Monday, December 18, 2017

1400 Christmas trees on the wall, 1400 trees...

My work at a garden center this fall ended with the usual end-of-year ritual of this business: the purveying of the holiday greens and Christmas trees.

In my blue-collar childhood, the erection of the Christmas tree was a delirium-inducing affair that heralded a season of anticipation and wonder, of huge snowfalls and piles of gifts covering the apartment's living-room floor. (My father used to work a side job for the now-defunct Parker Brothers toy company, so we were never at a loss for board games. Interestingly, he also worked part-time for a jail situated directly across the road from PB, which may have exacerbated his neuroses. He was not a hardened man, despite his marriage to my mother.)

Because we always had an artificial tree, I, with my child's egotism, assumed this was because artificial trees were superior to their ephemeral natural counterparts, and I pitied my friends who had to settle for fragrant, feathery boughs and disappointingly non-segmented trunks.

The first best part of the tree ritual was my mother telling my father it was time. This was said in a casual way, suggestive of a choice in the matter, but the sudden silence, the angry terror on my father's face revealed the truth: he was that tree's bitch, and we all knew it.

The tree resided in the cellar in a huge cardboard box that got more battered each year. It was comprised of a three-part central pole that screwed together and contained color-coded holes that matched -- once upon a time -- the paint on the wire ends of the tree "branches." These were heavy, twisted wire covered in some form of plastic blue-green bristles that endeavored to look coniferous. The overall effect was of an overly large broom handle sprouting green toilet brushes.

Over the years, the paint on the "branch" ends began to wear off, which led to the second part of the tree ritual: the arguing. We kids enjoyed this almost as much as the decorating. My father would try in vain to insert the branches correctly the first time so as to avoid my mother's editorializing, but we all knew this was a futile endeavor, and watched his progress with the combination of pity and glee usually reserved for kids who threw up in school.

After a period of criticizing by my mother, yelling by my father, and taunting laughter from us kids, my father had to string the lights. This was the '70s, so a broken strand would be fixed by unscrewing the large, offending bulb and replacing it. It was our job to find the bulb, which we did with gusto. After this, we all decorated the tree, a process that restored harmony as we happily dug out our favorite pieces and hung them, transforming a hideous monstrosity into something beautiful and bright.

If our family Christmas-tree ritual smacked of Tennessee Williams, the tree drama that played out in the garden center was a mix of Shakespearean melodrama and operatic tragedy.

We started with over 1,400 trees from Quebec province. Purchases began the day after Thanksgiving, with people concerned about the "freshness" of the trees, but demurring at the suggestion of a $3.49 bottle of preservative that would actually keep them fresh, sensing some kind of compensatory scam.

The Frasier Firs went first, because this is a clientele that believes in Better and Worse, and they want Better, always. The center indulges this by selling Frasiers that have been sheared in the last year for a denser, more traditional shape. The hoi polloi settle for balsam firs.

(I'd always gotten my trees from supermarket parking lots, and a pop-up lot manned by a gentle if embittered semi-alcoholic selling trees from a tiny trailer. My criteria had been size --small, please-- and price --also small, please).

Watching people inspect trees with all the intensity of affluent but barren couples in a Chinese orphanage was another new exposure to The Way Rich White People Think.

And then, a week before Christmas, we sold out. We bought several trees from local vendors also down to the dregs, but who kept the few remaining larger ones for their own customers. Stragglers hurried in, desperate and astonished, their faces masks of the dawning hysteria from forays to other tree yards that places were emptying, that they had waited too long. They looked in tattered shock at the few trees we had left.

"Are these all the trees you have?" they'd squeak in Puccinic dismay.

"Uh, yes. How many do you need?"

"Well, one, but.."

"Well, we have more than one."

But they wanted choice. They wanted to believe that the tree they bought was a special tree, a tree for them; picking from a cluster of five trees, albeit perfectly good ones, hinted at remainders, of other people's cast-offs, and that would not do.

