MULCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

In 1993, I wrote this piece about the perils of poor gardening. It was published in several newspapers and regional magazines, including the Orlando Sentinel, Buffalo News, Pitch Weekly (Kansas City), and the Vermont Times.
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© Mark W. Mayfield

Spring has finally arrived, and winter-weary homeowners are understandably eager to reactivate their dormant lawn-care muscles. But before you begin your annual quest for the perfect yard, heed the words of a wise old gardener, who once said, “A beautiful yard is like a virtuous child. Both require love, patience, attention, mulch, manure, compost, and frequent mowing.”

Okay, so the simile goes a little haywire at the end. It’s not easy to coin a timeless adage about a dirt-related activity. Nevertheless, the wise old gardener’s meaning is clear: Without proper care, your yard will become unruly and rebellious, and could end up in a federal correctional facility. Moreover, an ugly yard subjects you to possible retaliation from the notorious Yard Posse, a ruthless organization that uses intimidation and violence to control the appearance of your neighborhood. Here are some frightening excerpts from its last secret meeting:

Thug #1: Gentlemen, we have a little problem on Elm Street. Naughty Mr. Fillmore hasn’t mowed, fertilized or cleaned his yard in two months. If we allow his slovenly behavior to continue, the property value of our territory will plummet.

Thug #2: Maybe Fillmore’s attitude will change after a visit from Clem the Psychopathic Landscaper and his special “gardening tools.” Clem’s pruning procedure is very persuasive.

Thug #1: The time for persuasion is over. There’s only one thing left to do. Poor Mr. Fillmore will meet his tragic demise at the next neighborhood barbecue.

Thug #2: You don’t mean . . .

Thug #1: Yes, it’s time for the exploding-hamburger plan. If Fillmore won’t take care of his yard, we’ll take care of HIM.

Lazy Mr. Fillmore would be alive today if he had known about some handy laborsaving inventions that make yard work easy and fun. One such tool is the yard blower, a device that creates a powerful stream of air to push your unwanted yard debris to your neighbor’s property, where it magically becomes his unwanted yard debris. Your neighbor can then use his own blower to move the unwanted debris to another yard. This process continues until the last home on the street is buried under tons of unwanted yard debris.

Another helpful tool is the gas-powered string trimmer, which uses a rapidly rotating piece of fishing line to cut grass in areas your mower can’t reach. It’s like a nose-hair clipper for your lawn. (When operating this device, wear protective clothing. A naked gardener, especially one using a gas-powered string trimmer, is just asking for trouble.)

Of course, trimmers and blowers are unnecessary unless you encourage vigorous new growth with mulch and manure, commonly called soil suppositories. Mulch, named after the famous German gardener Erich Von Mulch, is the most versatile substance in the universe. It conserves water, protects soil from extreme temperatures, promotes healthy plant growth, and may hold the key to peace in the Middle East. And fiber-rich mulch is a delicious, nutritious addition to soups, salads and sandwiches. Remember the wise old gardener’s motto: “When in doubt, mulch it.”

When used properly, manure does something that nothing else can do. It makes your yard really stink, and a stinky yard is a healthy yard. Manure is an organic material that comes from enormous manure mines in Washington, D.C. Geologists believe that these vast deposits were produced by huge prehistoric politicians who once roamed the continent. Recently discovered cave drawings suggest that these loathsome predators would say anything to get elected, and what they usually said was–you guessed it–pure manure. Many present-day politicians still gather in the land of their ancestors, mysteriously attracted by a primal urge to contribute to our nation’s manure supply.

Unfortunately, all the manure in Washington can’t help your yard if it’s choked by weeds. The most effective and entertaining way to eliminate weeds is to squirt them with deadly chemicals. Find the biggest weed in your yard and saturate with your favorite brand of weed killer. After watching the slow, painful death of their burly comrade, nearby weeds will be so depressed that they’ll commit suicide by pulling themselves, thereby saving you time.

Finally, remember that a beautiful yard doesn’t happen overnight. But if you’re patient and diligent, if you regularly apply ample amounts of manure, mulch and weed killer, and if you’re lucky enough to avoid a serious string-trimmer related injury, you’ll soon discover that you should have hired a professional gardener.

