You pull the container of leftovers from your refrigerator. You are unable to recall exactly how long it's been in there, because you never adopted your grandmother's habit of marking the refrigerator-entry date on every container using a felt marker and masking tape. She warned you that this would be the consequence. You attempt to snifferentiate, but you can't quite tell if it's supposed to have that odor. You examine it closely for mold. There could be some, there in the corner . . . nope, that's just a spot of congealed fat. You realize that you were hoping it was mold, just so you could be sure.
By this time, your kitchen is five degrees cooler because your refrigerator door is standing wide open. Do you eat the leftovers? It was pretty good the first time. But how long has it been sitting there, stewing in a fetid pool of microbes? Do you throw it out? Your mind lingers on that food poisoning incident three years ago, the time when your stomach declared: "Everybody out! Two exits! No waiting!" So what do you do? The clock is ticking. The kitchen is cooling. The electrical meter is spinning. What do you do?
If you live in our house, you put it back and let it sit long enough to be sure it's gone bad.
My wife, God love her, is the Joan Crawford of gardening. That peony's bloom not full enough? Rip it up and relocate it. Coneflower too short? Switch it with the hydrangea. Our plants live in the modern economy: deliver top-notch performance every day, or you may find yourself schlubbing it at the back of the bed with the juniper and moneywort. You think you've got job security, Mr. Forget-Me-Not, because of your cute little bloom? Stop bringing your A-game and you'll be forgotten faster than Bob Saget.
To judge from the beautiful gardens she's created, you'd think my wife is a saint among flora, a Thomasina Aquinas of the plant kingdom. But trust me: if our plants had legs, we'd wake up one morning to find them squeezed into the neighbors' yards, trying to look inconspicuous. If plants could prosecute humans for harassment and assault, the boys and I would be bringing my wife peanut M&M's and back issues of Martha Stewart's Living at the local correctional facility.
I am not guiltless in the slaughter, I must confess. I am her henchman, Oddjob to her Gold Blackfinger. I have assaulted more roots than Paris Hilton's hair stylist. I have shoveled more dirt than Kitty Kelley and Sidney Blumenthal combined. You think plants can't scream? Come spend a night in Tony's dreams, my friend.
Being rooted out of the ground is a traumatic experience for a plant. It hurts. Pieces of them fall off. Things get ripped and broken. It's like giving birth, or pulling a hangnail, or watching Katie Couric put on her Really Concerned face. Despite the pain it causes, a rule of thumb in our house is that every plant will be planted at least twice -- once where the wife thought it would look good, and then where she's now certain it will look good. This epiphany inevitably comes after I've showered, and the new Ideal Position is usually either two inches from where it was first planted, or at the opposite end of our property.
Then there's the turning. That's right, plants, like supermodels, have good sides and bad sides. Apparently I am very bad at discerning the difference.
All of which is to say that last night there was some dirty work to be done. There was a flower in a corner bed, bearing a silly name I can't remember, something like "Flaming Humpback Gorillabush," or "Jumping Zarathustra Ambleweed", and it wasn't hitting its marks. I was tapped to both demote and replace it with . . . a fern. This is not good for anyone's self-esteem, plant or no.
The boys decided to help. They grabbed their little shovels and followed me into the back yard, alternately whacking my shins or whacking each other in that innocent accidental sort of way that impedes barking at them for it. There they dug little divots at random places in the bed while Isaac egged them on from his mother's arms. And there she stood, all sweetness and light, not giving the uninformed observer a hint of the iron-fisted tyrant that resides beneath her soft, lovely, sultry exterior.
But the plants and I, we know different. She is a genius with flowers, which I respect. Perhaps she is even an Evil Genius, which kind of turns me on.
Still, sometimes I pity the plants. If not for a twist of fate they might have gone home with some unmotivated homeowner with no expectations whatsoever. They would have been free to flower as seldom as they wished, to phone it in, if you will. But rather than get the plant equivalent of a tenured professorship, they found themselves thrust into a sweat shop run by Cruella De Vil.
A fitting fate for many tenured professors, perhaps, but not for innocent plants. Such is life, little flowers, and don't look to me for salvation. I love her, and she's great with the kids, plus she's, well, hot. So while I feel for you, don't think for a second I won't hack you to colorful little bits at her command.
Perhaps one day there will be a reckoning; maybe you will all grow opposable thumbs in the middle of the night and lay hold of the pruning implements. Trust me, I've had that nightmare more than once. But barring a freak evolutionary event like that, you should simply resign yourselves to your fate. We are the dictatorship, and you are our killing field.
Better you than me. Now quit reading my website and get back to flowering. And try not to throw out so much pollen -- my allergies are murdering me, and the bees are frightening the children.
You wouldn't know it from what I place here, but I'm a sucker for memes. Because I'm the founder of the Internet Clutter Reduction Coalition, I'll not explain in detail what a meme is here. For a good definition, along with a list of memes longer than his hair, check out this very creative fellow's website (and bonus points if you can tell us what two memes he's wearing on his very person).
