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From Moscow to Montclair to Lawn Maintenance

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I write a local humor column for New Jersey's Montclair Times, my ancestry is one-quarter Russian, and I know something about Red Square (the name of my favorite Lego piece). So naturally I must comment on whether I had any suspicions that two alleged Russian spies were living in Montclair.

Looking back, there were clues I didn't take seriously enough. My daughter had a friend on Marquette Road -- a few houses down from where the alleged spies lived. While picking up my daughter one day, I noticed a guy mowing his lawn. When the cut grass spewed out of his mower, it had turned from green to pink and settled on the ground in an "o" shape. At the time, I figured this "Pinko" thing only referred to a previously unknown brother of Groucho and Harpo, but now I know better.

Still, Russia has basically been a capitalist country for a while, so it's understandable that my antennae weren't up. The next time I visited that suburban street, the woman at the "pinko" property was using a leaf blower. I was tapping away at my laptop as I waited for my daughter to exit her friend's house, and a blast from the woman's leaf blower blew six letters off the keyboard. As I stooped to pick up those letters, I noticed they spelled out "R-U-S-S-I-A." That should have aroused my suspicions, but I mostly puzzled over how a second "S" had come off a keyboard with just one "S." Was it an extra "S" for "savings"?

Lawn mower, leaf blower ... this couple certainly had the quintessential suburban implements. So when I visited Marquette Road a third time, I wasn't surprised to see that the alleged spies had turned on a sprinkler to water their grass. But what was coming out of the sprinkler? As I walked to the property to take a closer look, that water sure looked kind of thick. I tentatively stuck a finger into the spray, and realized it was ... Russian dressing! But even then I didn't put two and two together. Perhaps the couple were going to barbecue some burgers, and wanted an easy way to drizzle dressing onto their side salads.

The fourth time I drove to Marquette Road, the alleged spies were trimming their shrubbery into unusual shapes. I couldn't quite figure out what those shapes were at the time, but when I think back I realize they included a vodka bottle, St. Basil's Cathedral, and Vladimir Putin.

So there you have it. Russian spies? Or a couple that revolutionized yardwork?

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