When we were down to about four trees, an older man and and his wife arrived; he looked at the small selection in disdain and, shoulders back and three-quarters turned in a way that recalled nothing so much as Macbeth cheating to the audience as he cried Lay on Macduff! he announced to me across the tarmac, "I have been buying trees here for TWENTY-ONE years, and this is the first time I won't be buying my tree here!"

"We do have trees," I said, gesturing, courteous but unmoved by his existential crisis. "We did have over fourteen hundred, but they sold out."

Because people who make this such a fucking life-or-death event have the sense to not wait seven days from Christmas to shop for a tree.

"They aren't large enough!!!"

Ah, yes. The large tree. The one that will rise like Babel's Tower under the cathedral ceiling/in the atrium/next to the fireplace. The one designed to impress. There were at least two trees remaining that could honestly claim six feet, but no. No, they would not do. They lacked presence.

The man had now switched to Dickens as he looked at his poor wife and announced balefully, "I guess we won't have a tree this year!"

From my cashier's window in the unheated shed where I'd spent four hours in thirty-degree weather, I smiled my broadest smile, leaned forward, and said,

"But you have each other."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Is it a musical if it's know... musical?

A family friend supports an amateur theater group in a neighboring town. So far I've been able to rely on "conflicts" to avoid such things as "Nunsense." (My mother: "That Sister Amnesia was SO funny!") I smile, knowing I'd have hated it and its formulaic easy laughs.

Most things that my family finds entertaining I find cringeworthily awful. I'm not trying to be a snob (I went to a sing-along showing of Grease; I can have mindless fun as much as anybody). But they are the kind of people who think Olive Garden is Dining Out, and a weekend in a Connecticut casino is the pinnacle of a vacation experience. It doesn't make me happy that I dislike pretty much everything they enjoy; I feel churlish and unkind (remember Zooey sitting on the bathtub at the beginning of J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey? Yeah; like that. Sometimes I see myself dead in the rain.)

So I decided to Make An Effort, and went with my uncle, mother, sister, and another family friend to this theater to see Jack The Ripper: The Whitechapel Musical.

The title had promise. It could either be incredibly dark or it could be hilarious.

Well, it turns out it wasn't dark, although it tried to be. And it was also hilarious, another result not even on nodding terms with the intent.

An actor gave the Turn Off Your Phones speech in character before the show, and inserted dramatic pauses wide enough to drive a freighter through. When the Turn Off Your Phones speech gets milked, it does not bode well.

My mental notes:

When you are cutting someone's throat, it's done quickly, because in real life people don't hold still while you sllllooooowwwlly drag your Eeeeeeeeviiiiiilll kniiiiffeeeee across their throat for overly dramatic effect.

When a character says things like "I'm so afraid!" or "Who will be next?!?" Don't have them sit casually on the line and sip their drink.

To be fair, this was an odd and difficult choice for amateur theater, primarily because 99% of the show was sung. As in, instead of saying lines, they were sung. Judging from what I saw, whomever wrote the music is overfond of Phillip Glass. Predominately minor notes and forced harmonies to the point I wanted to grab the knife myself and take the easy way out.

There were a couple of genuinely decent songs, but most of them were appallingly trite. I felt bad for the cast, except for when I wanted to beat them into picking up the godforsaken pace.

During intermission, after a first act that contained something like forty tortuous songs, my uncle turned to me and said, "the songs are a little harsh. A little..."

"I think the word you're looking for is 'awful,' I suggested. He smiled and nodded conspiratorially.

It didn't help that we were in the first row (NEVER the first row!) and I would be overcome by fits of laughter when The Ripper made his appearance. I hid behind my program and tried not to shake, lest I destroy any confidence.

My mother loved it.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017


I have always been blessed/cursed with a prodigious sense of smell.

I never realized that I experienced the world in a more olfactory way than most other people; I just thought other people had a greater tolerance for offensive odors than I did.

The first real memory I have of the dawning realization that I might be different was a time about 28 years ago when I was at my grandmother's house with my family.We walked through the front door, and I stopped.

