Nurturing a love-hate relationship with an underdog of a weed

Picture this: You're crossing the street downtown in a big city like New York or Chicago. As you approach the curb, you glance down and see, amid the cigarette butts and beer-bottle caps, a single, spindly weed growing in a tiny crack between the hard, weather-beaten curb and the grimy, sticky asphalt.

The crack is maybe a millimeter wide, yet this weed has the audacity and tenacity to boldly poke itself up into the blustering, windy city, only one misplaced footstep or bad parking attempt away from destruction. Even putrid runoff from dogs relieving themselves at the nearby hydrant and toxic car and bus exhaust fumes can't keep this weed down.

This sucker is more than just a weed; it's a survivor, an underdog, and that's why you have to like it.

Now I live in suburbia, where the landscape consists of widely spaced houses separated by lawns that would love nothing more than to be like the manicured fairways of the world's greatest golf courses. The fact that many are not is only because of the immense expenditure of time (endless mowing, weeding, feeding, and watering) and money (mowers, fertilizers, pesticides, automated sprinklers) that it costs to have such a lawn.

I don't really care that much about landscaping, and I'm not very good at it, but I'm so trained that carpet-like grass and bountiful shrubs are the things to have that often I'll be walking along somewhere and have to stop myself from bending down to pick up a stray stick or pull out a choking vine. Living in landscape-obsessed suburbia does that to you.

That's why you have to love that single, solitary, growing-in-a-tiny-crack weed. It doesn't care about pristine suburbia or lush golf courses. It just is.

When there's a sport I don't know much about, I'll always find out which is the worst team and root for them. It's fun to root for the underdog.

No one wants to lose, so you know the underdogs are going to try hard, plus they may not even be that bad; sometimes, the ball just doesn't bounce your way. There is even camaraderie in rooting for a bad team.

The fans in New Orleans spent many years sitting next to each other in the Superdome with paper bags over their heads. You may not know the person sitting next to you, but, when you're both wearing paper bags with eye, nose, and mouth cutouts, there's a bond there for sure.

It's fun to root for an underdog. With no expectations, there's no place to go but up. Yes, it may take a long time to get there — look at the Red Sox — but, when you do, it's phenomenal. I just hope my favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings, can win before I get too old and senile to actually enjoy it. Come on, guys, I'm not getting any younger here.

Let's get back to the dichotomy of that pesky weed. On the one hand, it's a true underdog, living in such a volatile environment, so you have to love it; yet, on the other hand, it's a weed, something random and not at all attractive or wanted, so (especially if you live in suburbia like me) you have to hate it.

This is rather painful, when you think about it, and I have thought about it quite a bit. It's a classic example of cognitive dissonance — a psychological conflict resulting from incompatible beliefs held simultaneously.

Is it any wonder I don't have a good time at parties? I'm sitting there feigning interest in small talk while mentally contemplating how weeds can thrive in cracks in city sidewalks. Yes, I really do this. Ah, the conundrum of the thinking man.

I've purchased plenty of supposedly squirrel-proof birdfeeders over the years. All of these have some special feature or design that theoretically should prevent squirrels from getting to the birdseed.

Too bad nobody contacted the squirrels first, because, for every one of these I've put up, the squirrels have had zero problems getting seed from it. They do it so cleverly it's hard not to root for them as well.

Talk about underdogs — these fancy feeders are designed specifically to thwart pests, and the pests just find a way to gorge themselves anyway. The crafty squirrels are truly amazing at it; I've seen them eat heartily while hanging upside down, using their little fingers to paw at the seed, while the chipmunks scoop up the spills. If these little *)%!@s didn't make holes all over the lawn and scare the beautiful birds away, you'd have to admire them.

There's one other thing that reminds me of hearty weeds and persistent pests — things you love and hate at the same time — and that's mob movies and TV shows. As an Italian-American, I am saddened that this genre reinforces the stereotype of Italians as mobsters.

There are some people I'm sure who don't know how warm, loving, funny, and family-oriented Italian people are. When they see these productions, they are sure to get the wrong idea about Italian people.

Yet I can't deny that these movies and TV shows make for compelling entertainment; there's not one bad scene in any of the Godfather movies, and many say The Sopranos is the best TV show of all time.

Instead of pulling that weed from the crack in the curb, I admire it; instead of scaring off the squirrel at the bird feeder, I'm amazed by it; instead of scorning the despicable characters mob shows celebrate, I'm endlessly fascinated by them.

It's this conflicting set of emotions that make many aspects of life so wonderful and frustrating at the same time. Oh well, guess it's time to go down to Robinson's Hardware and try to find a better squirrel-proof birdfeeder.

Navigation