Authors: Erma Bombeck
Tags: #Humor, #Form, #Essays, #Topic, #Marriage & Family
THe GRass is ALWaYs GReeNer Oven
THe SePTic TaNK
Also by Erma Bombeck
AT WIT'S END
“IUST WAIT TILL YOU HAVE CHILDREN OF YOUR OWN!”
I LOST EVERYTHING IN THE POST-NATAL DEPRESSION
OVeR THe SePTic TaNK
_McGruw-Hill Book Company
New York Sl. l.ouis. San Francisco. DusseIdorf. London Mexico Sydney . Toronto Book design by Judith Michael.
Copyright © 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976 by Erma Bombeck. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Bombeck, Erma. The grass is always greener over the septic tank.
PS3552.059G7 813'.5'4 76-20645
Several of the chapters in this book are based on matcrial that has appeared elsewhere in another form
Chapter One Station Wagons . . . Ho! 1
Staking Out a Claim
Lot No. 15436 . . . Where Are You?
The Original Settlers
The Telephone Representative
The Insurance Salesman
The Antique Dealer
Chapter Two Major Battles Fought in the Suburbs 23
Finding the Builder Who Built the House (1945-1954)
The Second-Car Ten-Day War
Getting Sex Out of the Schools and Back
into the Gutter Where It Belongs
Saving the Recession from a Depression
The Picture Window
The Suburban Lawn
Barbie and Ken
Cbapter Three Thr great Plastic Rush 45
“You Will Como to My Home 1Party”
Chapter Four Hazards of Suburban Living 51
The Car Pool Crouch
The Neighborhood Nomad
The Elusive Washer Repairman
Trick Or Treat. . . Sweetheart
The Identity Crisis
Chapter Five The Heartbreak of Psuburbaniasis 67
The Seven-Inch Plague
The Suburban Myth
Hosting a Famine
Chapter Six Ya Got Trouble 83
Chapter Seven It Comes with the Territory 89
The Pampered Dog
The Garage Sale
Chapter Eight Law and Order 111
The Ten Most Unwanted Women In the Shopping-Center Parking Lot
Who's Watching the Vacant House? Everyone.
Suburbian Gems Police Blotter
Chapter Nine Put Your Winnebagos into a Circle and Fight 121
Chapter Ten Super Mom! 133
Chapter Eleven The Volunteer Brigade 141
“I Am Your Playground Supervisor”
Wanda Wentworth, Schoolbus Driver
Ralph Corlis. The Coach Who Played to Lose
Confessions of an Officer in the Girl Scout Cookie Corps
Chapter Twelve "By God,
We're Going to Be a Close-Knit Family
if I Have to Chain You to the Bed!" 157
The Frozen Kiosk
Starving to Death at the Spiritual Family Feast
Chapter Thirteen Postscript to Suburbian Gems 169
Soon after the West was settled, Americans became restless and began to look for new frontiers.
Bored with the conveniences of running water, electricity, central heating, rapid communication, and public transportation, they turned to a new challenge . . . the suburbs.
The suburbs were discovered quite by accident one day in the early 1940's by a Welcome-Wagon lady who was lost. As she stood in a mushy marshland, her sturdy Red Cross shoes sinking into the mire, she looked down, and exclaimed, “It's a septic tank. I've discovered the suburbs!”
News of the discovery of a septic tank spread and within weeks thirty million city dwellers readied their station wagons and began the long journey to the edge of town in search of a bath and a half and a tree.
It wasn't easy for the first settlers. They planted trees and crabgrass came up. They planted schools and taxes came up. Surveyors planted stakes and they disintegrated.
The first winter, more than half of the original settlers perished. Some lost thoir way in cul-de-sacs and winding streets with the same name trying to find their way home,
Other poor devils died of old age trying to merge onto the freeway to the city. One was attacked by a fast-growing evergreen that the builder planted near his front door. (They named a high school after him.)
There wasn't a day that went by that they weren't threatened by forces from the city: salesmen of storm doors, Tupperware and Avon ladies, traffic lights, encyclopedia salesmen, Girl Scout cookie pushers, and Golden Arches everywhere.
The survival by at least one family of PTA's, garage sales, car pools, horse privileges, Sunday drivers, Little Leagues, and lights from the shopping center is what this book is all about.
It traces the migration of the Bombeck family from their modest—but pathetic—apartment in the heart of the city to a plat house (one original and 216 carbons) just outside the city limits.
, They make the trip with a son who has spoken four words in five years (“I get the window”), their daughter who sleeps with a baton, and a toddler who has never known anything but apartment living and consequently does not own a pair of hard shoes.
It took a week to load their station wagon and after the good-byes they settled back to enjoy their new adventure.
