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Hubby strives for splendor in the grass

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To avoid the humilitation of going bald, my husband decided to take the bull by the horns and shave his head. Miraculously rid of this visible sign of impending middle age, the remaining proof of his virility - or lack thereof - seems to be the condition of our lawn.

"This obsession is robbing you of your youth!" I shouted the other day, watching as he struggled to squeeze the lawn mower down the driveway between our parked cars and the garbage cans."Out of my way," he growled, pushing me into the roses. Glancing nervously at the dark clouds overhead, he muttered, "I don't have much time. You can't mow when it's wet, you know."

The awful truth is, Mitch is a grassaholic and I'm a lawn widow. For six months of the year, his manhood depends on having a better lawn than all the other guys on the block. He vanishes on weekends, searching for the latest weed killer, the newest hybrid, the most expensive sprinkler system. Our vacations can't be too long, since no housesitter in the world can water with the same devotion. He got cable for the weather channel, the better to schedule his yard care.

Having read a lot on the subject, I realize I'm not alone. Lawnitis is all too common, with the following behaviors widespread among otherwise normal males:

1. His deep-seated fear that "the grass is always greener on the other side" causes high anxiety and jealous rages.

2. He's on a first-name basis with everyone at the local nursery, who all understand that he is directly responsible for their Christmas bonuses.

3. Bags of mulch, peat moss and cow manure occupy the trunk of your car, which you only discover as you're about to put the groceries back there.

4. Strangers come to the door asking how you got your grass that color. (Mitch usually invites these folks in for coffee and a slide show.)

5. A random dandelion sets him off. Next thing you know, he's got the trimmer out and he can't even hear you yelling that dinner is ready.

This year, Mitch's condition is complicated by his elbow, which has been hurting for several months. Our son quipped that it was probably "telephonitis," since Mitch talks on the phone all the time for his work.

"There's no such thing," he said defensively, hoping for something a little more glamorous. After a boatload of aspirin failed to eliminate the pain, he agreed to see a doctor, convinced on the way out the door that he had bone cancer or, at the very least, bursitis.

Returning home he looked glum, reporting, "Zack was right. It is telephonitis - sort of tennis elbow without the tennis."

"No kidding? That's great news! Do you realize what this means?" I shouted.

"No, what?"

"Our son is brilliant! Maybe he'll be a doctor after all." (Early indoctrination dies hard. Growing up, all I ever heard was that I should marry a doctor, or, failing that, at least make sure one of my offspring became a doctor. I guess we never stop trying to make our parents proud, even after their deaths.)

The recommended treatment for telephonitis is a headset, leaving his arm free to do something else. Since in Mitch's case it will probably be to send faxes, I worry this will lead to "faxitis," but you can only nag so much, you know?

The other day, obviously in pain and heading for the back yard, he asked me to lend a hand. "I've told you before, I don't mow," I said. "I was very clear about that when we got married," referring to our spat during the ceremony when I flatly refused to replace the traditional vows with "mow, water and fertilize."

"But the grass is so high. What will people think?"

"Face it, Mitch, the time has come when you may need to hire a gardener."

He turned pale. Trying to comfort him, I said, "Cheer up, honey, at least you're not going bald."

He's still mad. I finally understand that, to him, there's no difference.