"There's a dead mouse in here," I pronounced, thinking I was merely voicing what, surely, everyone else had also noticed.

My mother turned to me. "A what?"

"A dead mouse."

"Where do you see a dead mouse?"

"Can't you smell it?" I asked, as waves of thick, putrid-sweet decomposing rodent gagged at the back of my throat.

"I don't smell anything," my mother said, with her trademark annoyance.

Thinking my mother was just being her standard contrary self where I was concerned, I asked the rest of the family, "Don't you smell it?"

They looked at me blankly. "No," each one said, although my obvious certainly was starting to unnerve them in a "She sees dead people" way.

I went upstairs to use the bathroom; the air on the second floor was blessedly purer.

I returned to the first floor, and a wave of Dead Thing hit me in the face like a damp rug.


By now they were looking at me in a way that made me think of Ingrid Bergman and faulty lighting.

Ignoring their nervous stares, I dropped to my knees and began sniffing the floor, I kid you not, like an honest-to-God bloodhound. I followed the smell to an upholstered chair with panels hanging from the front. I stood, pulled the chair a few feet, and there was the body of a small mouse, its side bearing a puncture mark. Clearly my grandmother's small dog had bested the poor thing, which had crawled under the chair to die.

"AAAAAH HA!" I exclaimed triumphantly, pointing to the dead mouse.

My family looked at the mouse, then at me, and then, after a bit of silence, my mother said,

"Well, I never smelled it."

I noticed at one office job that I was the only one who smelled my boss's foot odor and bad breath. Others just smelled an office; I smelled a pit of foot sweat and gingivitis and would often breathe through my mouth when meeting with her.

It affected my personal life, too: I'd been married to a man who had bad gums, smoked, and never saw a dentist. That was the least of our problems, but I stopped letting him touch me. No sex without foreplay, no foreplay without kissing, and no kissing when your partner's mouth smells like a dumpster on a warm day.

A former boyfriend likewise was dentist-averse, and would have to brush his teeth before I could kiss him. When we'd first started dating he'd given up cigarettes; I'd explained I wouldn't date a smoker, and that if he voluntarily gave them up, he should harbor no illusions about getting away with sneaking one.

He kissed me one night, and I asked, "Did you have a cigarette?"

He was astonished. "I had one. Yesterday morning."

"Yeah. I can taste it. That's what I meant about being able to tell."

"Wow, I'm impressed."

"You should be. Go brush your teeth."

It makes life harder for me and others, but hygiene is not negotiable. Perhaps the subsequent women in these men's lives couldn't tell anything was amiss; for me it was like visiting a body farm. I imagine they are far happier with women who can't smell the teeming bacteria in their inflamed gums from across the room. Ah, love.

When I moved into my uncle's house, I could tell when I walked in the door that the cat box in the cellar needed changing and the dehumidifier needed emptying.

I could also tell that one of his cats had sprayed in several parts of the house. I soon discovered that the spraying would be resumed, on my belongings.

So while I silently retched at the stench of cat piss, and sniffed all over the house with a rag in one hand and a can of Nature's Miracle on the other, my uncle looked on in astonishment.

"I can't smell anything," he'd say, and I wanted to yell, "HOW does anyone not smell cat piss???!!??"

(Or cat crap outside the box, or the funk of a humid basement, but one battle at a time.)

Like a ghost hunter, I'd tracked down all the haunted spots -  instead of cold spots, they were pockets of smell that I would travel into, stop, back up, and try to pinpoint. I'd gotten all but two, which eluded me.

And today was the victory. Zounds, Jenkins, I cracked The Case of the Ephemeral Stairway Stink and The Mystery of the Living Room Miasma!

Every time I ascended the carpeted stairway, I'd smell cat pee about halfway up. I'd stop, drop, and smell. Nothing. Could not find the source. I sniffed the floors, the walls; nothing.

Today I cracked the case with the help of two of my cats, who pointed me right to the odor.(My cats don't spray. Fact, not delusion.)

