My friend Roger spent the last few months in Berlin and, as will happen in such situations, accrued quite a bit of bric-a-brac. Just before leaving, the urge to parent me, which seems to hit a lot of people– must be my pheromones or something– took over, and Roger felt compelled to come by and offer me all manner of useful household items. Toilet cleaner, several varieties of herbal tea, three beers and a wrench were amongst the items included in his grab bag of life-enhancing utilitarian goods. Thank you, Roger! However, also included in this cornucopia were a couple of more ominous items: plants. “Water them once a day,” he instructed, and then, looking at me with the expression fathers give their loser sons when trying to exude confidence and sublimate their expectations of failure, he winced and said, “Keep them alive. Come on, I know you can do it.”
Keep me alive! Only you can do it! These Black Flag lyrics were already resounding in my head as Roger walked down the apartment building stairs. I’ve heard that people coming out of drug rehabilitation programs are advised to get a plant. It reconnects them to the living world, gives them a small responsibility: the training wheels version of empathetic caring for another being. Keep a plant alive for a few months, and you might graduate to small mammal house pet– a cat or a hamster, perhaps. After successfully keeping this higher life form alive for a few months, you might be ready for a relationship.
I’ve often thought about checking myself into a drug rehab clinic. Coming out of the closet as a hardcore substance abuser would explain so many facets of my life. It would excuse all my failures, as well as the weird gaps in my resume. Most importantly, it would be a chance to start over, to begin again. The primary problem with the rehab plan is that I’m a pretty lackluster abuser. Roger couldn’t help but notice my squeamish reaction to the three beers, and politely drank two of them on the spot so I’d feel more comfortable. I drank the third, and woke up the next morning with a raging headache. And worse yet, a couple of new roommates.
The basil plant seems to be doing well. I feel bad for it, in a way. This is the closest I’ll come to being a farmer, giving my chickens and pigs cute nicknames before I brutally slaughter them. I call the basil plant Basil, after John Cleese’s character in Fawlty Towers; it will make me feel less inhumane when I harvest those leaves for a delicious pesto.
The rose bush is the problematic one. People say plants are sensitive to environmental change. Now doubt the environment over at Roger’s apartment was a lot more fun and engaging: I imagine a lot of movies being watched, enlivening conversations ensuing, that sort of thing. Pardon me, rose bush, if I’ve got other things to do. Some of us have actual deadlines, projects, aspirations beyond photosynthesis. I am told you are supposed to talk to your plants. Who has time for this? And besides, flora are notoriously bad conversationalists.
Having the rose bush in the house is like meeting a new roommate once, thinking they seem cool, and then once they move in finding out they are bi-polar manic depressive. Since arriving, the thing has sat brooding in the corner, and its flowers have dropped off, one by one. It’s very melodramatic, very cry-for-help. I’ve done my bit, watering it regularly, asking it how’s it going, but nothing seems to work. The plant is curling into a fetal position before my eyes. What the hell? What am I doing wrong?
Surely, out there somewhere is a regular reader who has always wanted to send me a comment, but has felt restrained by my choice of topics. “If only he’d broach the subject of gardening,” you’ve thought to yourself. “Then I’d have something to say.” Well, here’s your chance. Don’t be shy. I could use some advice.