Mark Mayfield was recently hospitalized after trying to trim his mustache with a gas-powered Weed Whompper. Using a revolutionary surgical procedure, doctors successfully reattached his lips.

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE FOR A CAREER CHANGE

Every 25 years or so, I experience an overwhelming urge to change careers. When I wrote this column in 2002, I was considering two very different professions.
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© August 2002 Mark W. Mayfield

Every man will eventually reach the “over-the-hill” phase of his life, which begins on the fateful day when his teenage son fairly beats him in three consecutive games of basketball (despite the fact that I violently tackled him every time he dribbled the ball and screamed, “MISS!!” whenever he took a shot), wins four consecutive footraces to the end of the driveway and back (despite the fact that he ran backwards after giving me a huge head start), and easily prevails in a grueling sit-up contest (despite the fact that I “accidentally” placed two10-pound weights on his chest).

Like many men who have reached this dreaded phase of their lives, I’m occasionally struck by the urge to do something completely different with the rest of my rapidly passing time on earth, to change course in the middle of life’s journey, to boldly embark on a new, noble occupation, one that offers true spiritual fulfillment.

I really want to be a brain surgeon, an astronaut, Bill Gates or an incredibly wealthy NBA star, but since the sight of internal organs, especially brains, makes me queasy, and since I have a terrible fear of flying, especially at 25,000 mph, and since I look terrible in nerdy glasses, and since my ability to make a three-point basket ranks somewhere between “Almost Never” and “Never,” I had to ponder other options. After much consideration, I narrowed my choices to two professions, which are listed below with their pros and cons.

1. Movie star
I don’t mean one of those old-fashioned movie stars who had actual talent. I mean a modern movie star, whose fame is based solely on his smile, pectoral arrangement and/or abdominal definition.

Pros:

–My blockbuster movies would earn millions of dollars, which is even better than “true spiritual fulfillment.”

–I would have legions of fans who worship and adore me.

–Star-struck restaurant owners would give me free meals.

–Other movie stars would call me at home to invite me to hang out with them. (“Hi, Mark, this is your best friend, Denzel. Several other movie stars and I are going to a fancy restaurant to get free food. Wanna go with us?”)

Cons:

–My greedy agent would insist that I secretly undergo painful “pectoral enhancement” surgery to replace my “over-the-hill” chest muscles with perky new “top-of-the-hill” silicon chest muscles, which are essential for modern male movie stars who remove their shirts during love scenes with beautiful starlets.

–After beholding my impressive chest muscles in my latest blockbuster movie, obsessed female fans would follow me wherever I go, begging me to remove my shirt and flex my pecs.

–My wife would embarrass me in front of those obsessed female fans by saying, “Believe me, ladies, his real chest muscles are nothing special. In fact, I’ve seen better pecs on a jellyfish!”

2. Mideast Peace Negotiator
I can’t think of anything more fulfilling than single-handedly bringing a lasting peace to the Middle East.


Pros:

–This profession doesn’t require painful “pectoral enhancement” surgery.

–I would travel to faraway places and experience different cultures.

–I would frequently appear on Sunday morning news shows, where I could impress the host with my diplomatic lingo. (Example: “My timely intervention has undoubtedly averted a crisis, and now we must move forward, seize the moment, and bring both sides to the table for meaningful dialogue, which can foster mutual trust and eventually lead to an equitable solution.”)

Cons:

–I would have to actually study the region’s politics, history and culture so I can understand what all the fuss is about.

–I would have to look up “envoy” in the dictionary.

–Stray bullets and flying shrapnel make me very nervous.

So if you’re a greedy agent or an influential person in the White House, please contact me immediately. I want to begin my new profession asap.