“Look, honey, sit down on the seat. Daddy cannot drive with scissors in his ear. No, I don't know how long it has been since I cut the hairs in my ears! Erma, for God's sake, find something for him to do.”
“Are we there yet?”
“It's my window and I say when it goes down and when it goes up. Mom! Isn't it my window?”
“You did not see a cow and if you mark it down I'm going to mark down a chariot on my list. A chariot gives me fifty points.”
“Start the motor. They'll be better when we get moving.”
“Erma, do you smell something? Check the dog.”
“The dog checks out.”
“Check the feet of the kids.”
“They all check.”
“Check your own.”
“You check yours first.”
“Mom! I'm gonna be sick.”
“You are not going to be sick and that's my final word!”
“Boys! Get your hands in this car or they'll blow off.”
“How many kids had their hands blown off last year?”
“Too many to count.”
“Did you ever see a hand that blew off on your windshield, Dad?”
"Erma, for God's sake find something for the kids to
"Mom! Andy took a bite out of a cookie and put it back.
"You tell about the cookies and I'm telling about your
chicken bone collection."
“Stop the car! That's what we smell.” “Dad, when you get mad the veins in your nose swell up.”
"I thought you were going to give them a sedative. How
"We've got a hairpin, a thumbnail and a breathmint to
go, according to this map."
“Can't you interpret a simple road map?”
“Don't shout at me. Bill, I can't handle shouting today.”
"I'm not shouting, I'm just suggesting that you are a
high-school graduate and are capable of interpreting a
simple scale on a map."
“Hey, Dad, I just saw a hand fly by.” “What day is it?” I asked, “I don't know how much longer I can stand the driving, the confinement, the loneliness. Not being able to talk to anyone. Bill, maybe we shouldn't have come.”
“It won't be long now!” he said.
The Bombecks made it to the suburbs in their station wagon on June 9th. It was the longest fifty-five-minute drive any of them had ever endured.
STATION WAGONS . . . HO!
Staking Out a Claim
It was either Thomas Jefferson—or maybe it was John Wayne—who once said, “Your foot will never get well as long as there is a horse standing on it.”
It was logic like this that attracted thirty million settlers to the suburbs following World War II.
The suburbs were a wilderness with nothing to offer but wide, open spaces, virgin forests, and a cool breeze at night that made you breathe deep, close your eyes and sigh, “My God! Who's fertilizing with sheep dip?”
My husband held out against migration for as long as he could. Then one day we heard from our good friends, Marge and Ralph, who, together with their two children, set out in one of the first station wagons to a housing development thirty miles south of the city.
As Marge wrote, "We reached the suburbs on the 14th. There was no water and no electricity in our house so we had to hole up in a Holiday Motel for three days. The pool wasn't even heated.
"The yard is barren and there are no sidewalks. Mud is everywhere. There is no garbage pickup, our old stove won't fit in tin' now hole, and the general store has never heard of Oregano.
"We have aluminum foil at the windows to keep the sun from fading the children. I feel like a turkey. We have to claim our mail at the post office a mile and a half away. There is no super. We have our own washer and dryer which don't require quarters. I understand, however, that at the end of the month, there is something called a utility bill that is presented to us.
“There are some bright spots. We have a bath and a half. It is wonderful not to have to take numbers any more. Tomorrow, we are going to visit our first tree. It is situated on the only ”wooded“ lot in the subdivision and is owned by the builder's daughter. Pray for us. ... Affectionately, Marge.”
“Doesn't that sound exciting?” I said, jumping to my feet.
“You say the same thing when your soup is hot.”
“Where's your adventurous spirit?” I asked. “It's a new world out there—full of challenges. We're young yet. We could survive.”
He put down his paper and swept his arms around to encompass the entire apartment. “What! Move and give up all of this?”
I looked around. I had to iron in the playpen. The kids were stacked in a triple bunk at night like they were awaiting burial at sea. If the phone rang, I had to stand on my husband's face to answer it. The dog slept under the oven, next to the crackers. And one day I yawned, stretched my arms and someone stored the complete works of Dr. Seuss and a pot of African violets on them.
“You'd never survive,” he predicted. “It's a raw frontier—no schools, no churches, and only three registered Republicans. Frankly, I don't think you have the stamina or the threshold of pain for it.”
“Stamina!” I shouted. "Are you telling me I have no stamina? A woman who has lived on the fourth floor of this apartment building for five years with the stairs out of order has no stamina? I have legs like a discus thrower. As for pain, I have been known to go without support
stockings for as long as two hours."
“Do you honestly think you could move to a land where your mother is a 35-cent toll charge for the first three minutes?”
I hesitated, then squared my shoulders and said, “Yes!” It was probably my imagination, but I thought I heard a whip crack and a voice shout, “Station Wagons . . .Ho!”
