I knew I’d moved out of my youngest nephew’s Everything Is Fun era when he looked up at me and said, dead-seriously, “Aunt Beth, stop dancing.”
And I knew I’d moved out of Acceptable Company Range when I used the phrase “Touch grass” in his hearing and he looked down at me and said, dead-seriously, “Aunt Beth, you can’t say that.”
I can’t say that, apparently, because I am too old, and to appropriate the language of the adolescent languid is to be frontin’. But the sobering moment forced me into a moment of literalism in which I evaluated the last time I truly did touch grass.
It was within the last week, I am pleased to report. I was in the park (taking a shortcut on the paved path) walking to my car (that I’d used to reach a location .7 miles from my home) in order to retrieve my lipstick (that I’d brought with me but dropped to look good on the selfie video.) Maybe I’m not so hopelessly Not-Gen Z after all.
So I touched the grass, and wound up pitching the lipstick because it also had touched grass, and mourned the $1.99 I’d have to pay Wet ‘n’ Wild for the replacement (see, I really haven’t moved past the age of 12.)
I never considered contact with grass as a major life accomplishment to schedule, since I enjoy hiking and do my best to regularly walk outside as long as the air doesn’t hurt my face… but the paths are too often slathered with concrete or are well-marked treks over carefully maintained and authorized trails. The only time I touch grass in these wilderness flings is when I have to go to the bathroom– I have peed in the wilds of just about every major National Park– and to retrieve grocery store cosmetics.
I was closer to grass when working in the middle of the city, while conducting tours of Great American Ball Park, when the greenery was a topic of heavy discussion: How it grows, where it grows, why it shouldn’t be touched, when it goes under the growth blanket, how quickly security will arrive should anyone attempt to step upon it.
This grass really was God’s art– perfectly green, evenly bladed, mowed to perfection. There were no thick, unsightly blades of the Bermuda grass that formed the yards and soccer fields of my youth. This grass ate solely from the salad bar at Whole Foods. It was a wonder. We were finally exposed to grass, and then we were threatened with death by firing squad if we even looked directly at it for too long.
What always struck me in these moments was how much more awed adults were in these moments, despite the children’s presumed lack of contact with any form of photosynthesis outside the realm of their Uncle Taco’s grow lights. The parents understood what a turn of opinion the grass field represented, how we grew up simply accepting that synthetic turf was The Thing of the Future and for decades mockingly wondered how baseball put up with high-maintenance turf for so long.
That hot take eventually turned ice-cold, of course, and while I was regaling a Reds co-worker once with tales of my mother taking a teacher’s workshop tour of Riverfront Stadium after the foundation was laid, he stopped me with, “Hey, the Astroturf served its purpose.”
“But it was so hot in the summers, and the injuries!” I said, having listened to my fair share of Boomer laments on the subject. “It was literally a 1/8 inch carpet laid on top of blacktop! That affects everything!”
“Yes,” he said, “and sometimes for the better. Do you think Tony Perez’s reputation would have been as stellar if he didn’t have that hard surface to his advantage?”
And he was playing almost exclusively in carpeted parks, come to think of it. Our Doggie would have shone even in a meadow of a football field, but the boost from the faux terrain can’t have hurt.
That being said, we all know what came of our rush to embrace the new and shiny just because it was new and shiny and deceptively more simple, less expensive. But that alone isn’t what should have stopped us from flinging off the pasturage and laying down the plastic.
We should have questioned what happens to us when we get off the grass. Baseball, after all, belongs with the living.