At the top of the stairway is a bathroom, which is my uncle's, and one I rarely use. I watched my cats sniff vigorously at the base of the shower curtain. I dropped and smelled. Eureka!

The reason I always smelled it when I was halfway up the stairs is because it was there that my nose was on the same level as the bottom of the shower curtain. Brilliant.

As for the living room, I finally determined that the Piss Ground Zero was tucked behind the cat tree, soaked into a corner of curtain. I took one of the several cans of nature's Miracle strategically placed around the house, and nailed it.

To quote the line from Poltergeist, This house is clean.

For now.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Farm Farewell

Today was my last day at the farm. This is a beautiful property purchased and restored by a woman ("Erica") with a dream.

What the dream is, she hasn't really been able to articulate. 

It's a demonstration farm. Only she doesn't want lots of people on her property.

It's a farm for growing and selling herbs, only she only wants to do wholesale despite issues with the ability to produce on a wholesale level, and her recalcitrance at having the salesperson actually try to drum up sales for fear that things will move too fast, and terrible things like success will happen, possibly leading to people on her farm.

The other offerings are cool workshops on homesteading skills, offered at the farm and designed to bring people to the farm.

You see the mind-fuckery here.

Coming from an extremely wealthy family has allowed her the luxury of hiring people and buying expensive equipment and draft horses and and retaining an expensive architect who specializes in historical restoration.The place is beautiful, has won restoration awards, and hey, if this is what she likes, go her. I liked her, although she can be stubborn and moody in that way that people with a big buffer of cash can indulge in.

The thing is, when you are trying to understand your goals and purpose each day, it can be a bit frustrating. So I would often comfort myself by kissing the horses and wandering the permaculture garden, where I'd eat things off the ground.

It wasn't a terrible job, but after a few months, the sense of not really fitting in was wearing thin. There was a cliquishness between the head gardener "Penny" and one of the other women,"Sally," and while the marketing gal "Karen" was super nice, she had the attention span of a cat in a room with a flock of moths.

Then we had the other part-time help, a young man,"Wilson." right out of college. His major had been music, but apparently his permaculture workshop certificate, accompanied by his ability to make declarative statements and carry a penis, earned him a deference that baffled me.  

I sensed an issue with Penny during my interview, when she told me somewhat defensively that she didn't have a degree but learned all she knew when she lived overseas. I'd come across this before, this fear that my college education was somehow going to cramp their authority. The owner hired me, and I tried to keep a low profile, hoping to learn from Penny, but she barely spoke to me, and I'd arrive to the farm to find her disappeared somewhere in the extensive garden. I mentioned to Sally that I'd been hoping to learn more than I was.

"Oh, Penny really doesn't like to manage or explain. She just prefers to be in the garden."

Except that Penny was the head gardener, and seemed to find the need to give me work just one more chore, which meant I usually had to track her down to ask what she needed me to do. One morning I arrived and couldn't see her, so I started harvesting some pole beans Karen had said we needed for our six farm shares (oh yes; we were also sort-of selling farm shares, in a half-assed what-can-we-find-today way). 

Penny eventually appeared in the distance, saw me, and bitched me out loudly from a knoll for not coming to her first, because she might have something for me to do.

What ran through my head as possible responses:

"If you are so concerned about organization and assigning chores, HEAD GARDENER, you might want to be at the top of the garden WHEN WE ALL ARRIVE AT 9 rather than buggering off a half-acre away in your own world, and I'm not sure how many times I can suggest a daily morning gathering to discuss the strategy for the day, only to have my idea embraced by the others and dismissed by you."

"Why is it I'm the only one who catches shit for doing what everyone else does when they don't want to track you down by the freaking calendula? Why is this tone of voice reserved for me?"

"Fuck you and the Monarda fistulosa you rode in on."

What I actually did was put down my harvest basket and say, "I'm really sorry, Penny; Karen had said we needed this for the CSA today, and since I couldn't find you I wanted to be productive, so I started in on this, but I can certainly do this another time if you have something pressing."