The selling of the suburbs made the coronation of Queen Elizabeth look like an impulse.
On a Sunday afternoon you could tour Cinderella's Red Coach Farms, Mortgage Mariana, Saul Lieberman's Bonsai Gardens, or Bonaparte's Retreat (“Live the Rest of Your Life Like a Weak King”).
Every development had its gimmick: flags flying, billboards, free rain bonnets, balloons for the kiddies, and pom pom girls that spelled out low interest rates in script.
My husband spread out the newspaper and together we went over the plats we had visited.
“What did you think of Tahitian Village?” he asked.
“Cute,” I said, “but a little overdone. I mean dropping the kids into a volcano to play each morning just. . .”
“What about Chateau on Waldren's Pond?”
“Call it a woman's intuition, but I've never trusted a lake that had a sudsing problem on Monday mornings.”
“Wanta check out Sherwood Forest?”
The sales office of Sherwood Forest was a tree stump surrounded by five or six salesmen dressed in tunics. Nearby was a plastic campfire that held a plastic pig on a spit and beyond thatl were 800 plastic houses.
“Welcome to Sherwood Forest,” said a salesman schlepping along in a brown frock, a rope, and a pair of sandals. “I'm Friar Tuck and if you have any questions, feel free to ask them.”
“If this is Sherwood Forest,” I asked, “where are the trees?”
“You're standing over it,” he said, staring at my knees.
My husband picked up the price list.
“You'll find that it is in keeping with the Robin Hood philosophy,” he smiled.
We bolted toward the car, pursued by six Merry Men.
The adventure of moving to the suburbs had nearly worn off when we stumbled into Suburbian Gems.
“How much are the houses?” asked my husband.
“We have one standard price in Suburbian Gems,” said the salesman. “$15,000.”
We couldn't believe it. “Could we see the tracts?” we asked. He pulled down a giant map behind him solid with blocks representing houses. “I'm afraid we're pretty well sold out,” he said. “The Diamond section went before we even advertised. Jade went fast. So did Ruby. And Pearl. I see even Zircon is blocked off.”
“What's left?” we asked.
“Frankly Fake,” he said. “Climb in the car and I'll drive you over to the sites so you can get the feel of the development.”
When we pulled up in front of the house, I couldn't believe it. I got out of the car and ran through the two-story iron gates, up the half mile of driveway to the veranda porch, touched the massive white pillars and ran my fingers over the large carved door. “It's Tara!” I said, my eyes misting, “I've come home to Tara.”
“You understand, this is only the model home,” said the salesman.
I buried my face in the wisteria that crept along the windows. “We understand. Could we see the rest of it?”
The double doors opened and our voices echoed our ploiisurn in the house, from the huge foyer to tho curved stairway leading to the second floor.
Then, inside the living room, I saw it—the fireplace. A warmth came over me. I could see my husband standing against it in a sports coat with leather patches on the elbows holding a brandy and a copy of Emerson's essays.
I visualized me hanging a della Robbia wreath over it at Christmas and laughing children basking in its reflection after a snow. “We'll take it,” I said suddenly.
As my husband lifted his hand to touch my face in a gesture of love, he was amazed to find a pen in it.
“If you will just sign the purchase agreement,” said the salesman, “we can get on with the details of your new home in Frankly Fake.”
I squeezed my husband's arm as he signed the agreement.
“We've never had a fireplace before.”
“Oh, then you want the model with the fireplace?” asked the salesman.
“Well, now, is there anything else about the Wil-liamsburg model that you like?”
“We like everything,” I said.
“Oh, then you want the second floor, the extra baths, the tiled foyer, the stairway, the veranda porch, the larger lot... ?”
“Are you saying all those things are extra?”
“The Williamsburg is our best home,” he said stiffly. “Our basic $15,000 is much the same only on a smaller scale.”
“How small?” asked my husband.
“Let's see,” he said, checking his price list. “The Pee Wee has three bedrooms and a one-car garage, spouting to protect your porch from the sun, full landscaping, and 850 luxurious square feet.”
“Does it have a family room?”
“Two of them—both in white fixtures.”
“But the Pee Wee does have the pillars and the porch ...” I asked anxiously.
“I told you, it has everything except a second story, stairway, entranceway, and extra lot. Now, that covers about everything except what you want to do about the garage.” . “What about the garage?” asked my husband.
“Do you plan on putting your car in it?”
“It crossed our minds.”
“I see. I only mention it because a lot of people like to have a driveway leading to it. You don't have to, you understand, but it does get a little muddy and it's worth the extra cost to some people to have it filled in.”
“But everything else is included in the original price?” asked my husband.
“Absolutely. All you have to do is make some decisions regarding the quality of materials. For example, all wiring is borderline standard unless you want to pay extra and have it pass inspection. (We nodded.) I think that's wise. Now, about your tub. Do you want it hooked up under your shower?”
