looks, until you settle on a spot directly over the largest buried boulder on your property, which is where you start digging.

Shrub-lugging homeowners are so effective at locating buried objects that they are now routinely employed by archeological expeditions. The archeologist will get a couple from, say, Milwaukee, take them over to Egypt, hand them a juniper bush, and ask them where they think it should be planted. Then, using a helicopter, he'll follow them as they wander around the endless, undifferentiated desert for days, plopping their shrub here and there, looking at it, shaking their heads, and moving on. When, finally, they're satisfied that they've found the right spot, the archeologist will swoop down, stick his shovel into the sand, and - CLUNK - there will be the sound of metal striking an ancient tomb that has lain undisturbed for 4,000 years. It saves a lot of time.


Americans have never been as fond of gardening as, for example, the British, who have, through centuries of puttering, managed to transform their little island into one of the world's fourth-rate powers. Of course you cannot hope to achieve this kind of result in your own yard, but you will definitely find that for every hour you spend tilling the soil in the early spring, you will be richly rewarded with many more hours of fertilizing the soil in the late spring and weeding the soil all summer.

There are many different types of gardens to choose from, such as the flower garden, which consists of flowers; the vegetable garden, which consists of vegetables; and the Japanese garden, which consists of Japanese. But I myself have found that the best type, in terms of ease of maintenance, is the "garden consisting of ugly plaster statuettes." Of course the type of ugly statuette you should choose depends on the climate in your particular area.



Warm Burro

Cold Cat

Humid Toadstool, Religious

* From the forthcoming book HOMES AND OTHER BLACK HOLES by Dave Barry. Copyright 1988 by Dave Barry. Illustrations copyright 1988 by Jeff MacNelly. Reprinted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.