Dear Phoenix: Not all grass comes in baggies

Smells speak stories.

Stand in the middle of my small studio, shut your eyes, better yet blindfold them, open wide your olfactory sense. What story are the smells speaking?

You’ll likely notice in order:

Pollution. Very dirty air. Among the worst in America, in fact.


I live in the thick of metro Phoenix (Arizona). A massive sprawl of 5+ million residents officially; many many many more if one could count the uncountable illegals.

Amping up the prevailing odor of dirtied air is location. I live a stone’s throw from an interstate — one of Phoenix’s busiest — as well as alongside two major surface streets.

So you see, location plunges me into a Sea of Stink.

Carry on with your blindfolded smells tests.



Some 200+ apartments comprise this huge complex. Smoking’s not allowed in apartments. So smokers puff away on their patios, in entrances and stairwells and scattered outdoor spaces.

If you crave an occasional fag but want to avoid insane prices for a pack, step outside. Soon enough you’ll inhale all the secondhand smoke you desire.


Big check.

Not gonna sugarcoat it. This neighborhood and complex are a bit ghetto. Not that I fear a bullet in my back exactly.

But there’s a definite edginess. Sketchy characters. Police cars in the parking lots aren’t uncommon. Once I gently approached to thank them for their service. Surely this location helps fund their paychecks.

Dope smells are routine, especially at night, after management’s left. Arizona’s not yet a legalized-dope state but is well on its way due to the MASSIVE unrelenting influx of Californians. (Bye-bye Arizona, so sad.)

So if you wanna toke for free, step outside or open your patio door and inhale. See, young people comprise the majority of residents. There’s a smattering of us senior citizens who to passing observation seem harmless enough. No knowing what pasts they embody.

So yeah, drugs get dealt, drugs get toked in this hood. Just keep it away from me and my spaces and we’re good.

Then …. then …

I was stopped in my tracks by a new story … brought on the wind when I opened the patio door this morning.

A fragrance assaulted my nostrils — one, sadly, rendered unfamiliar, foreign even, in this ocean of concrete and cars.

The smell of freshly-cut grass.


A classic. Evocative. Earthy. Soothing.

Gotta be in the Top 5 of beloved scents. Who doesn’t recognize it? Isn’t moved by it? Who doesn’t have a story, a childhood memory, experience, fondness for that whiff of green blades?

And, personally, a longing for the smell.

It reminded me of life beyond these thick walls of concrete and gridlock that’s swallowed vast flat stretches of desert. And that monster of “growth and development” ain’t sated. Not even close.

So from my 3rd-floor perch, I inhaled appreciatively and scanned the scene for the source of this divine long-forgotten smell.

I could HEAR the roar of a lawnmower sure enough.

Pause to give due credit to management for maintaining the grounds, especially around the leasing office. The Mexican workers do a nice job, especially in that brutal long summer heat. Kudos.

Eventually my eyes spotted the mower — just as he popped out from behind a tree. He gave a final push to the machine across that patch of grass, then pulled the plug.

All too quickly he left, taking with him that glorious scent.

Gone too soon, dissipated into the air, replaced by the toxic stench of vehicular exhaust.

With the green grass smell gone and no cause to remain outdoors absorbing thunderous traffic and poisoned air, I reluctantly retreated into my studio. Pulled tight the patio door to dampen, marginally, the traffic’s roar — another story of another sense, the auditory.

I was thus again right back in big ugly noisy concretized Phoenix.

Yet there was that marvelous moment of mowed grass. Yes there was.

Indeed it evaporated much too quickly.

Yet traces remain: not in fragrance but as a reminder of life-changing decisions awaiting in 2020. Determining my next location in assuredly a cross-country move. Ugh.

Far far far from Phoenix. (ed. note: armpit of the Southwest)

Someplace where the grass is greener.

And plentiful.