Many memes are just extended vehicles for facilitating a narcissism that is already inherent in the blogger. Others are really catchy, like the Caesar’s Bath meme. I like them all. A lot.
So I leave them alone. It's the same reasoning I apply to video games and watching television: I will really enjoy this, but it will produce nothing of value beyond my immediate gratification, so I'd better keep away from it altogether.
The clever among you might be inspired to humor by that last sentence. Stow it.
I'm not a puritan on the matter, however, and when a perfectly pleasant invitation to participate in a meme is directly and politely extended my way, I'll fall back on the knowledge that to the pure, all things are pure. So here's the list of questions and my answers. I'll expect each of you to leave your own responses in the comments section, or on your site with a link here, all to the end of expanding my reading list. "Meme," after all, is really just "me" twice over.
1. You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be?
Dilys, the person who dragged me into this game, is willing to trust that someone will memorize the (King James) Bible, leaving her free to take on Canterbury Tales. I suspect in practice we'd need several people working on the Bible, so I'd grab a few sections (from the New King James, mind you): Job, the Samuels, the Psalms, John, and Romans. Job teaches me how to suffer, Samuel teaches me how to conquer, the Psalms teach me how to pray, John teaches me how to live, and Romans teaches me how the Baptists are wrong.
Just making sure you're awake. Romans, when we set aside our various doctrinal arrogances, teaches us grace.
Everyone takes license with the Fahrenheit 451 question, and I'll not break that precedent. Under the theory that what limits the ability to memorize is not a hard cover in one's right hand, but rather some outer limit of memorization capacity, I would add a couple of things to the list: I Had Trouble In Getting to Solla Sollew, by Dr. Seuss, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton, and the Heidelberg Catechism ("Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death? A. That I am not my own, but belong -- body and soul, in life and in death -- to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.").
2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Two crushes that I recall. One was the girl in The Missing Persons League, by Frank Bonham. I've long ago lost the book, and I can't remember her name. I read it over and over, and imagined that I was the boy trying to find my way to the end of a mystery, and that my only friend was this pretty girl who didn't fit in any more than I did. My other crush was on Jane Drew in The Dark is Rising series, by Susan Cooper. Even at the age of ten I liked a gal who could battle witches and make cookies without getting flustered.
3. The last book you bought was...?
Three books, really:
A collection of poems by Wendell Berry. Why? Because his stories read to me like poetry, so I was curious how his poetry would read.
This Boy's Life, by Tobias Wolff. Why? Consider the first paragraph: "I have been corrected on some points, mostly of chronology. Also my mother thinks that a dog I describe as ugly was actually quite handsome. I've allowed some of these points to stand, because this is a book of memory, and memory has its own story to tell. But I have done my best to make it tell a truthful story. My first stepfather used to say that what I didn't know would fill a book. Well, here it is."
The Hebrew Kid and the Indian Maiden, by my friend Robert Avrech. Why? Because he is a wonderful storyteller, and because he's on a mission to develop quality media for people of faith (his company's motto: "belief in books").
4. The last book you read was...?
Buffett: The Making of An American Capitalist, by Roger Lowenstein. It's a fascinating story. I found myself respecting him more, liking him less, and being renewed in my distaste for Wall Street charlatans who confuse rule-finagling with genuine value-creating entrepreneurship. In the end I came to pity him, because for all his financial success, he'll take nothing with him into the life that he fears, yet cannot believe awaits.
5. What are you currently reading?
A Death in the Family, by James Agee. An excerpt from the prologue, which was a separate piece at the time of Agee's death (his manuscript was published two years after), entitled "Knoxville Summer of 1915":
On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there. First we were sitting up, then one of us lay down, and then we all lay down, on our stomachs, or on our sides, or on our backs, and they have kept on talking. They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine, quiet, with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night. May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.
After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.
6. Five books you would take to a desert island...
The list is part nourishment, part a blunt assessment of the reality that I'm unlikely to read the darn thing unless I have the good fortune to be stranded with it on a deserted island for a couple of years: (1) The Oxford edition of the New King James Bible. (2) Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible. The collected short stories of (3) Wendell Berry and (4) Ernest Hemingway. (5) The collected essays of George Orwell.
7. Who are you passing this stick on to and why?
No matter where I turn, another opportunity for rejection awaits. Fine. I'll pass the baton to two people: Big Arm Woman, and Jordana Adams. I'm asking BAW because, as she may recall, we had that reading program in fifth grade where you got cheesy little laminated cut-outs to signify your progress in the schoolwide reading program. I think between us we read, like, two hundred books. So I know the woman has read something. I'm asking Jordana because I'm curious what someone else with numerous babies to chase after finds worthy of her rare unoccupied moment.
My gosh, that took a bit more space than I intended. And in a post where I unveil what I hope will become the next meme to sweep the Web, the Internet Clutter Reduction Coalition. I suppose there's some poetic irony in that. Or maybe just hypocrisy. Not that the two are mutually exclusive.