This was the wrong time to be wearing my “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” T-shirt. Granted, I was a stranger, walking in her yard with my Kia badly parked across the street, but I made “The Gesture” that has gained me entrance and trust from people way more wary than this woman.
Think of it as the “I apologize for the intrusion, but I was hoping that you might have a minute and I promise to make it worth your while” smile (plus a few hand gestures and even a slight bow). They’re the same surrender motions you might see from a criminal getting busted on “Law & Order” — and I, like them, am trying to prove that I have no weapons with which to inflict harm.
It works wonders when stalking people at the food court in the mall or in the parking lot of Walmart, hoping to get that ever-elusive Man-on-the-Street quote for journalistic purposes.
I’ve spent the better part of 15 years bothering strangers, and could probably make a heck of a door-to-door salesman, if such a thing still existed or weren’t a thinly veiled attempt at home invasion.
But on this particular morning, I was on a RECON mission that wasn’t the least bit professional. In fact, it was on the orders of My Lovely Wife. See, this woman and her family just so happened to live on a street that connected to another street that led to the dead end where my father-in-law lived. And during one of her many journeys to that familial destination, My Lovely Wife had noticed a tree, a beautiful, yet odd tree that had caught her fancy.
All you gardeners who are married/living with/financially linked to someone who isn’t especially obsessive when it comes to this rather expensive hobby can understand just how exciting this was to me. Though no such permission had been explicitly given, I assumed that, were I able to find this tree, I would eventually be allowed to buy this tree — guilt-free.
I didn’t care if the thing required a blood sacrifice before blooming, smelled like feet and old money or grew to be as menacing as the Whomping Willow in “Harry Potter.” My Lovely Wife liked it, so that sucker was going to be in our yard, one way or another.
I know this makes me sound like an awesome husband — and I am, no doubt — but it was also a rare, golden opportunity to pretend that those new plants had “always been there,” or to avoid eating the Lowe’s credit card bill on the way back from the mailbox.
And it was what led me to this awkward conversation with a woman who couldn’t pull out of her driveway fast enough.
Unfortunately, she hadn’t a clue as to the name of the blooming wonder growing in her back yard. She acted as if she’d never seen it before (guess her husband is a sneaky gardener, too).
So while she watched nervously, I snapped some quick pictures with my cell phone before she had time to call the cops. Back home, after some panicked emails to my Master Gardener Guru, I had a name: General Semmes Native Azalea.
I found one that afternoon and had it in the ground by morning.
Who looks crazy now?
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org