Feel like an overreacting asshole yet?

"Well... no, I don't, but I want you to come to me first."

Then what the fuck?!?!?

"I understand, and really, if you have something you'd rather have me work on, I'm happy to do this later."

Because I'd hate to recklessly focus on the farm shares that are being picked up today when I could be satisfying your need for a good old kowtow, by harvesting herbs for which we have ZERO buyers.

"No, I don't have anything."

Except a giant bug up your ass.

"OK, so I'll do this then, and check in with you when I'm done."

I didn't question the validity of the message; what irked my shit was that she rarely spoke to me, and when she did, it wasn't "Hey, could you make sure to check in with me," it was Full Bore Spank in a tone that she would never, EVER have used on the other workers. I was being treated like some wayward adolescent, and I wondered whether she was projecting some sort of insubordination motivation on me because my education threatened her.

Oh yeah, there was another thought:

Really? For fifteen dollars an hour I have to take this?

So the weeks went by, and the loneliness and irritation grew, and there was only so much bright smiling I could do when I saw people or asked what needed to be done, and I watched Wilson decide he wanted to focus on making tea, and didn't want to do more onerous things, and whined about having to walk across the farm, and he was completely accommodated and not once reined in, and I seethed at the remembrance of the Pole Bean Ass-chewing. And the other women discussed their hobbies and gossiped about mutual acquaintances, and the latest projects their contractor husbands were working on, and I remembered why I hate the North Shore suburbs.

At the beginning of this, my last week, a school bus full of ten-year-olds arrived for a field trip. I was sent to stake some blown-over dahlias in the garden, which I proceeded to do. While I was doing this, Penny came by with part of the group.

"We've planted peach trees and apricot trees and medlars and paw paws," she rattled off, while the kids squinted at her.

They're TEN. They have no idea what medlars are. Or paw paws. tell them what they are and why they were planted. Explain permaculture.

But no. Explaining isn't her thing.

They came down by where I was working. She saw them looking at me.

"JC is staking some dahlias that blew over," she said in passing as they went by.

I stood and smiled. "We like to keep these off the ground because it's important to have good air circulation around them, or they can develop things like fungus, and be susceptible to bugs and disease."

Penny just looked at me and then started a pollinator speech.

"Which are the best pollinators? Bees. Right."

Tell them which bees, and why.


They are standing in front of a bank of lemon balm. Pick some and let them smell it.


Finished with my chore, I headed up and walked into Penny's buddy, Sally, with a group. Everyone was helping, it seemed, except the person who used to organize and lead tours for school kids at an animal shelter. Who would that be? Oh right.

"Hey, guys," I said to the kids, "Make sure you don't touch anything without checking with Sally first, because we have stinging nettles in here and if you touch them they are worse than a bee sting."

"Oh --oh yeah," Sally said absently, walking past me.

You're welcome.

Today there was another tour, and I watched Erica try to gain control of her group as I potted some plants she'd asked me to collect for a float for the fair. I watched as she coaxed out the chickens and then tried in vain to explain about chickens over the din.

When you want kids' attention, never put something more interesting than you in front of them. P.S. live animals are always more interesting.

They moved on, and I continued my work. Wilson was having hand issues, and apologized for not being able to help much. I assured him that his company and conversation was value enough.

Eventually the kids went with their teachers to have lunch, and Erica came over.

"I shouldn't be paid for today," Wilson said to her.

"Why?" she asked.

"His hand is bothering him," I said, working on the plants. "I told him his company was good enough, and he is helping some, that it's not a moral failure--

"CAN I PLEASE TALK TO HIM ALONE?" Erica snapped at me.

I stood there, stunned. Her normal voice is very quiet and I hadn't realized she'd started speaking to him.

Still, and not for the first time at this place, I thought, "Who the FUCK are you to speak to me that way?!?"

