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The Besotted Speak of Sod at the White Horse Tavern 

Wednesday, Feb 1 2012

Did you know that the majority of the world's sod comes from grass fields in Oregon? This blew my mind when I found out — or perhaps my fascination with ground cover indicates I have developed Asperger's Syndrome. But think about it: Anywhere in the world that a sport is played on grass, or someone has built a new home and installed a lawn, or some avant-garde designer has decided to make a ball gown out of a graminoid, they most likely have Oregon to thank. I was driving past these grass farms last year and marveling at the empire that sod built. While other moguls were plotting to overtake the cut-flower market, some smartypants realized that grass was far more ubiquitous and profitable. What could he do but laugh maniacally and rub his garden-gloved hands together with glee?

So imagine my delight when the conversation turned to grass versus Astroturf during a recent visit to the White Horse Tavern. It had heretofore been very difficult to steer conversations with strangers to lawn husbandry, but on this evening the subject came up without any prodding on my part. It was during the last, fateful 49ers game, third quarter. Optimism still ran high, and folks were on their seventh and eighth pints. It was a good time to be a San Franciscan.

"There's a movement to get back to sod," said Big Joe, the guy at the end of the bar. "That Astroturf will tear a body up." I had never thought about that. For me, the difference between real and fake grass was one of aesthetics. There is a "lawn" in the Sunset that seems quite lovely, but upon closer inspection is a carpet of faux blades. It looks hella real; you have to get right down there and pull and sniff at it to see that it is not the genuine article. (Do not do this in broad daylight, as the owner does not appreciate it.) I hate fake flowers, and fake fruit, but somehow, having a fake lawn ... well, it intrigues me. The only thing I wonder about is dog poop. Would it just sit there forever and ossify? Stuff like that would keep me up at night. How would fake grass feel when your body is rammed into it and dragged downfield? Probably not too good.

Here I am carrying on about landscaping and I haven't even described the White Horse. The place is amazing. It's like passing through a wormhole into Robin Hood's living room. The walls are stucco white with dark brown beams, Tudor-style. The front room is small and cozy, and the back area is a long room with tables that can be pushed together to make one big dining area. You can almost smell the roast stag and guinea hen pie — really, the free hot dogs and popcorn the bar serves at happy hour.

When I first walked in, I was hit with a blast from the generous heating system and a salutation from the bartender, a woman with two long braids in her hair that lent her a sort of "Helga, Bar Wench of the Moors" air. Even though it was the 49ers' last game, there were only a handful of people in the place. I got a seat at the bar easily. The stools at the White Horse are incredibly comfortable.

I watched the game, having no idea what was happening at any given time, since football baffles me. I do much better with low-growing herbaceous plants, so when Big Joe started his Astroturf discussion, a wave of relief passed over me. There were about three of us who carried the conversation, which went from the perils of fake sod to the cushy stuff that they put down in playgrounds now: It's like walking on the moon.

Suddenly I had a vision: in 25 years, we will rue the day we developed fake grass. There will be a movement to return to the real thing (only then it will be too late, as the sun will have been blotted out, as any future visions I have are always apocalyptic). Astroturf may not need water, but it has a limited life span. It is also made from petroleum, and it is a bitch to clean. All in all it is a big, overhyped, bacteria-befouled, fake pain in the ass, sort of like the Kardashians. Only the Kardashians are quicker to lay down (badum-bum!).

I was about to share my musings with my new club when the subject suddenly changed to the game itself. For a second I considered returning to a deeper discussion of lawns, but a little voice inside my head said "No. You are a supreme dork. Read more about grass in the pleasure of your own home." Sometimes my brain is my best friend. It watches out for me.

The game started to really pick up, and I knew that was my cue to scram. "Who are you rooting for?" asked some guy as I pulled on my coat. I told him I didn't really care, although it would be nice if the 49ers won, so that my BART ride home would be more pleasurable. Actually, it is hard to say which would be worse on public transit, a win or a loss. Either way you have drunk, emotional idiots. "I have to skedaddle before this baby ends," I announced, tipping my invisible hat and giving the guy with the hot dog my seat.

"Have a great night!" said my grass buddies. I thought of saying something like, "I hate to leaf!" but my brain, which is my friend, put the kibosh on that. Thank you, brain.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair

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