Monday, December 9, 2019

From the Top of the Hill # 30: May 13, 1948

Here's the next installment of John D MacDonald's weekly newspaper column, from the early years of his writing career.

War Surplus:

Two years ago the tub was being thumped to call attention to all of the vast wonderful stocks of super-thermal gimmicks and double-reversing whatchits being offered to the public out of the collapsing grab-bag of our military might.

But the stuff wasn't all dragged out of the warehouses in time to meet the peak of interest -- and thus, right now, weird and wonderful items are being offered for sale without much attention being attracted. Check with your New York paper, last or next Sunday's edition.

Did you know that you can buy:

One ten-man balsa wood raft for only $12.95, a 1000 gallon portable fuel-oil tank for $24.50, one brand-new parachute for only $5.40, two used field desks, with filing cabinets for $11.00?

Or, if you have a terrific desire for one M-3 Medium Tank, with riveted hull and turret, you ought to be able to swing a deal for less than a hundred dollars. This, for a village, makes a most inexpensive and yet durable type of war memorial. Beyond chalking couplets on the outside of it, vandals are relatively powerless.

In fact, some small villages have been bright enough to run a campaign, buy a surplus tank as a visual memorial, and use the surplus to either endow a memorial scholarship for bright youngsters, or buy books for the local library.

Such goings-on are generally considered a bit more creative than an ungovernable yen for statuary.

And there is a venerable precedent. In Jackson Square in New Orleans there is a Civil War Memorial in the form of a Confederate submarine. Yes, we said submarine.

The corroded steel hull, shaped like a fat cigar, is probably twenty feet long. It was propelled by two men pedaling madly, as on a bicycle. This mutual effort turned a stern screw. The fellow in charge steered and, when they muzzled up to a warship below the water line, he manipulated levers which detached explosives fastened to the bow and transferred them to the hull of the warship.

In its day, that little tin cigar was considered a horrible weapon of war, deadly and not quite cricket.

The measure of its success is that it had to be dredged up off the bottom to be put in the park.

Now it is a pathetic and quaint little toy, seeming, like a sea shell, to echo faintly with the shrill yip of the rebel which was heard from Manassas to Gettysburg.

Beyond a doubt those tanks placed on village greens across this country will one day be looked at in the same way that we look at the Confederate submarine. As plaintive and fragile relics of a disastrous war fought in the almost forgotten past, when the technology of warfare was in its infancy.

* * *


Here is a subject that needs airing. Adequately aired, it may mean death to a large segment of American industry.

How many millions of dollars worth of lawn mowers are sold each year? And grass seed, and weed killer and strange tools for trimming borders and such?

And for what? After all the purchases are made, and all the energy is expended, the net result is a smooth green expanse of little grass blades. Somehow we have all been deluded into thinking that grass is the only thing to have around a house. Grass is a frail and stubborn organism. An incredible amount of effort is expended to get it to grow, and then to crop it off to the required shortness. Industry could certainly devise a plastic substitute. Once installed, there would be no seeding, rolling, clipping, cutting and cursing.

Evidently the manufactures of gimmicks for the lawn subsidise the magazines which show pictures of impossibly beautiful lawns. They keep the myth going. After a full season of enormous labor, all the homeowner has to show for his efforts is an expanse of snow and the prospect of starting all over again in the Spring.

The ultimate insanity is encouraging the grass to grow, and then cutting it down before it can grow tall enough to seed itself.

It's time for revolt. All that is necessary is to have brave men in the community allow their lawns to grow into the lush, untamed beauty of a vacant lot. Pleasant little flagstone paths can wander through the tall grasses.

Once the movement is started, those who follow the leaders will see the natural beauty of wild lawns, and soon the lawn mower manufactures will feel the crimp in sales and realize at last that this incredible conspiracy they have nurtured throughout the years is at an end. They can turn to the manufacture of something practical.

Like hedge clippers.

* * *

See you next week.

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