Instead, I stared at her for a few seconds, said, "Sure," and went back to my work. I checked the time, debated just walking off the job, but decided to make my money off her before leaving. It was my last day, after all.

I went into the barn, where the draft horses were cross-tied for the kids, calmed myself with some horse-nose smooching and neck scratching, and then went to harvest nettles at Penny's direction.

While harvesting by the fence, Erica came down.

"Is today your last day?

"Yes, it is."

"Oh, well thank you for everything. Those plants look good."

"You're welcome. Do you have enough?"

"I think so."

"OK. Well, I have friends who are interested in the workshops, so I'll likely be back."

Like hell.

"OK, well, I have to go pick some things up and I probably won't be back before you leave, so I wanted to thank you."

"OK, thank you too."

She left.

During the entire conversation I kept working and did not once look at her. The thing is, I'd really liked her, and I thought we got along. But when someone is that rude, it just says that this is the relationship the other person has always assumed; it just never played out until then.

As I left for the day, the young man who books the workshops said, You're in school, right? I never knew what for."

"Environmental Horticulture."

He looked stunned. "I never knew that."

I smiled wryly. "Why would you? After all, we have the benefit of a music major who took a permaculture workshop."

"Wow, I didn't know; that's really cool that your'e studying that."

"I think so. Take care."

Next week I work at a garden center where the people really like me. And for a new landscaper where the crew really likes me.

But no chickens, alas.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Ok, where the fuck was I.


House sat, listening to the horrible sounds of karaoke night coming out of the local dive bar, having my eardrums assaulted by the parade of amplified motorcycle exhausts that made my fillings rattle each time they went by.

Preparing for final semester left of school (OK, technically, two classes left, but thanks to the completely effed-up healthcare situation, I'm taking three to qualify to buy the plan offered through the school, because the past year had been The Age of Decompensation. So a low-deductible plan it is.)

Also, I'm in an easily piss-poor mood. I realize it when it creeps out and gets loud. Someone said our city needed some good sports bars, and before I knew it I was off on a supercharged rant about how there's a fucking bar on every goddamn corner, and for once I'd like to find a place where the vegetarian "option" isn't a portobello mushroom "burger" or a hummus wrap , neither of which is worth leaving the house or tipping anyone for.


 The woman I worked for has a world-class persecution complex, is virulently passive-aggressive, and can dole it out but can't take it, so when, after a few weeks of her abusive behavior and putting me in untenable situations such as overseeing the retired guy who is in landscaping as REHAB FROM A PACEMAKER IMPLANT and who, in addition to missing every third weed and making a huge mess everywhere, has decided that his former life in corporate translates into he doesn't have to take orders from me, I sent her a message basically saying, "hey, you're clearly unhappy, what can I do, because your impatience is difficult to manage," she decided to de-stress by sending me on jobs by myself while she trained other people and then canned my ass out of the blue. My reaction to this was twofold: 1. You card-carrying BITCH for letting me go mid-season, after I'd turned down an opportunity to work with another landscaper because I'd already committed to you, and now have to scramble to find work with no notice or severance, and 2. Hallelujah, I no longer have to put up with the abuse of a woman so in need of therapy I'd happily start a GoFundMe for it as a service to mankind.

My actual response to her was: "Thanks for letting me know. Here are my hours."

Because our work means our paths will cross again, and I'm not going to be the embarrassed one.

So. I ended up working seasonally at a restored farm that, among other things, grows and processes herbs. There's no clear business plan or structure, which drives me nuts, but it's low stress, which is a welcome change. So whenever my highly organized brain encounters seemingly nonsensical processes, I head to the garden and eat some sweet cicely or cherry tomatoes. Also there are chickens, and who hates that?