A FISH STORY

I wrote this piece in the mid 1980’s, when my love affair with fishing was at its peak. It appeared in several newspapers and regional publications, including “Florida Keys Magazine.”
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© Mark W. Mayfield

Few of life’s milestones are more memorable than that first fishing trip. Who can ever forget the thrill of reeling in a scrappy rainbow trout, the pride of posing for the mandatory “My-First-Fish” snapshot, the challenge of removing a barbed hook from your left earlobe after one of uncle Tony’s errant casts, or the horror of discovering that real fish, unlike the tasty fish sticks mom frequently served for dinner, are full of slimy things called entrails that must be removed by hand. And what can be more memorable than watching dad’s boating skills quickly deteriorate after several hearty gulps from his huge thermos of “Special Fishing Coffee.”

Memories like these would be impossible without reliable fishing gear, yet many of us never think about the hardworking, dedicated folks who make the equipment for our favorite fish-related pastime. In their honor, let’s take an appreciative look at our beloved fishing tackle.

The father of modern fishing gear was Arvin Carp, a part-time inventor who also owned a failing condiment company. Carp knew that if he could discover a practical way to catch fish, he would greatly increase his sales of tartar sauce and lemon juice. In fact, Carp coined the famous adage, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you can sell him lots of malt vinegar.”

Carp’s first few inventions were ingenious but unsuccessful. The Fishswatter, inspired by the ubiquitous flyswatter, didn’t work because the fish always swam away before Arvin could get close enough to give ’em a good whomp. The Fishgripper, a mechanical hand at the end of a long pole, failed miserably because most fish are factory-equipped with an extremely slick finish that allows them to easily escape a predator’s grasp. Carp’s most ambitious project, the Laser-Guided Fish Missile, was a remarkable technical achievement, but it had three serious flaws: (1) It blew up the best parts of the fish. (2) Each missile cost several million dollars. (3) Carp was afraid that a group of terrorist fish might steal some missiles, equip them with nuclear warheads and launch a surprise attack against innocent anglers. (Don’t laugh. According to the Pentagon, certain fish have already unlocked the secret of nuclear fishin’.)

Just when he was about to abandon his quest, Carp discovered a relatively simple method of catching fish with a bamboo pole, some string, a hook and a worm. After successfully using his invention at a nearby pond, he tried to yell with joy, but his lips, which he had unselfishly sacrificed to test the holding power of various fishing hooks, had become a large pink mass of useless scar tissue.

Fishing gear has undergone dramatic changes since those early days. Carp’s primitive devices have been replaced by wide variety of high-tech equipment, and no weapon in the angler’s arsenal has evolved more than artificial lures. The people who design these deadly decoys know that modern fish, like humans, are plagued with many societal problems, including a growing number of homeless fish, rampant promiscuity among teenage fish, the frightening rise of violent fish gangs, widespread crime, and, of course, high gas prices. Using this information, researchers have developed lures for every conceivable situation. One of the most effective new models is the Drunken Investment Banker, which mimics the erratic movements of an intoxicated well-to-do business fish. When large hoodlum fish try to steal the lure’s gold jewelry, they are quickly snagged by hooks concealed in a tiny designer briefcase. The most deceptive lure on the market is the Publishers Clearing House lure, which entices its unsuspecting victim with a chance to win millions of dollars.

What does the future hold for angling? Knowing that fishing tackle has evolved as far as it possibly can, researchers are now using genetic engineering to create fish that are easier to catch. The Traitor Fish, for example, will tell anglers where to find its large, hungry friends. The Cowardly Fish will voluntarily surrender instead of facing the prospect of a long, painful fight. And, in the ultimate gesture of sportsmanship, the Self-Cleaning Fish will bravely remove his own slimy entrails after he’s caught.

Of course, science can’t improve every part of the fishing experience. There will always be quiet mountain lakes, warm summer mornings and the irresistible aroma of “Special Fishing Coffee.”

Mark W. Mayfield DOES NOT condone the habitual consumption of “Special Fishing Coffee.”

BASKETBALL IS A YOUNG LION’S GAME

As I sit here on my sofa, preparing to watch Kansas battle Virginia Commonwealth for a spot in the Final Four, I’m remembering one of the most dramatic basketball games in history. It occurred back in 2001, and it was a turning point in my life.
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© 2001 Mark W. Mayfield

Every man eventually experiences a “Moment of Unbearable Realization,” a moment when the glaring spotlight of reality instantly erases the fleeting shadows of his hopes, dreams and fantasies, a moment when “The Way Things Should Be” suddenly becomes “The Way Things Really Are.”

