The Demise of Horticulture

My roommate’s girlfriend gave me some sort of potted palm plant for my birthday/house warming gift. It’s sitting dejected in the still somewhat 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 on my way to the kitchen. We moved in three months ago, my birthday was last month, the house warming gift 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 shit 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. 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.

Years ago, after I did my time and the State of California deemed me rehabilitated, I was released from prison into the limbo of a halfway house. Malnourished, and sowing discontent, with a slightly underdeveloped level of maturity, I tried to grow, to fit in with society. But really I was more akin to the Bonsai, with clipped roots and a stunted view of everything around me. Yet somehow I put myself to the task. And even with the stigma of being an ex-con I got my first job, saved my money, and as soon as I could I moved out and rented my own apartment: a tiny twelve by ten foot studio. And for some reason, I can’t recall why, I bought a plant to brighten up my cramped environment. Ironically it too was some sort of palm or a similarly large leafy thing. I can remember laying in my bed looking at my new home: the TV in the corner, the chair by the window, an ashtray of smoldering butts on the floor, 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 bed, dead tired from working a construction job, still in my crusty work clothes I looked over and my palm plant was a barren stem protruding out of a parched pot of soil.

There are just some things I don’t do well. Caretaking harmless animate objects through life appears to be one of them. Thankfully the palm plant wasn’t a puppy.

I wonder if I’m slowly turning into a sociopath, or is it I’m short on enthusiasm. Not only is my lack of empathy for needy domesticated foliage becoming a concern, but as I expand my horizons for new territory my newly acquired, and nearly 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 there’s a room that I am paying for that I’m not using that bothers me. After all what can you do in an empty room – besides kill plants?

My bedroom has my bed, computer and stereo. Like my former prison cell I spend most of my time in there. The kitchen has the oven and microwave and I have some food in the refrigerator. Every once in a while I nuke something prepackaged and tasteless. Then I use a plate and a fork to eat it with. Then I put them in the dishwasher, waiting for it to fill up before I turn on the wash cycle. This kind of interaction makes me feel like I’m utilizing the kitchen as much as I possible can. It’s worth renting. It’s a decent use of money.

However the empty living room holds next to nothing. There’s a large TV sitting dormant in the corner. The dying palm sits on a small end table across the room. 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 I don’t watch and a soon to be dead plant. But I do get to walk through my living room, so maybe that’s what it’s 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. Apparently room’s want furniture, plants want nourishment, dishwasher’s 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 hoping this will somehow stem the flow of the utility company’s greed. 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 parole approved studio, this apartment is a palatial estate. There really wasn’t any room for plants, alive or dead in that tiny room. There was hardly room for me. There were no bills for the utilities because they were supposedly included in the rent. There was no heat because there was no ventilation. There were no trash trucks coming to pick up my trash because all you had to do was walk to the stairs and toss your garbage down a chute to the basement – who the hell knows where it went after that?

I suppose I really should be taking care of my palm plant. I suppose it’s kind of like my civic duty for keeping the world green, the ozone layer safe, the environment in working order. I suppose this is as close to farming as I will ever get. I could pluck the leaves and shove my finger in the soil to see if it needs water. I guess I could walk outside and step in front of a bus as well. Because that’s how much I desire to feel gritty bits of potting soil embedded under my fingernails.

Yesterday my former parole agent called and asked how I was getting along. “Is this a test?” I answered. He didn’t respond but I could hear him breathing as I looked across the room at my palm plant. “It’s for you,” I said and handed it the phone.



Previously published in  Weave Magazine, Issue 04 (2010)

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