I'd had tea with the gardener I'd wanted to work for (but couldn't because I didn't want to leave Psycho Woman in the lurch OH THE BITTER IRONY) as a sort of informational interview, and when I lost my job, she, who had a full crew by then (like most everyone else, WHICH IS WHY IT'S SO SHITTY TO CAN SOMEONE IN JULY), looked out for me, and is now using me one day a week until season end. AND a classmate put me in touch with a garden center, where I auditioned today, and I guess they liked me (I was told I have "hustle"), so I'll be starting there, which gives a great opportunity to learn plants. The pay, like every other job, is poor, but on the bright side, it's not seasonal, so there's a chance it could go full time after I'm done with school, if I don't go back to landscaping, which is also a great learning opportunity.

I'm learning that you have so many more options when you don't expect any real money. It;s liberating in a sad way. I also need something regular and permanent so I can get a mortgage at some point, because by next summer I'm determined to have my own place with some freaking land where I can grow shit and practice canning, and keep my bees in my own yard, even if I have to move two hours away, which is likely. I want to own the place I'm going to die in. I want to unpack and never pack again. I want to put up shelves without thinking of resale value.


House was going on the market, so we had a massive clean-out, and I moved a bunch of big stuff to a storage locker and the rest to my uncle's. Yes -- I'm back with my uncle, who now has two cats, one of whom decided to editorialize on my three cats' presence by pissing everywhere. Buy stock in Nature's Miracle, folks.

My uncle doesn't like to clean the cat box, so his solution to his one (I know who it is; we lock eyes across rooms, and there's a silent acknowledgment that it is ON, motherfucker) cat's pissing/shitting out of the dirty box reaction was to buy puppy pads and put them around the box, upon which the cat pissed and shat and my uncle avoided dealing. (Parents, take note:this is what happens when an Italian mother babies her son until he's in his fifties: he keeps house like a bored 10-year old).So now I awake, feed my cats (who stay in my room at night), scoop the litterbox in the cellar and the one in my room, empty the dehumidifier in the cellar, wash cat dishes, and then start getting ready for work. While I'm doing this my uncle sits with the TV on at the usual "I won't admit I have severe hearing loss" volume, accompanied by the wheeing, clanging, cheering sounds of the Wheel of Fortune app on his tablet.

It's basically bedlam with cat piss.

Also I've never been so proud of my cats in my life. They are being friggin' PERFECT.

And in a weird way, living out of one room is also kind of liberating. I feel very den-like.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Queens of Tomatoes

One of our clients has a tennis court that's been converted into a raised-bed garden. I'm told the person who built it did so years ago. What I don't need to be told is that he had no idea how to design a raised-bed garden. The black ground cloth covering the entire court makes the place a furnace, and may of the beds are so huge you need to walk across them to plant, weed, and harvest.

You should not walk on raised beds; you compact the soil, which is a big no-no.

Compounding this, my boss, who is a beautiful landscape designer but not a food producer, had us plant things...well, sub-optimally. At the time she was really stressed, and when she gets stressed she gets dictatorial, so we shut our mouths and planted way too many plants in each bed.

Also, the garden needs regular and frequent tending, which is not happening, since we are fine gardeners, not vegetable gardeners, and our schedule is set accordingly.

The client uses the vegetables in her restaurant.

We have had a brutal drought and temperatures in the 90s, so watering has been an issue with watering bans, but that has at least been done enough to keep the plants going.

Today I stood with my usual colleague, Amy, looking at a dense forest of tomato plants.

"This is a mess," she said.

"Oh yeah."

"There are way too many plants here."

"And way too close together. Boss Lady admits now she planted too many."

"What are we supposed to do?"

"Fix it. And harvest what's ready."

"Did the client's chef say he wanted more stuff?"

"He has no choice, Look at this stuff. If we don't pick it today we'll lose it."

"I know; he was just such a jerk the last time I brought stuff."

"I'll handle him. Let's go."

We picked three big buckets of tomatoes, and had our other guy, a young pup, cut celery and put it into a cooler with some water. Amy explained end-blossom rot to him, and  why you need to remove rotten vegetables and cut leaves from the bed. Another colleague, a very nice middle-aged biker whom I suspect did way too much pot in the day, waters the garden, but just leaves rotten vegetables on the plants. He may be a bit lazy. Or clueless. (Last time, he and I cut lots of cabbage, and he was set to just dump them, loose, into the back of his pickup truck, to roll around in the bed on the way to the restaurant. I explained bruising and damage, and gave him a bin.)