During my lifetime, I’ve experienced four such incidents. The first occurred shortly after my 14th birthday, when I realized that Marcia from The Brady Bunch would never be my girlfriend. The second happened a few years later, when I realized that supermodel Cheryl Tiegs would never be my girlfriend. And the third unexpectedly arrived yesterday in my driveway, when I realized that my son was about to win our weekly game of one-on-one basketball.

Until yesterday, I’ve dominated these games with an ingenious offensive play that negates my opponent’s superior quickness and agility: While dribbling the ball with my right hand, I back up to the basket, skillfully using my 90-pound weight advantage to gently “nudge” my son out of the way, much like a semi-truck would gently “nudge” a small sports car out of a parking space. Then, while he screams, “THAT’S A FOUL, DAD!,” I use my 10-inch height advantage to shoot the ball over his outstretched hands and into the basket.

But yesterday’s game was different from the start. When I looked into my son’s eyes during the pre-game stare-down, I saw the intense, merciless gaze of a strong, young lion who was determined to vanquish the battle-scarred patriarch of the pride. I’ve never been a cowardly lion, but I must admit that his demeanor made me nervous.

As the game began, I tried to disarm my son with a little humor. “Did I ever tell you the joke about the ventriloquist and the farmer?” I asked.

“Don’t you dare repeat that story!” said my wife, who appeared from nowhere to root for the younger lion.

During the next several minutes, my son scored eighteen unanswered points. He scored with jump shots. He scored with lay-ups. He scored with finger rolls. He fooled me with beautiful head fakes, stutter steps, crossovers and around-the-back dribbles. He wore me down me with incredible speed and stamina that an old lion could never match. He even made a hook shot over my outstretched hands. Worst of all, he refused to be “nudged” away from the basket.

Hoping to slow his attack, I tried a diversion tactic.

“LOOK! “It’s Cheryl Tiegs in a bikini! I exclaimed.

“Who’s Cheryl Tiegs?” said my undistracted son. That’s when I experienced my fourth Moment of Unbearable Realization, as I realized that not even Cheryl Tiegs in a bikini could save me.

As my son prepared to administer the final blow, I desperately appealed to his sense of decency.

“Does beating a tired old man make you feel like a tough guy?” I asked breathlessly. Well, let me tell you something, you cocky little lion, (pant, pant) someday your good ol’ dad won’t be around to play basketball with you. And when that day arrives, you’ll miss the man who taught you how to ride a bike, the man who taught you how to put a nightcrawler on a fishing hook, the man who taught you how to burp the alphabet and make that funny noise with your armpits. And then you’ll remember how you mistreated me today, and you’ll let out a long, loud, anguished cry that will echo through the countryside. Then will this victory still taste sweet, son?”

“Let’s just finish the game,” he said with steely determination.

“Okay, we’ll finish the game,” I replied, “but remember, son, the Bible says that children should never beat their earthly fathers in basketball. Don’t forget what happened to Pharaoh’s son when he beat his dad in one-on-one.”

“What happened to Pharaoh’s son?” asked my son with mock interest.

“Well, I’m not really sure,” I replied, “but I think it involved festering sores and a plague of locusts.”

He ignored my warning and nailed a perfect jump shot that sealed his victory.

“Good game, dad,” roared the triumphant young lion.

“Meow,” replied the vanquished patriarch.

After writing this column, Mark Mayfield officially retired from weekly games of one-on-one.

MY PAL, DAVE BARRY

Here’s one of my most prized possessions. It’s a note from world-renowned humorist Dave Barry. He was offering me some advice after reading my entries in a 1985 humor-writing contest (which I later won). Here’s what he wrote:

Dear Mark Mayfield,

I think if you just lie down for a couple of weeks, in soft lighting, you’ll feel a heck of a lot better.

