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Hope You Enjoy the Grass. I Paid for It.

By Beth L. Pinsker

THEY WERE BUILDING tents, setting up chairs, polishing medals, planning special meals, looking for corporate sponsors, unfurling banners, rationing out hotel rooms, rounding up the international press corps for briefings and, most of all, selling a hell of a lot of official merchandise.

Preparations for Barcelona? The Republican National Convention in Houston? The next Murphy Brown episode?

No, these were all just part of the endless arrangements for this year's Commencement. The same one that just got so boring you picked up The Crimson.

Anyway, all the fuss could make a mere junior like myself jealous. Or even sick. In fact, all the fuss took my breath away--literally. I think I am the first casualty of Commencement 1992.

WHEN I WAS a first-year living in the Yard, my only complaint about Commencement was the Facilities Maintenance crew, which woke me at ungodly hours each morning by banging stakes into the ground and snapping open thousands of chairs. The same uncomfortable ones you're sitting in now, trying desperately to look interested in the prime minister of Norway.

This year, though, it was the grass that got to me. Usually, the minute green breaks through winter's bleakness, I run for the nearest air-conditioned building and stay there until hayfever season is over.

But I didn't have much choice about it this year. I woke up one morning to finish my junior essay and, as I leaned over to turn on my computer, I noticed a truck in the middle of the Quad. When I put on my glasses, I saw that it wasn't a truck. It was a tank. Seriously.

Now the "Quad Howl" (the suburban version of the River Houses' pre-exam primal scream) can sometimes get out of hand (bandies overtook the roof of Cabot House this year), but I figured this tank wasn't from the National Guard. No, its real purpose was more pressing. The tank was circling unceasingly and shooting grass seed from a huge cannon about 40 feet in the air.

I made the mistake of digging into Jonathan Swift's political satire without realizing that my window was open. By the time I closed the book and peeked in the mirror, my face sort of resembled the Pillsbury Dough Girl's. With bad acne.

I started popping Seldane like candy.

I went to University "Health" Services, and as I inhaled gobs of steroids, I tried to start a grassroots movement among other sneezers, wheezers and snifflers. Together, I tried to tell them, we could turn the tide, out law the blue-green mush they used to spread the grass seed. It was hard to relay my message across a barrier of tissues and mucous. My nurse said something about a lost cause, but it was all a drugged haze.

So like any aggressive pre-professional Harvard student, I went straight to the top. I called the director of facilities Maintenance.

"Hi," I began breathlessly. "I'm allergic to the stuff you spray on the grass."


"You sprayed grass seed on the Quad yesterday, and now I'm sick. I want to know if you are going to spray any more this year." I added a couple of anguished, phlegm-filled hacks for emphasis.

"ARE YOU SURE it's the grass?" some executive deputy assistant associate director's secretary asked me. "Everyone's having allergy trouble these days."

"Well, I don't usually hyperventilate over Gulliver's Travels."

The assistant turned out to be very sympathetic. She promised that the tank commander would notify me before the grounds crews came to cut or spray the grass, or even if the wind changed direction.

I KNOW HARVARD is big on tradition, and there is no more traditional time than Comencement. A nice, lush lawn for the robed seniors to trek across is probably as symbolically important as the butter pats on the Union ceiling. And anyway, the University would turn the grass iridescent yellow if it thought that would mean more alumni and parent donations.

But can't the administration do something about the toxic goo all over the place? Some traditions, after all, have got to end. I'm sure they'll clear off the butter pats when they turn the Union into an office building.

I'm not trying to downplay the importance of good grass. What would a Yard be without it? And green grass means healthy things growing, right? Warm weather, flowers, baseball, the Olympics, graduation.

But these days, the most unmistakable sign of summer is the sticky residue on every bald patch of open land in the greater Harvard area. Sure, the grass looks great now. But a month ago, any part of the Yard not under a building was drenched in blue-green chemicals. Harvard was like a gigantic poster child for the Rio conference.

In the old days, I'll bet the grass grew on its own. The Yardlings were all stately white guys who didn't play ultimate frisbee or football on the lawn. A bunch of Cliffies didn't dig up the middle of the Quad for a bonfire. And hundreds of tourists from Dubuque didn't kick up the sod chasing squirrels with bits of Au Bon Pain corn muffins.

And of course, if there weren't any grass today, you'd all be sinking into the mud right now. But don't worry--even if it's raining, this newly replaced, chemically enhanced Grass Product won't go anywhere. Until about 2092, when it finally decomposes.

THERE IS ONE solution, I have discovered, to Harvard's environmentally unfriendly tradition-saving technique. Just pave over Tercentenary Theatre and put in astroturf.

It might buck our pastoral tradition, but it would be a lot healthier. Besides, astroturf is easier to care for, doesn't involve any mud or pollen and looks great.

Otherwise, I'll look pretty silly at my own Commencement next year. In addition to my sign saying "HIRE ME," I'll be the one with the oxygen mask.

Beth L. Pinsker '93 is editorial chair of The Crimson, She's currently buried under a mass of tissue and drugs somewhere in Pennsylvania.

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