Amy and I arrived at the restaurant, and carried the heavy cooler in first through the delivery entrance. The chef came over.

I put my hand on the cooler and opened my mouth.

Chef held up his hand.

"I have an event at Big Posh Place, and I have to have it ready by three, so I don't have time."

I waited until he was done, and continued.

"This is celery. It's getting woody but has a good flavor, and I thought you could use it for stock."

"Oh. Ha ha. 'stock.' I see what you did there."

"Yeah. and we'll bring in tomatoes and will leave them there."

On the way back to her truck, Amy said, "when he held up his hand, it was all I could do not to punch him. With his stupid hat."

"Yeah, I just ignore that crap and do what I set out to do. I don't accept his premise that his time is more important, because one, I don't work for him and two, we just spent an hour in 92-degree heat in a sea of plants so dense I thought I was in-country, picking tomatoes after spending an hour in 92-degree heat weeding and deadheading the property. Surprisingly, though, I'm not feeling the heat at all."

We headed for Dunkin' Donuts, which is our routine: after the first job of the day, we get our iced beverages, and Dunkies is everywhere.

We drive separate vehicles, and met in the parking lot.

"Is today 'Assholes Drive For Free' day?" I asked.

"Did you see me? I was all 'Thanks a lot, buddy! Thanks a lot!' to all the cars," Amy said.

"They were cutting me off mid-intersection! What the hell!!"

We looked at each other.

"Maybe I'm feeling the heat more than I realized," I suggested.

"Yeah. I need an iced coffee and a bathroom."

Still: better than any day in an office.

Music by the beach

In my city there's a free music concert by local musicians every week in a grassy park by the beach. My sister Jane and I like to walk, hear some music, and take in the cool of the evening. The bands are mostly local cover bands, and the crowd is a nice cross-section of the city, with a healthy dose of seniors and families with kids. And tattoos. It's a multicultural city, and not terribly wealthy. It all feels like the real world.

Tonight my sister and I scored a good spot on a bench, and were relaxing when the flies struck. Thanks to poison ivy looking like pretty much any other benign and generic ground cover, I'm covered in brutal oozing lesions. I have a steroid cream, and it works, but flies landing on my legs sets things to percolating, and I needed that dragon to stay asleep.

(Do NOT chime "leaves of three, let it be," to me. Do you know how many plants have leaves of three? And no it's not always shiny. It doesn't stand out AT all. Which is why every landscaper I've talked to has their poison ivy horror story. I freely confess I'd have no trouble taking a can of Roundup to the stuff. My legs look like tenderized meat.)

I saw a middle-aged woman on a blanket spraying herself and a young girl.

"Let's go," I said to my sister, and approached the woman.

"Is that bug spray?" I asked.


"Do you want to go to heaven for rescuing strangers in need?"

"Oh, help yourself! They say the bug [Zika] is only in Florida, but I'm not taking any chances, even though I'm not going to get pregnant!"

We thanked her profusely and sprayed ourselves.

Back on our bench, my sister commented on how she hadn't seen anyone she knew. My sister has worked at the same supermarket for 20+ years, so she's constantly bumping into people she knows. We make a game of it, with five people being the target number.

Three older women walked by.

"HI!" they said to Jane.

"Hi, how are you? We have to stop meeting like this," Jane replied. "This is my sister." It touches me that she loves to show me off.

They walked away, and Jane said, "The one in the floral shirt? The woman in white is her daughter. The other woman is another shopper."

"That's nice. They seem like very nice people."

 "She loves me. She thinks I'm adorable." Totally deadpan, statement of fact. She kills me.

We listened to music, I danced in my seat, we waved to passing babies and dogs, and had a lovely evening. And decided that next week it would be a picnic dinner on the grass.