Regards,
Dave Barry

VALUABLE ADVICE FOR TELEMARKETERS

I wrote this piece in 2002, after receiving a phone call from the most annoying telemarketer in history. After telling him that I was very interested in signing up for his “free” water test, I asked him to hold on so I could find a pencil to write down the details. I then put the phone on the counter and finished my dinner. The gullible moron waited for about 13 minutes before finally hanging up. I never heard from him again.
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© 2002 Mark W. Mayfield

If you’re a telemarketer, I have bad news for you. Most Americans are no longer fooled by your modus operandi (a Latin phrase meaning “obnoxious, sneaky sales tactics”). They know how to spot a sales pitch within the first five seconds of your call. When you mention “aluminum siding,” “or “low long-distance phone rates,” they gleefully hang up in your ear. They laugh when you offer them a “free water purity test.” They mock you when you say, “Congratulations! You’ve won a free roof inspection!” Like wily fish that see the same phony worm over and over again, they’re impossible to hook.

But take heart, my speed-dialing friend, because I’ve developed several innovative telemarketing techniques that never fail to dupe today’s savvy, streetwise consumers. I know that these methods work because I’ve tried them on myself, and they fooled me! Here are actual transcripts of me fooling myself with three revolutionary telemarketing techniques.

The Flattery-Will-Get-You-Everywhere Technique:

RING!

Me: Hello?

Imaginary female telemarketer: WOW! You have a magnificent voice! It’s so deep and sexy, and your enunciation is superb. Are you a professional speaker?

Me: (Lowering my voice and pronouncing my words perfectly) No, but sometimes, when I’m alone, I pretend to be a TV newscaster.

Telemarketer: Well, sir, if you look as good as you sound, you should be on TV. Your voice is giving me goose bumps! OHMYGOSH! I can’t believe I said that! I’m babbling like a star-struck schoolgirl. I’m supposed to be telling you about our company’s energy-saving dual-pane windows, but now I’m too flustered to deliver my sales pitch. I think I should hang up before I start making suggestive comments.

Me: (Desperately trying to sound like a TV newscaster) Wait! Please don’t hang up. I’m very interested in “cool stained windows” or whatever you said. Please tell me more.

The Never-Fail Guilt-Trip Technique:

Ring!

Me: Hello?

Imaginary Fundraising Telemarketer: Thousands of blind, crippled puppies need your help right now.

Me: They do?

Imaginary Fundraising Telemarketer: Yes, and they can’t wait. If these puppies could talk, they’d say, “Please help us, Mr. Mayfield. We’re poor, pitiful puppies who need a little love from a wonderful man like you.” (At this point, the telemarketer imitates the heartbreaking whimper of a sad puppy.)

Me: (Choking up) Please stop! That’s so sad.

Imaginary Fundraising Telemarketer: Yes, Mr. Mayfield, it is sad, but it gets worse. These fluffy little puppies are also homeless orphans who forage for tiny scraps of food by busy highways, dangerously close to fast-moving traffic.

Me: STOP!!

Imaginary Fundraising Telemarketer: These neglected puppies have no caring mothers to nurture them. They have no strong fathers to protect them. They have no loving masters to neuter and spay them. They don’t even have rawhide chew toys. Won’t you help them, sir? Imagine their happiness and gratitude when I tell them that a very nice man named Mr. Mayfield made a generous donation to the “Blind, Crippled Puppy Foundation.” (At this point, the telemarketer imitates the happy, high-pitched barks of a happy, grateful puppy.)

Me: (sobbing) Is ten thousand dollars enough? If not, I’ll sell my car and include the puppies in my will.

The Listen-To-Me-Or-Else Technique:

Ring!

Me: Hello?

Imaginary stupid teenage Telemarketer: That stuff is gonna kill you, dude!

Me: What stuff?

Imaginary stupid teenage Telemarketer: Your tap water, dude! It’s full of deadly bacteria, poisonous chemicals and lots of other harmful stuff that can make you really, really stupid!

Me: You mean really, really stupid like you?

Imaginary stupid teenage Telemarketer: Heck, yeah, dude! I grew up drinking tap water like yours. That’s why I say “dude” so much. Dude, if you don’t want your kids to be like me, you should buy our expensive water purification system. Waddya think, dude?

Me: Sign me up.

