Potted Foliage or Unwitting Hostage

My roommate’s girlfriend gave me some sort of potted palm plant for my birthday/house warming gift. It is sitting dejected in the still somewhat quite empty living room, a sickly yellow slowly replacing the vibrant green on its remaining leaves, a pile of dead brown ones accumulating on the rug below. I noticed it yesterday as I walked through on my way to the kitchen. We moved in three months ago, my birthday was last month, the house warming gift was bestowed on me somewhere in between. Like the good samaritan I am I gave it a drink from my glass of Pellegrino and ice.

Some of us are just not urban farmers. You should be thankful we’re not. Playing at farming maybe a nice distraction for some people, but not all of us care about sprouts and alfalfa and four legged creatures that drop large piles of dung for us to step in. Not all of us pine for the great outdoors, rolling planted fields and grub worms mulching soil. Not all of us grew up reading Charlotte’s Web and cried. I’d dare say a few of us are actually repulsed by spiders and pigs and things that go oink in the night. Not that we shouldn’t read about such subjects. After all talking pigs are a big part of American culture.

I wish my palm plant talked. It could remind me to water it. It could say things like “hey, there’s a war on in Iraq. Water me you selfish bastard!” But it doesn’t. It just sits there, like Buddha, and suffers. Luckily the rest of the palms in the world, the living breathing happy palms don’t have to rely on me to nurture them. Luckily for you I’m not writing a 400 page book filled with essays regarding the care of my palm and how I see indoor plant care as a metaphor for depicting all the world’s ills.

Years ago when I got out of rehab and rented my first apartment I bought a plant as I had hopes of brightening up my new environment. Ironically it too was some sort of palm or large fern-ish type green leafed affair. I can remember laying there in my bed looking at my new home: the TV in the corner, the small sofa by the window and the palm tree all energetic and green standing there looking so alive. Two months later the novelty of my new found freedom had worn off and I was again laying in my bed, dog tired from working a construction job, still in my soiled work clothes I looked over and my beautiful palm tree was a brown barren stem protruding out of a parched dry pot of dirt.

Obviously there are just some things that I don’t do well. Caretaking harmless animate objects such as trees and ferns and small fury animals that rely on me to nurture them through life appears to be one of them. Thank the gods the palm plant wasn’t a puppy.

Meanwhile not only is my lack of empathy for the needy starting to get me down but my empty living room is beginning to bother me as well. Although when I really think about it it’s not its emptiness that bothers me. It’s more the fact that there’s a room that I am paying for, well, renting actually, that I am not really using that bothers me. After all what can you really do in an empty room – besides kill plants?

My bedroom has my computer, writing desk, bed and stereo. I tend to spend most of my time in there. My kitchen has the oven, toaster and microwave and I’ve actually got some food bits in the refrigerator. Every once in a while I use one of my dishes to eat off of and then I put it in the near empty dishwasher, waiting for it to fill up with dirty dishes before I turn on the wash cycle. This kind of interaction makes me feel like I am utilizing the kitchen as much as I possible can. It is worth renting, it is a decent use of my money.

However the empty living room holds next to nothing. There’s a large TV in one corner of the room that sits dormant. The dying palm plant sits on a small end table by the opposite corner. Why it’s an end table instead of a plant table I’ll never know? Like the end of what? End of the palm plant probably.

It hardly seems logical to rent a room for a TV set that I don’t watch and a soon to be dead plant. Yet I do get to walk through my living room, so maybe that’s what it is good for. Extended space, more room to roam, the luxury of strolling in one’s apartment. Yet with more rooms comes more responsibility with more stuff to do, more things to remember, more plants to water, more dishes to wash. Because apparently rooms want furniture, plants want water, dishwashers want to be filled, turned on and then unloaded.

Everyday the mailman fills my mailbox with bills. Everyday I write a check and mail it back hoping that this will somehow stem the flow of the utility company’s wanting payoffs. Every month my landlady expects the rent. Every Wednesday morning the trash trucks converge in the alleyway to haul away my trash and in the end send me another bill.

Compared to my former one room studio apartment in the ghetto this new apartment is a palatial estate. There was no room for plants in my old abode. There was hardly room for me in that tiny room. There were no bills for the utilities because they were included in the rent. There was no heat because there was no ventilation. There was no trash trucks coming by to pick up my refuse because all you had to do was just walked on over to the “trash room” and tossed your garbage down a chute to the basement – who the hell knows where it went after that? If indeed it did go anywhere besides the basement.

I suppose I really should take care of my little palm plant. I suppose that it’s kinda like my civic duty for keeping the world green, the ozone layer safe, the environment in working order. I suppose that this is as close to farming as I will ever get. I wonder if palm plants like sushi?

A revised version of this essay was published in Weave Magazine 04 Edition 2010

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