I am not inclined to say things like,
“I am the worst plant caretaker in the world.”
Such proclamations feel like a form of reverse braggadocio. It sounds so “show-offy” to me. Like using the word “braggadocio.”
Consider the arrogance of the above pronouncement:
“Of all the terrible plant caretakers in the world, I am the absolute worst.”
Bushwa and poppycock! Like there’s this definitive ranking system and they send you a letter saying, “Congratulations: You are ‘The First of the Worst.’” First of all, they don’t do that. And second of all, “Shut up!”
What I know for a fact is this:
A Canadian radio show asked me to grow “cress”, which immediately perished under my supervision. (To summarize yesterday’s post in one sentence. It’s kind of sad that you can do that. All that writing. And for what?)
And then the trend continued.
Not long after the “cress” debacle, I was invited to California to work on a Lily Tomlin special. The “Lily” show was my first job in what turned out to be a relatively lengthy career. There was a moment, however, that I was certain I would be returning forthwith to Toronto.
And it involved plants.
On our first day, the “Lily” writers were escorted to our respective offices. When I entered mine, I was understandably excited. This was my first office in America. Working on a network television show to boot! The room was tiny, but it was beautiful.
As I look around, I see the standard-issue desk and desk chair, along with a waist-hihg, metal filing/slash/ storage cabinet perched on top of which sitting in a foil-wrapped cardboard container is a small but healthy evergreen plant of some sort. I do not know plants. It just knew it had spines and not leaves so to me that meant “evergreen.” The word “fern” comes to mind, but that’s a guess.
This was a characteristically thoughtful Lily Tomlin gesture – upon our arrival, every writer is greeted with the gift of their own personal plant. I immediately promised myself I would take assiduous care of that plant, helping it to successfully flourish and grow.
I am sure you are ahead of me here, so I shall pick up the tempo.
Two days after we start work, I step into my office, I switch on the light, I inadvertently look towards my filing/slash/storage cabinet,
And my plant that a star gave me was already dead.
Its little branches, empty, its desiccated spines, strewn like fallen soldiers over the top of the filing cabinet.
You know me. It take this as an immediate omen.
Dead plant. Dead career.
Quoting the incomparable Ed Grimley,
I was as doomed as doomed can be.
As it turned out, Lily Tomlin was very nice about it, telling me it was okay, and joking that there were no employment implications concerning my deficient plant stewardship whatsoever.
I did, however, not receive a replacement plant.
So that’s two I’m responsible for – The dead radio “cress” and the Lily Tomlin fern.
FLASH FORWARD TO:
One of our favorite experiences visiting Istanbul was buying fresh pomegranate juice from local street venders. A year later, we decide to get our own pomegranate tree, and have it planted it in our backyard.
The nursery delivers the tree and they plant it, leaving specific instructions for its maintenance.
Dr. M says, “I’ve got an job for you, Earl.”
“What’s that?” I cheerfully reply. But inside, I hear “Oy.”
My assignment is to water the new pomegranate tree every day at three-thirty – when the sun is out but not at its hottest – for two weeks. Then, I am to water it once every two days for two weeks.
I cannot refuse the assignment. Dr. M is incredibly busy and I am incredibly not.
Plus, I kind of like the responsibility of taking care of what will be known for all future time – if I have any say in the matter – as “My tree.”
Repressing my “track record”, I rise enthusiastically to the challenge.
Every day, at three-thirty, I am out there, watering that tree.
And within three days,
The tree’s little green leaves have turned a sickly yellow. Not all of them. Just most of them.
Dr. M, who is knowledgeable about these things, explains,
“It’s just a ‘transplant’ adjustment. It’s getting used to its new home.”
Three weeks later, the pomegranate tree has still not adjusted. “How does it look?” I inquire. “Not good,” replies Dr. M.
What I want to know is, how do plants know who is responsible for them? And that some of us are inescapable threats to their survival? I mean, this wasn’t my first time as a plant menace; I have a well-earned reputation. Plant parents tell their kids scary “Earl Pomerantz” stories at bedtime.
I have heard the phrase “Black Thumb.” It does not make sense. I mean, sure, you can be ignorant and mess up on the maintenance.
“I mistakenly watered it with gasoline.”
But history cannot be denied. I was responsible for the “cress”. I was responsible for the Lily Tomlin plant. And I was responsible for the pomegranate tree.
And they all died. Okay, two died, and one’s really sick.
Meaning it’s not over. The pomegranate tree may yet “turn the corner.” Plus, I was informed that if it dies within six months of purchase, we get a replacement pomegranate tree for nothing.
Not so terrible. If this one dies, we will just get another tree.
The question is…
Who’s going to take care of it?