To learn more revolutionary telemarketing techniques, order my complete home course entitled “Call Them at Dinnertime.” And if you order within the next hour, you’ll win a free septic tank inspection.

E-mail Mark at mark.mayfield@comcast.net

I OWE, I OWE, TO DISNEYLAND WE GO!

I wrote this column in 1994, after a family trip to Disneyland. My daughter was nine and my son was five. 17 years later, we’re returning to the Magic Kingdom, or as I like to call it: The Land of the Greedy Cartoon Mouse. Wish me luck.
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© 1994 Mark W. Mayfield

Back in the “Good Old Days,” most American parents could pay for a trip to Disneyland without draining their bank accounts. (According to historians, the “Good Old Days” officially ended in 1976, when my generation graduated from high school and realized that we would soon have to get jobs and actually EARN our own money if we wanted to buy more bell-bottoms, Earth Shoes, 8-track tapes and incense.) But during the last several years, the world’s premier theme park has gradually raised its prices to offset the skyrocketing cost of capturing and hiring the few clean-cut, well-mannered employees who still exist in North America. Consequently, a family trip to Disneyland now requires careful financial planning:

Financial adviser: So, Mr. Jones, tell me about your financial goals.

Client: My primary goal is to design a comprehensive savings strategy that will eventually yield the monetary assets I need to send my children to prestigious universities. I also wanna buy a really cool SUV, a shiny red speed boat and a humongous big-screen TV.

Financial adviser: With proper financial planning, those goals are easily attainable. Is there anything else?

Client: Well, there is one other thing. I’ve always wanted to take my family to Disneyland.

Financial adviser: DISNEYLAND!? You gotta be kidding! (Angrily closing his genuine eelskin briefcase) Listen, you moron, I’m a financial adviser, not a miracle worker!

So what’s a fun-seeking, cost-conscious parent supposed to do? Do what my wife and I did: Simply convince your children that plenty of lucrative, fulfilling careers are available for people without college educations and head for Southern California, sometimes called “The Land of the Greedy Cartoon Mouse.”

Immediately after arriving at the Happiest Place on Earth, we unhappily discovered that long lines and large crowds would prevent us from enjoying more than one or two attractions during our visit. We also discovered the importance of protecting our vulnerable body parts while approaching popular attractions, which were surrounded by other predatory packs of fun-seeking, cost-conscious tourists who used any means, including violence, to get a good spot in line.

Our first stop was Toontown, a strange and wonderful place full of colorful, wavy, surrealistic buildings that look like they were designed by Salvador Dali and Timothy Leary. It’s an attraction that appeals to children, who enjoy its wacky silliness, and parents, who vaguely recall experiencing similar shapes and colors during a Grateful Dead concert in the mid 1970s.

By the time we fought our way through Toontown, nervously protecting our exposed body parts, we had only enough time for one more attraction. We chose the legendary Matterhorn. This classic roller coaster was designed by Hubert Horn, an eccentric genius who constantly worried that park visitors would scoff at his idea of a snow-covered alp in the middle of sunny, warm Southern California. His impatient assistant, who was sick of Hubert’s constant whining and fretting, finally grabbed his boss by the neck and screamed, “Who cares what people think about your stupid ride?! It really doesn’t MATTER, HORN!” The rest is history.

Although the Matterhorn is quite old, it’s extremely safe. Unlike most traveling-carnival rides that are sloppily assembled by tattooed, substance-abusing ex-cons, the Matterhorn was carefully constructed by well-behaved, God-fearing ride builders of the 1950’s. They were big, strong, sweaty, red-blooded American men with bulging biceps and short, neatly combed hair. They were honorable men who would go home after a hard day’s work and proudly tell their families about another day on “The Horn.” (Note for wimpy fathers: If roller-coasters scare you, avoid this attraction. After all, nothing is more pathetic than a grown man who’s screaming, crying and holding tightly to his wife before the ride even begins.)

Of course, there are many other wonderful attractions to experience in The Magic Kingdom, but we’ll have to wait until our next visit, after we hock my great grandmother’s wedding ring.

Mark Mayfield (mark.mayfield@comcast.net) was extremely disappointed when he learned that the snow on the Matterhorn is fake.