Friday, August 23, 2013


"It's clean," I said sweeping my arm across the backyard.
Mr. Wonderful shook his head. "It's hard." 
"It's good for clay pots."
"It's flat."
"I don't mind it."
"I do."

In this way Mr. Wonderful and I discussed another fixer upper job on our fixer upper House. More accurately, a fixer upper job on our pathetic "backyard", more accurately the jumble of concrete that composed said yard. It would have been easier to discuss if my spouse had smiled or laughed while debating this latest project. But he couldn't because we'd agreed on some things before we bought the place. During escrow we both knew: 1) Repairing The House would be a labor of love; 2) The House had good bones; 3) The backyard was a disaster.  

For everyone on the planet, a "backyard" consists of grass or dirt located behind one's house. That is, everyone's but ours, which was composed of various concrete slabs, brick walks and wiggly stone pathways. Judging by all the hard surfaces, the former owners either hated Mother Nature or they held stock in a stone company. Whatever their situation, it was clear that our backyard looked less like a fertile patch of Southern California goodness than a hard-surface landing strip for a 747s, 757s and the entire fleet of Space Shuttles. 

Nevertheless, removing all that concrete--what Mr. Wonderful wanted--would be a lot more expensive and back breaking than just leaving it where it lay--what me and my new manicure wanted. As a first time homeowner in Southern California, I didn't know anything about concrete-covered backyards because I'd never seen them before, but apparently out here they are as common as out-of-work actors. There must be a reason for it--the concrete, not the actors. Perhaps concrete provided unknown benefits to our yard, our pool, The House? I wanted to make sure we wouldn't be making a mistake before we dug it up and I broke a nail so I asked the experts.

"It's cheap," our 86 year-old neighbor said sweeping his driveway.
"Okay, Harold," I said leaning against the fence dividing our properties. "But is there any other positive to having a concrete backyard?"
"I said it was cheap, didn't I."

Somedays Harold was a talker and sometimes he wasn't. Today was one of the latter days.

I saw Jerry pruning his rose bushes so I bounded over to ask him if we should remove the concrete or leave it.
"You'll never have to pay a gardener," he said adjusting his San Francisco baseball cap.
"Besides money, is there any other reason to keep the concrete?"
"Removing it is hard work, you could bust the gas line, you could electrocute yourself, you could strangle yourself with PVC pipe. Should I keep going?"
I shook my head.

Born and raised in San Francisco's earthquake country, Jerry had a pessimistic side to him I'd never noticed before.

I caught a glimmer of Charles' car as it pulled into his driveway. When I flagged him down I saw his hair was windblown, his face tan, his teeth white as milk. To remove the concrete or not, that was my question.

"We have concrete in our backyard, too. And I hate it," he said with a laugh.
"Does it help your pool or house?"
He laughed some more.
"But would you spend the time and money to remove it?"
"If I had the time or money, sure!" He said slapping this thigh.

I'm a sucker for a good laugher. And Charles was one of the best.

That night after dinner, I agreed with Mr. Wonderful to remove concrete from our backyard. Not all of it, just some of it. Then I handed him a piece of sidewalk chalk and asked him to delineate what he wanted gone. After drawing all over our property, like the kid's book Harold and the Purple Crayon, I sat down in shock because there was so much remove.

"It's a lot," he nodded. "But when it's gone, imagine how great our backyard will be!" Then he laughed loudly, a warm smile spreading across his face.

Of course I said yes. I couldn't argue with that laugh.