We nodded numbly.
“I assumed you did because you already said you wanted to put a car in your garage and that's where we usually store the tub until the owner tells us otherwise. Speaking of storage, you are aware that without the second story, there is a crawl space over your entire house for storage?”
We smiled happily.
' 'Do you have some way of getting up there or do you want us to install a pull-down stairway as an extra? Let's see— apart from the paint, floor covering, spouting, storm windows, kitchen hardware, countertops, lighting fixtures, and keys, which are all extra, I think that does it."
His fingers fairly raced across the keys of the tabulator as the extras mounted. Finally, he smiled and said, “The final tab is $29,500. Welcome to Frankly Fake!”
As my husband handed back the pen, he smiled, waved it aside, and said, “Keep it. As a token of our mutual faith in one another.”
Out of the corner of my eye, 1 saw him add, “Pen @ 59 cents” bringing the total to $29,500.59.
Lot No. 15436 . . . Where Are You?
We must have driven two and a half hours before we found our house.
“Are you sure this is it?” asked my husband.
“I'm sure,” I said tiredly. “This is the eighth house from the corner and the builder always staggers his styles so they won't all look alike. I counted them. There were the Williamsburg, the Richmond, the Shenandoah, and the Pee Wee, a Williamsburg, a Richmond, a Shenandoah, and this is our Pee Wee.”
“I thought it was supposed to look like Mt. Vernon,” whined our daughter, “with the big pillars.”
“But it does have pillars,” I said, pointing toward the four supports that looked like filter-tip cigarettes.
“Will they grow?” asked our son.
“Children, please!” said my husband. Then, turning to me he asked, “Happy?”
I looked at the packing boxes stacked at the curb, the mail box on the ground, chunks of plaster embedded in the mud, windows dusty and spackled with paint and said, “I wish I could tell you—in front of the children.”
“Well, let's go in and get settled,” he said, “And take your muddy boots on the porch inside.”
“What muddy boots?” I said. “Aren't they yours?”
“They're mine,” said a woman coming out of one of the bedrooms.
“Who are you?” asked my husband.
“I live here,” she said.
“Isn't this 5425 Ho Hum Lane?” he asked.
“Yes, but it's 5425 Ho Hum Lane Northeast. It used to be 18 Bluebird of Happiness Drive, but then the other street came through and changed it. When we bought it, it was 157 Squirrel Road, but Ho Hum Lane is on a circle and the even numbers change to the odd numbers at the house where the door is on backwards. You know the one?”
“Right. That's two down from the chuckhole in the road where your car falls through.”
“That's the one. Besides, 5425 isn't going to be your permanent number. That's a lot number and will change when the post office assigns you your new one.”
“Oh? Where's the post office? We haven't been able to find it.”
“No one is quite sure yet. You notice how everything blends with the surroundings out here?”
“I've noticed. We went to a furniture store today and there was a bread card in the window. We almost passed it by.”
“I know,” she said. “The gas station on the corner blends in so well, I feel guilty if I pull in after dinner when he's cutting the grass. It was the council who decided they didn't want commercial businesses to look like commercial businesses. We had enough of that in the city. They wanted them to have that residential feeling.”
“That makes a lot of sense,” I said.
“I suppose so,” she said, “but the other night it was embarrassing. My husband and I went out to dinner and there was a huge line so Russell (my husband) slipped the maitre d' $2 and said, ”I think if you'll check your reservations, you'll find we're next. You came personally recommended."
“By whom?” asked the man in the black suit. “This is a funeral home.”
As we continued the search for our new home, I expressed some concern that every time we left the house we'd have to leave a kid on the front porch for a landmark.
“Things will be different,” said my husband, “when the builder puts in the shrubbery.”
“How much landscaping comes with the house?” I asked.
He tilted his head and recited from memory, “Let's see, we're down for five maples, eight taxus, six evergreens, two ash, four locust, 109 living rose hedge plants, two flowering mother-in-law tongues, and a grove of fifteen assorted, colorful fruit trees.”
“Hey, I think this is it,” I said, as he pulled into a driveway. “We are officially home!”
We turned the key in the door. My husband and I raced through the house to the backyard to get a glimpse of the flatbed truck and the lift that would turn our barren patch of mud into a jungle. The yard was empty.
“Where's the shrubbery?” asked my husband.
One of the children called from the house, “Mommy! Daddy! The shrubbery is here!”
“Where?” asked my husband.
“On the dining room table with the mail.” We stood around the table. No one spoke as we viewed the envelope holding five maples, eight taxus, six evergreens, two ash, four locust, 109 living rose hedge plants, two flowering mother-in-law tongues, and a grove of fifteen assorted, colorful fruit trees.